A not so lonely planet: the ethics of international volunteering

I’m sure this topic has been explored and written about extensively, and I’m keen to find other views on the ethical dimensions of this field. I was recently pitched a business idea by a young woman who was keen to take the staff of private sector companies to developing countries to volunteer in orphanages.

This was going to be a self-funded private enterprise with all profits going to her and her business partner. Her motivations seemed honourable in the sense that she wanted to make a difference in the lives of children in Cambodia. This was a business proposition though, and she had done her homework on the potential size of the market. From her pitch, her business interests came ahead of the interests of the communities she sought to serve.

From what I had understood, she had been to Cambodia but didn’t have a background in international development. I am not suggesting that experience in international development is the best way to understand how ‘doing good’ in other countries work – I do know of other individuals and organisations who have taken a great deal of time and care to learn about Cambodia and build relationships there. I do wonder however if she appreciated or understood the cultural, social, economic and political dimensions of working in the ‘developing’ world.

There is also the dimension of volunteering itself. While at first glance it my feel warm and fuzzy to volunteer and be surrounded by such generous and appreciative children, there is the question of: who are you actually serving? Read more