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Posts Tagged ‘aid’

So you want to be a voluntourist?

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Lily Morrissey


Photo by L Shave @ flickr

In our times of cheap air travel, ergonomically designed backpacks, and heightened social consciousness, increasing numbers of young people from western countries are mixing their travels with volunteer work.

Voluntourism has exploded over the last few decades, with the voluntourist market now peaking at US$2.6bn per year. Like shopping for a new shampoo, would-be volunteers can peruse thousands of online Volunteer Sending Organisations (VSOs) for programs all over the developing world. From rescuing miniature monkeys in the Amazon to teaching orphans English in Somalia, voluntourist programs have been lavished with praise from outlets as diverse as CNN and National Geographic Traveller.

Why the love affair?

The general consensus to date has been that volunteer tourism is good for everyone because it:

  • Fosters selflessness and cultural awareness
  • Brings people from different parts of the global village together
  • Brings revenue to the developing community
  • Utilizes volunteer labor for underfunded projects
  • and Promotes ecological sustainability.

One participant in the US based Earthwatch Programme which toured conservation projects of central America sums it up in her voluntourist diary:

‘Volunteers obviously provide free manpower to the scientists, but more importantly, upon our return home, we can raise awareness of the issues we witnessed with our own eyes’.


Photo by bertrudestein @ flickr

Sounds great! So what’s the problem?

You are a child living in an orphanage in Thailand that is dependent on the funds and labour of voluntourists. They come to teach you English for several weeks each, comically and monotonously repeating the same introductory lessons over and over. You have a perfect grasp of ‘Hi, how are you’, and ‘My name is’, but you never have the same teacher long enough to get any further. You don’t understand these people, and you have learned not to get too attached. Why do they all keep trying to teach you the same thing? And where are they going in such a hurry? Unfortunately, I didn’t make this story up; according to Pierre De Hanscutter, president of SJVietnam (a youth non-profit VSO) it’s being written into chapter one of thousands of lives right now. His is just one of a number of critical voices which are raising themselves above the top of the warm and fuzzy clamour. These voices say that voluntourism can result in:

  • Programs which ignore locals’ real wants and needs
  • Work being left unfinished or done badly due to voluntourists lack of skills
  • Voluntourists taking jobs from locals and creating dependance on foreign donors
  • Feelings of differences being reinforced rather than broken down because of the obvious gap in wealth and power between volunteers and people they are ‘helping’.
  • Voluntourists coming away from the experience feeling as though they have ‘done their bit’ and don’t need to do any more, either in their own country or elsewhere.
  • The presence of volunteers changing the local culture and economy so that communities lose their culture and traditions.
  • Volunteers feeding corrupt practises by handing cash over to dodgy organisations.

Development volunteer and journalist J.B MacKinnon worries that voluntourism is becoming a ‘consumer experience’ catering to the needs of the paying volunteer. After a quick glance at a couple of VSO websites I could see his point. Rather than talk about the needs of communities and matching skills to positions, they promise an easy ‘adventure experience’ so you can be ‘doing something different’ and pursuing ‘personal development’. The alarm bells started ringing: exactly who is this industry working for?

volun-money1For a few enterprising people, it’s working very, very well. Many voluntourism programs come with a hefty price tag attached, and few programs have transparent systems of accountability. Take Sarah’s account of her experience in Ghana.

She and 17 others each contributed AU$1500 to build toilets over six weeks, pooling a budget of $27,000 in a community where the average villager earns $5 per month. ‘So imagine how I felt’, she writes, ‘when I discovered that our accommodation was not paid for, the utilities were not paid for, the builder’s time was unpaid, and the only thing our budget seemed to be used for was to purchase a couple of effluent pipes…So, what happened to the $27,000? You tell me… If you contacted a Chief or Assembly Man in a local community in a country like Ghana…you could use your $1500 to help those who really needed it’.


