Duncan Green2Duncan Green, Oxfam Great Britain’s strategic adviser, was so horrified by reading Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad that he’s proposed some radical alternatives.

He came away thinking the arguments for banning volunteering are at least as strong as those for promoting some more respectful, thoughtful variant. “Or how about a volunteer tax ($1000 per person?) to go to fund proper social services, including real orphanages?”

Learning Service cover 3Written by four authors who have both been and organised volunteers, the 360-page Learning Service aims to guide and inform would-be volunteers. Volunteering is a big industry today, worth $2 billion annually. An estimated 10 million people are heading from North to South this year as volunteers.

Green, who visited New Zealand in March 2017, is a sharp reviewer, as you would expect from a Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. This comment pinpoints one current dilemma: “Agencies like VSO got more picky about only sending people with specific skills, just as the internet made it much easier for would-be volunteers and start-up agencies to find each other.”

His review, while acknowledging the book is well-intentioned and generous, points to some glaring errors. Instead of research-based evidence on the actual impact of volunteering, readers get a string of anecdotes and reminiscences. “Even more alarming is the almost total absence of the volunteered-upon – the families and communities who host those 10 million arrivals every year.”

Green finishes his review with a 4-minute video spoof, ‘Who Wants to be a Volunteer?’. For a challenge to your views on volunteering, read his review. To get hold of the book itself, go to Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad by Claire Bennett, Daniela Papi-Thornton, Joseph Collins and Zahara Heckscher (September 2018).