The Ethics of Voluntourism

Nation_signHave you ever wanted to join a volunteer trip that asks you to pay to travel abroad? Have you noticed the increase among college students for a desire to travel to exotic destinations while volunteering in local communities? This form activity, called “voluntourism” has gained popularity in recent years. But along with the experiences of expanding one’s horizons and giving back to a particular community, voluntourism raises interesting and important ethical considerations, too.

In a recent post at the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public life, former Sorenson Fellow Jessye Kass considers the ethical ramifications of voluntourism, asking provocative questions and offering nuanced insights into the subject. You can find her post here.

What are the ethical considerations of voluntourism? Are volunteers doing more harm than good? Is voluntourism inherently selfish? Do motivations of the volunteers matter? Should the benefit be more for the served or for the server? What positive impact can voluntourism make around the world? What relationships and power dynamics should be considered?

As you read through her post, consider your own motivations for and experiences with voluntourism.

  • Does her argument about the role of privilege and power resonate with you?
  • How about the unintended harm caused to communities by the tensions between volunteers and local people?
  • Are students better off getting resume-building cultural experiences through other kinds of programs? What alternatives are there?

We’d love to hear your thoughts!