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Home » Transcript: Daniela Papi on What’s Wrong With Volunteer Travel? at TEDxOxbridge

Transcript: Daniela Papi on What’s Wrong With Volunteer Travel? at TEDxOxbridge

Daniela Papi

Daniela Papi, deputy director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, talks on What’s Wrong With Volunteer Travel? at TEDxOxbridge. Below is the full transcript of the TEDx Talk.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: What’s wrong with volunteer travel by Daniela Papi at TEDxOxbridge


“What’s wrong with volunteer travel?”, you ask.

Well, I believe the growing practice of sending young people abroad to volunteer is setting us up for failure. I’m going to tell you about my practices, my experience volunteering, some of the trends that I’ve seen, and also some ideas I have for how we might be able to improve this.

There’s a Cambodian phrase that says, “If you plant papayas, you can’t get mangoes.” I think that a lot of volunteer travel right now is offering really short-term solutions for complex problems. And yet, we’re really disappointed when we’re not getting long-term development results, like when you get a papaya, and you’re expecting a sweet, juicy mango.

We’re not only failing the youth that we’re sending abroad and the communities that they aim to be serving, but we’re also harming our collective futures, because if the next generation doesn’t have the tools that we need for sustainable development in the future, we’re in trouble.

Volunteer travel is one of the biggest growth sectors in the tourism market, and millions of young people go abroad to volunteer each year, I was one of them. I even set up an organization in Cambodia that’s taken hundreds of people over to help. We started in 2005, when some friends and I wanted to bike across Cambodia. We were going to teach children about the environment, and health, while raising money for what we thought would be the best way to improve education: to build a school.

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