Changing the world one word at a time

Friday, April 24th, 2009

Global Bits - Issue 16 (24 Pages)

Global Education Centre

cover-art-issue-161This Global Bits offers readers a chance to look inside the heads of our future leaders – and to understand the issues and passions that drive them. Open to all 12-18 year olds, 10 young people were picked for this programme for the first time in 2008. In this issue these creative and savvy new authors relate history to global politics. They unravel subjects such as international guidelines for human rights the difference between actual and relative poverty, and just how democracy works.

Watch this space for our new group in 2009!

Download PDF 5.44MB

You can also join our library and get books and DVDs out for Free!

Don’t Corrupt Aid

Friday, March 27th, 2009


Don’t Corrupt Aid is a campaign to keep New Zealand’s international aid focused on addressing poverty.

A number of International Development NGOs have concerns about the New Zealand Government’s intention to re-focus New Zealand’s International Aid and Development agency, NZAID,  and the possiblility that NZAID may lose its sem-autonomous status.

This campaign results from comments made by New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully stating that New Zealand’s aid should change from ‘poverty elimination’ to a broader focus on economic development. Additionally, Mr McCully wants New Zealand’s aid agency NZAID to lose its status as a semi-autonomous body.

The Minister has instigated two reviews into NZAID which may result in the responsibility for aid being absorbed into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

How can I get involved?

The Don’t Corrupt Aid website has a Take Action page, which helps you formulate letters (differing in length depending on how much time you have) to send to Government ministers. Check it out!

World Vision

Friday, February 20th, 2009

What do they do?
World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organisation dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome extreme poverty and injustice. World Vision New Zealand currently supports more than 70 projects in more than 25 countries.

How can I get involved?

  • Sponsoring a Child
  • Getting involved in a Charity Challenge (biking round Cambodia or climbing Mt Kilamanjaro are a few examples)
  • Volunteer to help run World Vision programmes in NZ
  • Participating in/running a 40-hour Famine
  • Donating directly
  • Getting involved in World Vision advocacy campaigns
  • Joining/starting a World Vision group at your school or university


Friday, February 20th, 2009


What do they do?
TEAR Fund is a Christian humanitarian organization set up to provide long-term sustainable solutions to the desperately poor and lift them out of poverty with dignity and hope.

How can I get involved?
Become an advocate – Advocates help to promote, support and organise TEAR Fund programmes in their local communities, churches, small groups, youth groups and at events. By becoming an advocate you reach out to the poor and oppressed through practical expressions of love. You also meet like-minded people, concerned about social justice.
Sponsor a child – TEAR Funds Child Sponsorship programme is Christ-centred, child-focused and church-based.
Donate - To any of TEAR Fund’s programmes, including micro-enterprise and development projects and disaster response.
Join an Insight tour – TEAR Fund run regular trips to their projects in developing countries These trips broaden your understanding of poverty and its solutions, and are very inspiring.

Join ‘Uprising’ – ‘Uprising’ is the youth arm of the Micah Challenge - a global campaign to mobilise Christians against poverty. As of September 2008, Uprising is still in its infancy.. but check out the TEAR Fund website to see where it’s at.


Friday, February 20th, 2009


What do they do?
The mission of SurfAid International, a non-profit humanitarian organization, is to improve the health and wellbeing of people living in remote areas connected to NZ through surfing. SurfAid is the recipient of the 2007 WANGO (World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations) Humanitarian Award.

How can I get involved?

Donate directly to SurfAid

Schools programme – The SurfAid International Schools Program, sponsored by Billabong, is an excellent way to get involved and interested in a fascinating part of the world and some very important global issues. By organizing fundraisers for SurfAid at your school, you’ll have heaps more opportunities to get involved with the work they do. In 2008, Nick Evemy from Tga Boys College “won” a trip to Indonesia as highest student fundraiser for SurfAid (over $1000) as a branch of the SurfAid schools programme. Billabong underwrote the cost for him and his dad to visit projects we do in the Mentawai Islands. All details are available on SurfAid’s schools website: under fundraising.

