Voluntourism – good or bad?

February 3, 2017

Did you read the article in the New York Times titled ‘To get to Harvard, go to Haiti’? Here at the third half this article brought to mind something we think a lot about – the role of tourism in international development.

In the last few years there has been a growing body of criticism against short-term, volunteer-based tourism, sometimes called ‘mission trips’ or ‘voluntourism’, and often defined as;

“a form of tourism in which travelers participate in various voluntary programs while traveling, typically in the forms of charity work and non-profit activities”.

Check out this debate from The Guardian in the UK about the pros and cons.

The debate is not new (check out this article from 2007) but as consumer demand grows, more and more companies are offering travelers the chance to ‘change the world’ through responsible travel.

According to research from the Voluntourism Institute there are one million new ‘voluntourists’ in the USA every year, with 20 million expected by 2020. With the Millennial generation driving a shift in priorities away from ‘things’ and towards ‘experiences’, combined with an increasing shift toward valuing causes and the importance of supporting responsible business, it’s clear that the demand for tourism experiences that do good is only going to increase.

So how do you get it right? Well, as a company with the tagline ‘travel, play soccer, change the world’ this is obviously a question we take very seriously.

We believe that a successful, responsible tourism project is one that

  • Creates a tangible, sustainable benefit for the host
  • Creates long-lasting change in the traveler
  • Create a level playing field between the two

Impact 2

We believe that to create the greatest impact at a community level, you need to listen to the community and that’s why we work with non-profit organizations that are part of the streetfootballworld network. Since 2002 we have been working to understand the needs of these non-profits, and we know that above anything else their greatest need is funding to allow them to expand their programs and the means to generate their own income.

That’s why we don’t believe that ‘voluntourism’ is the right model for us; every third half trip generates revenue for the local host that goes direct to supporting their programs. For example, our recent trip to Lesotho with a high school from Atlanta generated enough money to allow our host organization to provide HIV testing to over 2,500 orphans and vulnerable children.

For more on our social impact model, check out the video below

“The income we generate from the third half is very important because it sustains the organization, and when the organization is stable we can facilitate more programs, we can empower more youth. The income that we’re generating is not only for the organization; it’s for the nation. It’s for the up-and-coming youth.”

Maleshoane Mokhathi, Director of Social Enterprise, Kick4Life

By working closely with our local hosts we can identify their greatest challenges and create third half trips to help solve them. That’s why when you take a trip with the third half you already know that, thanks to that choice, 20 students will get to go to high school for a year in Haiti. Or 1,300 kids from underserved communities in Colombia will get access to life skills training. Or 100 students will get school fees and books in Cape Verde.

How do we create long lasting change in the traveler? Our methodology, which is comprised of three components; soccer, educational and cultural activities strives to educate the traveler about global challenges and how we can solve them together. Our activities also encourage critical thinking and building ongoing relationships between traveler and host. This way travelers get more than a ‘hands on’ experience but the opportunity to develop global citizenship.

Impact 3

You can find out more about our destinations and impact at our website.