Community impact

Volunteers’ demands are often given more weight than the needs of the communities they are intending to support. Voluntourism projects have a high potential to have a negative impact on local communities.

“Voluntourism”, a combination of volunteering and tourist experiences, is on the rise. Contrary to more traditional volunteering projects, which are usually long-term assignments for specialized volunteers with comprehensive prior training, voluntourists mostly only do short-term assignments and require a high degree of flexibility with regards to working hours and activities in order to be able to pursue other activities, such as studies or tourist activities. Studies have shown that many volunteering projects are planned without involving the affected host communities. Combined with the flexibility and non-binding nature of voluntourism packages, this often results in unclear assignments which have a high potential to have a negative impact on local communities.

Often volunteers are not qualified for the tasks assigned to them. Voluntourism projects often do not include (mandatory) preparatory training, not only regarding the customers’ assigned tasks but also regarding traditions, behaviours, and communities’ customs in their travel destination. The receiving organisations in the destinations often lack the resources and capacities to properly assign and guide volunteers.

Volunteers directly compete with the local workforce. As they perform their duties free of charge, they have a high potential to take away jobs from the local population. Most affected are teachers, care personnel, construction workers, and various types of unskilled labour.

Furthermore, many voluntourism companies advertise their projects with poverty related marketing strategies, portraying people in destination countries as “passive aid recipients” and volunteers as do-gooders. Such imaging perpetuates outdated ideas and prejudices and impedes volunteers’ capacity to be culturally sensitive.

For specific issues on orphanage voluntourism, see the risk card on Volunteering and Children’s rights.

An article published 2016 in the New York Times outlines the many drawbacks and dangers of the growing voluntourism industry and how good intentions in many cases can do harm. 

Changing perspective: African perspectives on German volunteers

Every year, more than 3000 mostly young Germans travel to Africa to volunteer in an organization or project. In this documentary, people in South Africa, Ghana, and the Gambia describe their experiences with German volunteers.

'Volunteers had little educational benefit to the kids'

The article depicts the potential negative impacts of unskilled volunteer teachers and poorly organized volunteering projects. 

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Take action

Training and capacity building

  • Encourage business partners to carry out comprehensive preparatory training for volunteers, both related to the assigned project but also about local customs in their destination countries.

Impact assessment

  • Consult local stakeholders and potentially affected rights holders to perform an in-depth human rights impact assessment on potential/actual human rights issues related to the volunteering activity.

Responsible product development

  • Prior to developing new volunteering offers, carefully carry out due diligence in terms of the partner organisation/s on the ground.
  • Only offer specific assignments that are based on the needs articulated by the local community (e.g. specific expertise requested by the local population) and which do not compete with the local job market.
  • Enable transfer of knowledge and expertise to empower the local community.

Find more information on potential measures to take on the "take action" site. 

Learn more

Find more information in the Resource Centre.