The Number One Principle to Consider When Volunteering Overseas

It is natural for us in our privileged world to respond to those who are unemployed or victims of exploitation, or those suffering in heartbreaking poverty in a developing country slum, or a child begging on the street of a faraway city, or millions without access to basic education. We want to go there, do something, and make a difference.  And for certainly, altruism is a good thing.

Sometimes we respond to the challenge of a mission trip or to a volunteer vacation, sometimes called voluntourism, which includes both service and tourism activities. But there is one principle we should keep in mind: consider your skill set and find a place where the opportunity is requesting that skill to be applied to a specific need. 

Why such a limitation? Unfortunately, there is a growing body of evidence that many volunteer trips abroad don’t make much positive impact and might even cause more harm than good.1  Oftentimes, the greatest impact is on the volunteer who may have a life-changing experience; a good thing to be sure but not if it is at the cost of hurting the locals.

Here are some questions to consider in following the principle.

  1. Can your work be done by locals? Does your contribution displace local labor?
  2. Is the project one that the locals have requested and proven to be valuable?
  3. Are you aware of how the sponsoring organization uses its finances? Check out resources like
  4. Does the organization work collaboratively with the local community with a sustainability focus?
  5. Will your presence provide a lasting impact with relationships and/or infrastructure?
  6. Do you have a follow-up plan to check metrics and be able to encourage others, etc.?

These are representative questions.  See a more exhaustive list at Natalie Jesionka’s article in the Muse dated 6/19/2020; Putting the “Good” in Social Good: The Ultimate Checklist for Any Volunteer.

IBEC consultants and coaches are volunteers that follow this principle. They use their skillset to help businesses achieve the Quadruple Bottom Line: profitability, job creation, disciples of Jesus and stewardship of creation.

Josh Powell, Development Gateway in 

Larry W. Sharp, BAM Support Specialist, IBEC Ventures

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