Volunteering projects organised by agencies are accused of being a form of neo-colonialism. In almost all cases, volunteering organisations from industrial countries enrich themselves on the back of the people in developing countries.
Similar to traditional mass tourism, voluntourism also generates neo-colonial structures inducing dependencies and vulnerabilities. International volunteering companies aim on polarising between their volunteers and the helpless locals, while advertising for their volunteering programs. They label their volunteers as active givers, whereas local people are stigmatised as passive receivers. This binary view leads to disparities by enhancing neo-colonial stereotypes and pattern of thoughts. Especially if volunteers do not have the qualifications, expertise and experience in the work that they signed in for.
„[W]hen volunteer tourists inappropriately take on roles of ‘expert’ or ‘teacher’
regardless of their experience or qualifications, this can be seen to represent the
neo-colonial construction of the westerner as racially and culturally superior“.
Raymond and Hall 2008: “The Development of Cross-Cultural (Mis)Understanding Through Volunteer Tourism”
Journal of Sustainable Tourism 16 (5): 531.
Commercial Voluntourism has decoupled itself from the general idea of volunteering. Nowadays, it is only focusing on stimulating its customers and satisfying their needs and wishes. Financial dependencies and higher existential vulnerabilities are further results if volunteering organisations only focus on profit.
„The potential for volunteer tourism as a new form of colonialism, creating yet
another layer of dependency between the developed and developing world, is also
a primary concern amongst researchers“.
Wearing and McGehee 2013: “International volunteer tourism: integrating travellers and communities”
Oxfordshire, UK. CABI Publishing: 122).
Neo-Colonialism is the massive criticism of commercial voluntourism. Understanding this point of criticism helps to see the concept of volunteering in developing countries in another perspective. Neo-colonial structures force certain Power Relations, Cultural Cannibalism and Poverty Aesthetics which can lead to further inequality.
Especially when young and inexperienced volunteers are not aware of the downsides of voluntourism, the danger is large. Unfortunately, many volunteers do not care about it. They only care about improving their CV and gaining adventurous experiences through their volunteering program. In many cases, they do want the inequality because they just want to feel superior.