Zimbabwe Food Crisis

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009



Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008


What do they do?

Oxfam is a Humanitarian organisation is dedicated to finding lasting solutions to poverty and injustice. Oxfam New Zealand was formed in1991, and has now developed an international reputation for its development work in the Pacific and East Asia, its focus on practical solutions to the emerging crisis in water and sanitation and its campaigning for rights.

How can I get involved?

  • Become an Oxfam campaigner - Campaign activities can range from spending two minutes on an email action through to fronting up to politicians to ask questions about their policies on aid, trade and debt.
  • Trailwalker Challenge - raise $2000 to help to overcome poverty and injustice by tackling 100km of tough NZ terrain
  • The Amazing Race - race other teams through Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand to raise money for Oxfam projects
  • Oxjam - a month of music with a message. NZ artists busk and throw concerts to raise awareness about Oxfam’s work. They are always looking for volunteers, organisers and fresh ideas and content.
  • ‘Good Books’ and gifts – Buy your books at the online store, and all profits go to Oxfam projects. You can also buy gifts for your friends and family that directly benefit poor communities.
  • Send them stamps – Yup, Oxfam will sort through your old stamps and sell them to collectors!
  • Volunteer – Oxfam are always on the lookout for help with their programmes.
  • Donate to Oxfam
  • Read a Publication – Oxfam produce high quality, up-to-date publications on Poverty and Development issues around the world. Expand your mind and read one today!

(red): Selfish giving?

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

Part one of a two part series by William Zhang

A giant global initiative’ aimed at you…
If I told you that some of the largest multinational corporations in the world have joined together to form a giant global initiative’ which is targeted at you, the consumer, what would you think? With names including Microsoft, Apple, Motorola, Hallmark, Converse, Gap, Emporio Armani, and even American Express, you’d probably think it must be some sort of a marketing conspiracy by the most powerful companies in the world to get us all to spend more money and boost their profits.

What if I told you that these companies are not after your money for their profit, but to help the fight against AIDS in Africa — would you believe me? That these enormous companies, with a combined profit exceeding the GDP of many small nations, are committed to fighting the ongoing struggle against AIDS. And that so far, $100 million has already been contributed by this initiative. That we’re not talking about simple donations and charity, but something much bigger and more sustainable.
Don’t believe me? Just walk down to an electronics store and look for a red coloured iPod. That’s right — a red iPod. Trust me, there’ll be one there. This little red iPod is proof that these huge multinational companies are not all about sales and profit.

What’s so special about a red iPod?

The answer is PRODUCT(RED). PRODUCT(RED) is a global initiative in which some of the world’s largest companies are working together to promote their unique PRODUCT(RED) branded items. What makes these products special is that up to 50% of the profit from their sales is given to the Global Fund, an organisation established to combat AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in Africa. The PRODUCT(RED) range includes iPods, laptops, credit cards, watches, shirts, shoes and even birthday cards. Usually, there’s little or no difference in price between a PRODUCT(RED) item and a normal one.

aids ribbonAccording to its website, PRODUCT(RED) is neither a charity nor a campaign, but an “economic initiative that acts to deliver a sustainable flow of private sector money to the Global Fund.” The key word here is sustainable. Rather than simply asking these corporations to donate a chunk of money to the Global Fund, a sustainable and longer lasting flow’ of money is created through giving a percentage of the profits from consumer purchases. Sounds good right? Before we can dig any deeper into this issue though, we need to know what exactly holds together the PRODUCT(RED) initiative.

What does the initiative rely on for its success?
While on the surface it may appear that the ultimate aim is to help AIDS victims in Africa, once we look a little closer it becomes clear that all three groups involved (consumers, companies and the Global Fund) are in it for themselves. Ultimately, PRODUCT(RED) is based on the premise that our actions are usually motivated by personal gain.

