Young Canadians Redefining the Voluntourism Industry

Toronto – This summer, a group of young Canadian leaders are set to embark on 31 different global expeditions to turn the voluntourism industry on its head. Facilitated by the non-profit organization Operation Groundswell (OG), these young Canadians are leading the movement towards ethical international volunteering and engagement.

“Voluntourism is the fastest growing trend in global tourism and has become a multi-billion dollar industry annually, but it’s a sector fraught with serious ethical issues,” says Eyal Rosenblum, Executive Director of OG. “Volunteers, despite the best of intentions, often go abroad through conventional voluntourism companies that engage in projects without ever consulting the communities they aim to “help” or “develop”. It simply reinforces problematic Western power dynamics that, more often than not, actually does more harm than good”.

“That’s why we developed a new model for volunteering abroad – one where we prioritize learning before serving. Where local organizations and communities lead us in improving their communities,” continues Rosenblum. “Sometimes that means not volunteering at all. Sometimes that means simply listening and standing in solidarity with our partners as we learn about their fight for justice. Because ultimately, we want our program participants to be the best kind of leaders – the ones who know how to listen.”

“Our approach towards international volunteering and social change can be broken down by three essential elements: 1) knowledge before action, 2) servicethroughsolidarity, and 3) empathetic leadership,” says Claire Ferguson, Programs Director at OG. “We need to learn the local context before attempting to serve. That’s why our partners – local non-profits, community leaders, and local activists – share their stories and lead us in community-requested projects. We want the next generation of young Canadian leaders to learn through service and to listen and learn before they act.”

“This model was built in collaboration with international development workers, experienced educators, and leading researchers on ethical engagement with thedevelopingworld.” adds Justine Abigail Yu, OG’s Communications & Marketing Director. “We’ve seen the impact as our participants have come home as more resilient, adaptable, and empathetic global citizens. But we’ve also seen it from our partners in that 95% of projects have met their intended goals, proving that working in solidarity with local communities just works.”

For the last twelve years, OG has been redefining what it means to volunteer abroad ethically through this unique approach that blends experiential education with solidarity-based service. They’ve since grown to run a total of 246 programs to 21 countries around the world.

This season Operation Groundswell is offering 31 immersive programs for deep cultural exchange, covering a host of social justice issues, including but not limited to animal conservation in Rwanda and Belize, women’s rights in India, food justice in Thailand and Ecuador, peace and conflict in Israel and Palestine, and indigenous rights in Peru and Guatemala.

About Operation Groundswell: 
Operation Groundswell is a registered Canadian non-profit organization that facilitates travel, community service, and educational experiences around the world on a host of social justice issues. Geared towards socially conscious and globally active youth between the ages of 18-30 from North America, OG’s mission is to use the power of travel to create a more just, equitable, and sustainable world.With ethical travel and solidarity at the crux of their philosophy, OG always works in partnership with local non-profits and charities on community-requested projects.

Redefining Voluntourism: Eco-Tourism & Ethical Travel

Fact Sheet

“Backpacking with a Purpose”

A more equitable, just, and sustainable world.

To build a community of travelers who are socially, environmentally, and politically aware of their impact in the communities they travel to and live in.

We offer a range of travel programs that combine education with community service   all around the world, including Asia, the Middle East, South America, Central America, and East Africa.

Operation Groundswell started as a young group of friends who wanted to make an impact while traveling the world. After researching their options and discovering the problematic issues within the voluntourism industry, they set off to create a more responsible and ethical alternative.

Financial Accessibility
We offer financial needs grants that can cover 15-25% of a 35- or 40-day program fee and is available for anyone experiencing financial strain, including individuals from low-income households, students, and recent graduates.

Ethical Travel
We promote ethical travel standards by always working in partnership with local non-profits and charities on community-requested projects to ensure true sustainability.

Our travelers are immersed and engaged in causes ranging from animal conservation, environmental sustainability, human rights, peace and conflict, food justice, and access to quality education and health care, among many others.

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