Travel & Philanthropy


Summer's just around the corner and people are getting ready for their vacations. The count-down has begun for the first day of sleep-away camp; university students are returning home; others are heading overseas for adventures.

At 17 I moved out of my parents place and spent a year traveling around Europe and the Middle East. When I returned I made a promise to myself that I would take a month off each year to explore a different part of the world and a different part of me. My boundaries have been pushed - from Globekayaking along the east coast of the United States and hiking a part of the Appalachian Trail; to handing out tef (grain from Ethiopia) to street kids and their parents in Northern Ethiopia. It's this last experience that I want to draw upon for this blog post - travel and philanthropy.

In a recent email to me, David Chamberlain, CEO of Exquisite Safaris wrote:

"Philanthropic Travel is focused on helping people get past their daily march for survival."

In fact, the UN has even identified the positive impacts that tourism with a community bend has on both the traveller and the communities that are visited:

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) states that if responsible practices are in place, Tourism is the natural interlocutor between the wealth and desires of the global traveler and the socio-economic needs of some of the world's most remote, but heritage-rich communities, natural and cultural sites. It's vital to manage, through collaboration, the impact of tourism and the low-volume, high yield operators particularly in the luxury tier are in a unique position to deliver service and stability to world heritage. UNESCO sees responsible travel as a delicate balancing act. Tourism involves a series of trade-offs but, within an agreed framework of goals and limits and a climate of educational, respectful relationships, we have one of our most powerful tools for poverty reduction.

What does that balance look like? For centuries we have been travelling the globe bringing with us our own ideas of what society and community should look like - mostly from the religious perspective. From the Crusades and their concepts of tithing and soul-saving; to the Muslim expansion into Spain and their values of education and charity; to today's missionary groups like World Vision, Samaritan's Purse and others that couch doing good as part of "What Would Jesus Do?"

There is a difference between missionary work and philanthropic travel. And there is also a difference between volun-tourism and philanthropic travel.

Humanitarian travel doesn't have to mean hard labour or rustic lodging. Unlike voluntourism, philanthropic travel is designed for people with more money than time. And for most charities, there is nothing they need more than money.

"There are plenty of people (local unemployed labourers) to bang the hammer," says David Chamberlain of Exquisite Safaris Philanthropic Travel, a travel outfit that specializes in charitable outreach. "What we need to do is get them the hammers and the nails."

When you go overseas to volunteer for an organization there are a couple things to consider, and ask before you sign on:

  1. Is what I am about to do taking away a job from someone already in the country?
  2. The funding for the project that the organization received, does that include staff implementation? If so, how are those funds being allocated if the implementation is being done by a volunteer? In other words, where is that money going?

We hear time, and time again, how hard it is to track the dollars that we send overseas. This is no more true than when an organization receives funding for a project to be implemented by local people, but then sources volunteers from overseas who will pay their way over and for all their expenses and do the work for free. Yes, in the short-term the organization has pocketed the money that would have otherwise been spent on a staff, but in the long-run, that does not help build up the local economy.

An effective travel philanthropy experience looks like this:

  • Pre-trip educational opportunity
  • Bonding experience in-country between family members and other participants
  • Hands-on interaction between where you donation has gone and what has or is happening as a result
  • Positive in-country encounters that are not only about the social need, but also about the culture and the wonderful things that are part of that community and country
  • A discussion around community economic development and the projects that you are supporting

This fall, Dexterity Consulting, will be holding its first philanthropic travel experience to Ethiopia. More information will be posted online in the weeks to come.


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