As consumers, we think that we are getting a great product, while at the same time supporting a great cause and making a statement about our values. In effect though, our actual motivation is the feeling of generosity and satisfaction from knowing that part of our purchase is going towards helping AIDS victims in Africa. It’s this feel good’ sensation which motivates consumers. We’re encouraged to think: “Why not? I’m going to buy this anyway, so why not do some good if it doesn’t cost me much extra?”

The companies involved are also motivated by self-interest, concealed behind the mask of good will’ or charity’. Ultimately, they hope their image and reputation will be enhanced, which will have a positive impact on their profits. After all, profit is the primary goal of private sector business. These corporations are aware that as consumers become more ethically minded, lab-workthey’re more likely to buy products which give them the feel good’ sensation.

Finally, the Global Fund is obviously motivated by the boost to their finances, allowing them to build more treatment centres, research facilities and improve medical supplies in Africa, especially for women and children.

What’s wrong with a bit of self-interest?
Although there is a tendency in society to see self-interest as selfish and egotistic, it is the key factor holding together the PRODUCT(RED) initiative. Like it or not, in this case at least, philanthropy is only a mask for self-gain.

For instance, if the companies involved did not gain from PRODUCT(RED), it’s unlikely that they would have even taken part and the initiative would never have gotten off the ground. In a survey by The Conference Board, a business research organisation, 77 % of businesses said that the needs of the business itself is the most critical factor to affect their giving’ to charity, campaigns or initiatives). This pretty much confirms that corporate philanthropy is a myth.

Likewise, if consumers were not motivated by the feel good’ sensation, the PRODUCT(RED) label would become just another brand among the ranks of Ralph Lauren, VISA and Sony Ericsson. This feel good’ sensation is the major point of difference’ for the PRODUCT(RED) brand — it lets you be both consumeristic’ and socially conscious’ at the same time!

A win-win situation for everyone?

By now, you’re probably thinking: Great! I get an awesome feel good’ product, the companies enjoy some promotion and the Global Fund is able to do more to combat AIDS in Africa. If only it were that simple.

If you read a little more about PRODUCT(RED) on the internet, you’ll find several articles where it is quite savagely attacked . For example, check out Spending to save, (Product)Red: help or hindrance?, or the Buy (Less) Crap campaign, which questions whether shopping really is the answer. Before you make up your mind though, read on to my next article and see why I really think it is worthwhile to support PRODUCT(RED).

red girl


Give (red) a chance!

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

Part two of a two part series by William Zhang

red paint brushIf you went over to your local hospital with a group of friends and volunteered to clean and repaint the entire children’s ward, only to demand afterwards that you all be shown on the 6 o’clock news so that the entire country can see what great people you are, would this be considered socially acceptable? No, of course it wouldn’t be.

So, is it ok that a group of huge multinational companies are actively promoting their contribution to the Global Fund, a foundation set up to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria? If you’ve read through any of the articles I listed in Part One, your answer will probably be an outright NO WAY!’ Before I tell you why I think it really IS worthwhile to support PRODUCT(RED), let’s take a closer look at the issue from the critics’ perspective.

Who benefits most?
Essentially, the argument is about whether the multinational corporations are benefiting more from their increased sales and improved corporate image than the AIDS victims are benefiting from the improvements in medical care, treatment and research centres.
Many of the critics point to the reasons why companies choose PRODUCT(RED) over alternative ways to contribute to “worthy” causes.
The first reason is the initiative’s visibility. With backing and support from celebrities such as U2’s Bono, Giorgio Armani, Julia Roberts and The Killers, any association with the PRODUCT(RED) brand in the media and with youth culture is likely to hugely benefit the image, prominence and reputation of the companies involved.

