Contribute the Right Way

Before joining the leadership team at Cross-Cultural Solutions, Adam was the Director of the Global Education Market Development Group with Coca-Cola, and a senior leader at CARE USA—an international humanitarian agency.

If you’re a passionate international volunteer, chances are, you’ve wondered about the long-term impact of your efforts. Am I doing it right? Am I doing it smart? Am I helping to make a real and lasting change?

Here’s what I can tell you without reservation. Smart volunteering makes a positive difference in the lives of the individuals you’re working to support. While it’s tempting to say that every effort or every dollar makes a difference, it’s just not true. There are well-intentioned efforts out there that have only a very temporary impact, and even efforts that have a negative impact. Here’s an example: If you send 10 toys to an impoverished community and there are 50 kids who want one, you may have done more harm than good. There might be theft, or worse yet, violence. And even if there were enough toys to go around, toys don’t reduce hunger or offer pathways to a better future. They won’t make communities more capable of dealing with chronic problems.

And the same thing goes for volunteering. It’s pretty easy to imagine that a volunteer’s presence in certain situations could be more of a burden to a community than an added value. Or that some organizations, only eager for your money, will have you painting the same wall another volunteer painted just a month ago. With Cross-Cultural Solutions, volunteer projects are always community driven and community led. That means that with us, you’ll only do high-impact, sustainable volunteer work that has been specifically identified by local people as a real need.


So you want to make a difference, but you also want to make sure you’re doing it the right way. But where to begin? Here’s the trick: Suspend your ego and let the experts help you find the best route to positive, sustainable impact. Find organizations that can be trusted to do things right and have reliable knowledge of local circumstances, and who are willing to make themselves accountable to local communities and organizations.

Here’s how to ensure that the volunteer abroad program you choose will allow you to make all the difference you’re looking to make:

  1. Local presence: If the volunteer organization doesn’t have a permanent presence in the place you’re traveling to in order to volunteer, move on.
  2. Experience: If the volunteer organization isn’t led by people with years of experience, be wary.
  3. Accountability: Ask the volunteer organization to share documents that demonstrate that it is accountable to local people. If they can’t or won’t, move on.
  4. Scale: If a volunteer organization is too small to deliver consistent volunteer service, find a larger one. How could somebody run a local hospital or clinic effectively if workers come and go?
  5. Philosophy and Values: Understand organization philosophy. Does it hold up? Is it clear, explicit? Do they clearly understand how they’re making a difference and how you can fit into that model?

You won’t be surprised to hear that Cross-Cultural Solutions does it right on all these counts. So do the Peace Corps. And there are other organizations that also do it right, and we’re rooting for them, too! We’re here to make sure that your CCS volunteer experience is a perfect fit for you so that your passion and volunteer effort will change everything. Contact us today and get all of your questions answered. The volunteer experience of a lifetime is closer than you think!


Great points Adam - this should be required reading for anyone considering volunteering abroad!
Posted at 12:25pm on May 13th, 2013
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