Should I pay to get volunteer experience?
Q. Hi Nick,
There are so so-called “volunteer” programs that I can apply to but have to pay for them. Is “voluntourism” experience considered as field experience that can be beneficial for me to get a job as an aid worker?
A. Thanks for the question, Anh,
You’re referring to a number of programs that range from tourism that has some sort of service element built into it, to organizations that take volunteers but require them to fundraise for the costs involved in hosting them. I want to unpack what’s going on here a little, but for the TL;DR crowd, the short answer is ‘no’, these programs will not normally be considered ‘field experience’ from the perspective of a humanitarian agency recruiter.
There is a market for a type of tourism that takes people to places in the developing world, lets them experience the culture and environment, and lets them interact with, and (hopefully benefit) local communities in some way. The quality of these programs vary greatly. Some of them have long-standing arrangements with local communities and profit-share in some meaningful way, while preserving the dignity of the people are being visited. In a lot of ways this no worse than any kind of cultural tourism. Local people host visitors, share something of their culture, sell them trinkets, and get paid for it. At the other extreme is a much more exploitative arrangement where a tour company will bring outsiders into a community with little money flowing into that group. The key difference with a lot of these programs is the inclusion of some kind of social service element. Sometimes this is helping to build a school, sometimes it is working in an orphanage, you get the idea.
In general though, when you think about it, bringing a tourist thousands of miles at great expense probably isn’t the most cost effective way to get labor to build a school, or to work with children in an orphanage. What you’re paying for is the sense of personal connection and contribution. There is a supply and demand relationship here that I’m a little uneasy with, but I’m not sure I think it’s the worst thing as long as everyone is getting something worthwhile out of the deal.
At the other end of the spectrum of these programs are organizations (often although not always religious) who take volunteers and ask them to pay their way. These are often longer term, and may have a more serious expectation that participants contribute something valuable aside from money.
But back to your resume – no – recruiters won’t look kindly on this in the main. Unless you can demonstrate that your fundraising was entirely incidental to the other valuable contribution you made, there will be a pall over that entry on your CV. It will look like tourism, which is not the kind of ‘living and working in the developing world’ that recruiters want to see.
I don’t want to sound too down on these experiences, they can be very rewarding for all concerned if done well, but I wouldn’t count on them from a resume building perspective.
PS I have limited experience of these programs, so if there is anyone who has a different perspective on this and wants to write a guest post I’d love to air another point of view.