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The Opposite Of Volontourism Is Volunteer Cooperation

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Steve Bardens via Getty Images
Steve Bardens via Getty Images

By Chris Eaton, WUSC Executive Director and Claudia Black, CECI Executive Director

Development is a complex undertaking, and as practitioners we know it is not a field where instantaneous gratification or minute-made results can be achieved. Good results come out of multi-year initiatives that involve an array of implementers and contributors -- quite often including volunteers.

Indeed, some of the best development work is done by volunteer cooperants working for weeks, months or even years through organizations solely and expertly devoted to lasting change. Some of Canada's leading development organizations, such as WUSC, CECI , CUSO, and CESO have designed structured development programs that involve well-defined volunteer mandates requiring specific skills and sustained commitment.

Contrary to voluntourism, which was the subject of a validly critical exposé, Volunteers Unleashed, shown on CBC earlier this month, volunteer cooperation is focused less on the volunteer's experience -- as rewarding and safe as we work to make them -- and more on sustainable development results. Development is our raison d'être.

WUSC and CECI jointly run Canada's largest volunteer cooperation program, Uniterra. We are not a placement agency for people wishing to volunteer abroad. We recruit volunteer professionals who can significantly contribute to the issues on which we are working, through strengthening the capacity of our local partners in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Volunteers do not deliver services themselves -- they do not teach in schools or paint orphanages or distribute clothing. They coach, advise, train, input, consult, plan, guide, connect and accompany local colleagues in well-defined placements that build the capacities of local partners -- so that those local partners are better able to perform their roles within their community or better provide services to their clientele.


We have a strong network of local partners to ensure the success of our volunteer placements. We pull together community-based organizations, volunteers, civil society, governments and the private sector to work together toward lasting change as they must all be part of the solution if we are to truly achieve greater equality, autonomy and prosperity.

Volunteer cooperation -- not voluntourism -- is the path for young, mid-career and late career professionals who are committed and qualified to contribute to lasting development changes -- changes that improve lives and livelihoods for the better.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of CCIC or its members

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