by Work the World

Our Service

The debate around voluntourism is old, yet still it rages on. And so it should — understanding the impact we have on the world and those we share it with is more important than ever. But the issues are complicated.

In this post we look at some of these issues, and how Work the World addresses them with a unique approach that steers clear of voluntourism entirely.

What do people think?

The internet is awash with articles on voluntourism. The good, the bad and the ugly. As with many controversial issues, media coverage of voluntourism tends towards the negative and the dramatic. This affects how the public, ourselves included, view the issue.

In this case, it seems like the media hit the nail on the head. Based on anecdotal evidence we’ve heard over the years, a huge proportion of voluntourism services do more harm than they do good.

But, there is a distinction between ‘voluntourism’ and volunteering in a more traditional sense…

Why are we different?


For us it’s simple — we are not a voluntourism service.

Work the World programs are educational learning experiences. We neither entertain grandiose notions of ‘saving the world’, nor do we patronise the incredible people we work with overseas. Instead, we create partnerships with local hospitals, which empower local staff and create a sense of pride in local communities.

It’s a numbers game

A 2008 study by Tourism Research and Marketing discovered that around 1.6 million people travel overseas to volunteer every year, which is no small number.

As the old saying goes, too many voluntourists spoil the broth. It can negatively affect local communities and ruin your own experience.

The practice of squeezing people in for the sake of it goes against everything we believe in. Our approach is to develop new programs in new destinations all over the world. It allows us to place just the right number of healthcare students and professionals so that valuable learning exchanges can take place, without burdening our partner hospitals.

Taking jobs


If you don’t do your research, by ‘voluntouring’ overseas you could be taking a job that a member of the local community would have otherwise benefited from. With us this simply isn’t the case.

On our structured clinical educational placements you observe and assist (depending on experience) local professionals. You will never replace a local professional. You’ll work with them, not instead of them.

The wrong people in the wrong places

When it comes to healthcare, placing someone out of their depth and assuming they'll be productive just doesn't make sense.

This is why we tailor your placement to your skill level. We don’t accept anyone who isn’t on or hasn’t completed a healthcare degree. We emphasise that no one should do anything they have no experience with.

What do the government say?

The Australian government are quite rightly concerned about voluntourism, its global impact, and how you can travel safely. On their site they list a number of points you should be mindful of before you decide to travel.

Below, we’ve addressed how Work the World placements go above and beyond to meet each of the requirements.

Requirement 1. “Familiarise yourself with your destination”

Braam, Esmée (no case study 1/9/15)

The government says:

“Start with the latest travel advice for your destination. This advice will give you information on the main risks you may face and some precautions you can take while travelling and volunteering overseas.”

We say:

We have a team of in-house experts who spend much of their time in our destinations, keeping up to date with everything on the ground via government travel advice services. Before you go, they’ll run you through our detailed pre-trip preparation, making sure all bases are covered.

As mentioned before, we also have teams based permanently in-country. The teams are all recruited locally, and many of them grew up in the cities we’re based in, so they know our destinations like the back of their hands. If you want to hear about our destinations from the perspective of people who have already travelled, we also have a huge resource of case studies and reviews on our website. You can read them here.

Requirement 2. “Confirm the visa and entry requirements”

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The government says:

“You should find out well in advance of leaving Australia what rules and regulations apply to volunteers at your destination.”

We say:

As part of our service we’ll run through the entire visa process with you. If you choose to travel with us, it’s simply a non-issue.

Requirement 3. “Take out travel insurance”

The government says:

“Before you leave Australia, organise travel insurance to cover the whole time that you'll be away.”

We say:

We have a partnership with insurance brokers who offer bespoke policies that are tailored specifically to our programs. But you’re not tied into this — you have complete freedom to insure yourself with a provider of your choice or with one recommended by your university.

Requirement 4. “Stay healthy”

The government says:

“It is important to consider your physical and mental health before volunteering overseas.”

We say:

Being a healthcare student, we’d expect that you already take great care of yourself! But you’ll need to speak to your doctor to find out what you’ll need in terms of vaccinations and the like. When it comes to your mental wellbeing, we've got a number of resources to help you stay on the right track. Our pre departure preparation will give you an excellent idea of what you can expect before you go, and when your in-country you'll have the full support of our teams on the ground both in the house and on the wards. We have online guides to culture shock, and are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Requirement 4. “Stay safe”

The government says:

“Be vigilant about your safety and personal security when overseas.” and “Familiarise yourself with local laws and show sensitivity to local customs.”

We say:

We take safety and security very seriously.

We’ll come and pick you up from the airport when you arrive, and take you to one of the private, gated houses we manage in all our destinations. Some accommodation has the added benefit of trained security guards. We’ll also take you to get a local sim card (and a phone if you need one), so you can be in constant communication with our teams on the ground, and with friends and family back home.

Our teams on the ground  work in our houses, so they’re always around should you need them. They’re contactable 24 hours a day, and we have emergency phones at our head office as a backup should anything go wrong.

You can find out much more about the detailed steps we take to make sure you’re safe by clicking through to our Safety and Security page.

Requirement 5. “Keep in touch”

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The government says:

“When overseas, regularly contact your family and friends.”

We say:

As mentioned above, we’ll take you to get a local sim card so you can keep in contact with people. We also have wifi in all our houses. 

Requirement 6. “If things go wrong”

The government says:

“If an emergency, such as an earthquake, severe weather or civil unrest, affects the region you are volunteering in but you are safe, contact family members and friends in Australia as soon as possible to let them know you are okay.”

We say:

Our ground teams are highly trained in crisis response, and will take immediate action (supported by our head office team) in the event of any incident.

As well as all of the above, we’ll give you access to MyTrip, our online placement planner and timeline. It has a comprehensive information pack tailored to your destination with information covering things like:

  • Weather and climate
  • Packing lists
  • Currency information
  • Suggested clothing
  • Language guides (and accompanying videos)
  • Cultural expectations and information
  • Detailed clinical placement information

So, if you approach working in the developing world with sensitivity, long-standing partnerships can be forged. We’re proud to say that we’re the proof. In fact, making a positive impact is built into the very structure of our overseas programs.

For example, all our in-country teams are local people, from our in-house chefs to our most senior Programme Directors.

For every person we place in a hospital, we make a significant financial contribution directly to that institution. With this money, new staff can be hired and new equipment bought, which allows hospitals to provide a better level of care for patients. We also make regular equipment donations based on each hospital’s needs. But don’t just take it from us —

When international students and professionals come, it’s easy to identify equipment gaps that we have. When we see these gaps, Work the World fills them for us. – Dr. Meshak Shimwela - Hospital Director, Tanzania

Work the World Have donated a lot to our ward because they’ve seen the situation of our patients. We’re so thankful for the help they’ve extended. - Rose Karen Hijosa - Senior Nurse, The Philippines

As with any partnership, there’s always room for improvement, so we make a point of being open to change. We listen to everyone; local community partners, hospital directors, staff nurses, students, professionals — you name it. In fact, regularly reshaping our organisation’s practices based on new learnings is why we’re all so proud to work here.

If you’re interested in joining us on one of our carefully crafted overseas placements, get in touch with us on +61 (0)2 9199 4885, or fill in the enquiry form at the bottom of this page.


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