The second reason is PRODUCT(RED)’s ability to mask the actual extent to which the companies are contributing to the initiative. All of the companies are made to look equal, despite the Red mobiledifferences in the amount they actually contribute and the small proportion of the retail cost which actually finds its way to the fund. For instance, one percent of all spending on American Express’s (RED) card goes to the Global Fund as does fifty percent of the net profit from the sale of Gap (RED) items, and just $8.50 from the sale of a Motorola (RED) Motorazr. In effect, companies are contributing relatively little while being portrayed through PRODUCT(RED) marketing as giving generously to the cause.

What’s the problem?
Is PRODUCT (RED) the most effective way support the cause? A more transparent option would be a direct campaign set up by the company itself, meaning that a set amount of money would be given to a specific cause.

Another aspect of the PRODUCT(RED) initiative which has been brutally criticised is the amount spent on advertising and promoting the brand compared to the amount actually raised for the Global Fund. In its March 2007 issue, the Advertising Age magazine reported over $100 million had been spent on advertising, but only $18 million raised as a result. They make the argument that the Global Fund could have received that $100 million if the money was directly donated rather than channelled through PRODUCT(RED).

Some reports even go on to say that based on these figures, the companies have purposely chosen PRODUCT(RED) because it allows them to spend the difference between the $100 million and the $18 million on promoting their own corporate image and improving their sales and profits!

The crucial flaws to this argument are…
These critics have completely forgotten the other benefit of the PRODUCT(RED) initiative — not financial support, but simply bringing the issue of AIDS and poverty in Africa under the public spotlight. For example, some consumers would have had little awareness of the growing AIDS crisis in Africa had it not been for the PRODUCT(RED) advertising campaigns. You sure can’t beat an ad during the half-time break of the American Super Bowl watched by 90 million people!

CashMany critics have also ignored a crucial statistic which blows their argument into tiny fragments: the amount of money raised for the Global Fund is now over four times more than the amount the private sector had contributed prior to the establishment of PRODUCT(RED). An increase of over four times their original funds! Surely you can’t say that PRODUCT(RED) is just an attempt by companies to improve their corporate image if they’ve managed to quadruple the finances of the Global Fund within a two year period?

The reason why the arguments against PRODUCT(RED) are flawed is that they insist on focusing on what the companies are getting out of it by comparing it to alternatives, such as giving set amount directly to a cause, rather than looking at the initiative in terms of the beneficial changes it has made to the lives of the victims of AIDS, disease and poverty in Africa. The truth is, it IS a win-win situation for everyone involved, even if some groups (such as the multinational corporations) appear to win’ more than others. Some people are upset that the companies are even benefitting from PRODUCT(RED) at all!

These people forget that in a world driven by self-interest and personal gain, this imbalance is crucial to holding the entire initiative together (see Part One). Ironically, in attacking the imbalances of PRODUCT(RED), such critics are actually affirming the very principle which PRODUCT(RED) relies on for its success!

My (RED) soapbox:
Global Fund LogoWhatever the motivation of PRODUCT(RED) companies, the initiative has undeniably made a real difference to the medical treatment of AIDS victims in Africa. Does it really matter that the companies are in it for themselves or that only a tiny proportion of the funds are actually going to the Global Fund? No. I don’t think that’s the important thing.

“When I was going to medical school a few years back, we would see patients and send them home knowing they were going to die without medication … I don’t feel that way now. The money we got from (RED) through the Global Fund is helping to save lives. That’s the important thing.”

Dr. Asiimwe, Managing Director for the Treatment and Research AIDS Centre, Kigali.

The important thing is that lives in Africa are being saved. The important thing is that we need to stop this argument against PRODUCT(RED) because while we argue, lives are being lost. PRODUCT(RED) needs your help, not your criticism. So buy (RED). Save lives. Has there ever been a better reason to shop?

Visit to find out more and check out all the cool stuff you can buy to support PRODUCT(RED)

And find out more about The Global Fund
Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) The main advocate for global action on HIV/AIDS that aims to strengthen and support the response to the epidemic

The Who, What, and Why of

Unicef on malaria

red girl
What do you think? Have your say on the forum!

Join the PRODUCT(RED) campaign

Help to spread the word