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For Good

How ethical is international volunteering in LEDCs?

Student: Esther
Status: Completed
Dissertation: How ethical is international volunteering in LEDCs?
Dissertation category: Equality & inclusion
Dissertation theme:
Short summary: This research paper addresses the ethicality of international volunteering in Less Economically Developed Countries (LEDCs); ‘resource-poor’ countries. This contributes to a decreasing dearth in the anthropology literature, and social science literature more broadly, regarding the academic conversation on international volunteering, particularly voluntourism. In recent decades, the ethicality of international volunteering has been increasingly questioned, contested, analysed, and challenged, as the popularity in voluntourism burgeons, largely amongst 18-25 year olds in Western societies. In order to research this increasingly important and topical subject, I explored in-depth the existing anthropological and social science literature regarding international volunteering, and I collected my own qualitative data through surveys and interviews. This research revealed this paradoxical duality; the oft well-intentioned endeavour to help others and exercise largely fair and ethical practices whilst participating in international volunteering in LEDCs, yet simultaneously, this endeavour occasionally and unintentionally harms communities in LEDCs, avoids addressing the root causes of poverty and avoids why international volunteering even exists. Additionally, it can perpetuate unethical global narratives; particularly concerning systemic injustices and structural inequalities.
Detailed summary: How did your research partnership happen? (i.e. How did you find out about Dissertations for Good and how was the partnership established?)
I became aware of DfG through an email from NUS, as the University of Exeter is affiliated with this organisation. From this, I registered with DfG, and got in touch with Meg Baker and Quinn Runkle, who were extremely helpful in partnering me with an organisation which suited my interests (Better Care Network).

Motivations and experience

Why did you decide to get involved with DfG? What did you hope to get out of it?
I am personally committed to living a sustainable lifestyle, whether through banking, clothing, travel, food, etc. I wish to make the world a better place; one which is more ethical and just. As a result, I decided to commit my dissertation to a topic whereby its ethicality and sustainability is heatedly contested and scrutinised, and ultimately not conclusive. I wished to contribute to this important conversation, through my own personal research, insights, and endeavours, in order to help bring to light some important points which others may have missed, and essentially to contribute further toward making the world more sustainable.

Have your experiences matched your original expectations?
Yes and no! I was expected to partner up with a charity which was relevant to my research, which I was fortunate enough to do! I was not completely sure of what to expect of DfG in the first place, and so I took it as it came, and took on opportunities as they arose. My partner Better Care Network was extremely helpful, and provided me with great insights, contacts, and advice, which was far beyond my expectations.

What skills have you developed through completing a project with DfG?
I have been able to develop my research skills, by exploring new avenues and topics which have piqued my interest, and which have seemed of great import to my dissertation subject. I have developed my primary data collection skills, as this was the first time I have ever done so in a professional and academic capacity. This greatly enabled me to develop my analytical skills too, as I had the opportunity to analyse new, first-hand data. I was able to analyse connections and disparities between this data, and identify the importance of each point. Additionally, I have been able to develop my communication and networking skills, thanks to all the generous people who gave me advice, pointed me in the right direction, and provided valuable insights. Moreover, due to the independent nature of this research paper, I have been able to develop my creative and innovative skills, as this project was largely up to me to craft and carry out.

What knowledge have you gained as a result of completing a project through DfG?
Through this project with DfG, I have gained valuable knowledge about the extremely topical practice of international volunteering in LEDCs, and its ethicality and sustainability. I have been able to explore and assess this subject in-depth, in a way that I would not have been able to otherwise. I have been able to gain new knowledge and insight which was unavailable in the existing literature.

Have you made any changes to your lifestyle as a result of completing a project through DfG? E.g. changed your behaviour to be more sustainable
I do not think I have greatly altered my lifestyle to become more sustainable as a result of this project with DfG, as I already led a very sustainable lifestyle beforehand. Perhaps though it has encouraged me to reflect more on my own consumption of flying and air travel, as it has brought up connections between poverty and the environment, and how practices such as flying and air travel greatly exacerbate global poverty.

If yes, what about the project has prompted these changes?
This was largely as a result of the research that I found by interviewing participants.

What was your highlight of doing a DfG dissertations?
I have two! It has been a privilege to undertake a dissertation which not only serves the purpose of my university degree, but also serves to better the world, or at least provide insight into the sustainability and ethicality of a debated practice which has been growing in popularity in recent decades. It has encouraged me to keep going knowing that I was aiming to contribute to a better society, and a better world. It has also been a privilege to partner with such an excellent organisation (BCN). BCN's work is inspirational, and so it has been extremely informative learning from them, particularly Justine Williams who has been my key contact. The contacts provided offered me invaluable primary data which has enabled thoroughly effective and productive research analysis.

What did you find most challenging about doing a DfG dissertations?
The most challenging aspect was finding an organisation which matched my interests. There was not one initially listed on the DfG website, and it took several months for the partnership to be established between BCN and myself. During this precious time, it was extremely difficult for me to begin properly working on my dissertation.

Looking to the future

Do you think your experiences of working with your partnered organisation through DfG will improve your chances of getting a job when you leave university or college?

How and why?
I aim to work with an organisation which pursues a more sustainable and just world. This project with DfG has demonstrated my prolonged and self-motivated commitment to this. Additionally, this project has displayed my dedicated work ethic and commitment to producing a large research paper.

What improvements, if any, would you make to DfG?
A wider range of available organisations for students to partner with.

What advice would you give to other students looking to get involved in DfG?
Go for it!
University: University of Exeter
Course: Anthropology and French
Partnered with: The Better Care Network