Sustainable tourism - voluntourism

Much is written about the relevancy of volunteering and what benefit it can truly bring to communities. Our experience is that, done correctly, volunteering and gap years and school expeditions can provide fantastic benefits to areas, as long as there is a long term fair business model that involves local stakeholders and local needs which are identified culturally and geographically.

Nobody would ever deny the immorality of exploiting people's generosity for profit, so it is vital that every volunteering placement, elective, school trip or gap year has a clear developmental aim at its heart. This aim should be long term, involving stakeholders from the area being visited, and it should have evidence for showing its worth. This is the ethos of Fair Trade Volunteering, which Gavin Bate jointly founded as a movement for good practice in this area.

It is also the role of Moving Mountains, the charity which Gavin set up at the same time as the company. The company may run a volunteering placement or school trip through this website, but it is Moving Mountains which determines the nature and integrity of that trip.

Sustainable tourism - Fair Trade volunteering

We invite people to get involved with projects and programmes that our managed by our charity Moving Mountains. The school or home or clinic receives more than just cash though, the aim is for it to become self-sufficient through the money provided by tourism.

Volunteering and gap years are a form of tourism and they create an income stream for the community and the institution which is being visited. Gap Year trips or volunteering trips are an opportunity for cultural exchange and learning for all people involved but they also provide money for a local economy.

Every volunteer or gap year participant enables us to fund an institution or a member of staff. This is a direct percentage of the trip fee and if we manage to send 20 or 30 people per year then this is normally enough to allow the institution to become financially self-sufficient.

We also ensure that the community is not left to pay for the upkeep of volunteers. Accommodation is paid for at a healthy rate which allows growth and development.

For example in western Kenya all our clients stay on the site of the Ulamba Residential Home which was built by Moving Mountains. The home also has a clinic, an early child development centre, a community centre and a series of guesthouses on site. By filling those guesthouses with paying guests, it provides a substantial income to Ulamba which covers the cost of looking after all the children. Furthermore this income from volunteers has enabled the committee at Ulamba to develop the home, which now takes over a hundred children into the ECD every day. Ulamba provides local employment and it is now a well known centre for education, health, community programmes and sports.

Voluntourism as a business model

This business model is not unheard of and we are not re-inventing the wheel, but there is some suspicion about a type of tourism that utilizes one persons desire to help with another persons perceived need for that help. If this was just about business then no account would be made of those two desires, in fact they could both be exploited.

By introducing the developmental angle as the determining factor though (which includes all the correct processes of selection, training, feedback and evaulation) we can avoid that trap of commercialising the virtues of volunteering. In fact we can capitalize on it with great success because it is Moving Mountains that is commissioning Adventure Alternative to provide the holiday aspect of the visit and ensure that the client is legally protected under the UK Package Travel laws. The employees of AA are also volunteering for MM, in fact in many cases they used to be supported by the charity.

Our business model has had a long term positive effect on many communities and we have nearly twenty years of evidence to back up such a claim. Every client who goes to one of our projects is contributing to a success story which we are really proud of, and all because the money is being distributed correctly. Sustainable tourism and social development in our instance are not mutually exclusive.

Volunteering - spending locally, sharing equitably

Add to that the money that volunteers are spending in the markets for their food, plus the financial and management advice we give to local committees, and the financial integrity we provide through the local Moving Mountains and Adventure Alternative operations, and we have seen how volunteer holidays and school expeditions and gap years have quite literally transformed communities.

For us as a company, it is a simple question: "where is the money going?". We aim to make volunteering holidays a really beneficial and vital source of income for the host communities, as well as a genuinely good personal development experience for the visitor.

For Moving Mountains there are many questions around quality of life, development ideologies and evaluation cycles, and we recommend you visit the MM website to see how this is managed - www.movingmountainstrust.org.