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The VolunTourist™ is a premium Newsletter for the Travel Trade. For those interested in discovering what is happening in the world of VolunTourism™ and seeking emerging practices, general information, and case studies, this is your Source.

Volume 4 Issue 2 Highlights




So You May Know
Wisdom & Insight
Supply Chain
Study & Research



VolunTourism: Harmonizing Stewardship & Entrepreneurship

Money-making and social do-gooding are colliding via VolunTourism. If you read the various accounts of how these two camps - tourism & voluntary service - are viewed, and how their hybridization and cross-pollenation is being perceived, you cannot even begin to fathom how folks are capable of expressing every shade of the "glowing-review-to-utterly-reprehensible" continuum. Fascinating to say the very least. With a bit of introspection, we may have identified a possible solution for all stakeholders: the harmonizing of stewardship and entrepreneurship.

We are entering a new chapter in the evolution of VolunTourism. With the advent of interest in this travel & lifestyle genre, we are realizing, along with acceptance of the term, i.e. VolunTourism, some additional items:

1) An increase in product development,

2) A broadening of the utilization of the term, and

3) An expansion of the number of business models and service offerings being generated.


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This is certainly all well and good, free-market economics at its very best; however, what is not clear, and has yet to be qualified or quantified, is whether the “entrepreneurs” and “social entrepreneurs” who are entering this market space know what it means to be a steward of VolunTourism. Can rapacious capitalists embrace the "triple-bottom line" approach? Will the very nature of VolunTourism "force" them to harmonize stewardship and entrepreneurship? At this stage, questions rather than answers will be in abundant supply.

What Types Of Entrepreneurs Are There?

David L. Scott inked a book, Wall Street Words: An A To Z Guide To Investment Terms For Today’s Investor, back in 2003. One of the terms included, amongst the roughly 4500 entries, was “entrepreneur.” He defined it thus: “A risk-taker who has the skills and initiative to establish a business.”

Tourism has been a veritable "womb" for the incubation of entrepreneurs. There are one-person efforts, corporate behemoths, and everything in between. With roughly one tenth of the world's population dependent upon the income generated through tourism, the entrepreneurial spirit is simply part of the industry at the atomic level.

Recognizing that entrepreneurism is being enhanced with personal values, we must also take into account that those who are drawn to VolunTourism may be inclined to identify themselves as social entrepreneurs. For a definition of these folks, we turn to the Schwab Foundation For Social Entrepreneurship and get the following:

Stewardship At A Glance

Now, when we turn to the term “steward,” we encounter a distinctly different definition. In tracing the etymology of this word, via the Online Etymology Dictionary, we discover the roots “stig ‘hall, pen’ + weard ‘guard.’” As a “house guardian” is it likely that the steward of something will, in addition, be a “risk-taker”?

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I think it is within reason to assume that at some point in the life-cycle of a venture an entrepreneur shifts from being an all-out risk-taker to becoming the steward of the venture. Moving from the stage of creation, the entrepreneur enters the phase of preservation. Preservation requires a willingness to continue to take risks via such things as: evaluation and subsequent modification, termination of certain products, services, or even people, and opening new markets, in an effort to sustain the functionality and perpetuation of the business; but the degree to which risk is taken will differ.

In the case of VolunTourism, however, do we have the luxury of awaiting the “transformation” from risk-taker” to “house guardian”? Or is it essential to harmonize these approaches initially by educating the VolunTourism entrepreneur and assisting her/him in assimilating the wisdom of the stewardship of VolunTourism?

One could argue that any good MBA program will instruct individuals on what it means to be the manager, i.e., steward, of a business. But does it also teach an individual how to be the “guardian” of the “that-which-is-beyond-the-business”?

To me, this will be the biggest struggle for the VolunTourism Industry, and anyone who strives to “profit” by it. Each will have the tendency to be the steward of her/his individualized brand – self-preservation is indeed valid. But will these same individuals and groups, be able to assume the role of steward of the overarching concept?

Being the steward of VolunTourism means that one understands all of the stakeholder groups that are impacted by every strategic determination he/she sets into motion. For example, if you publicly express an aversion to the term "voluntourism" in an article or interview, yet put up a “Google Ad” under that term, how does this look to your core constituency – past alumni, board members, potential participants, or even the general public? Do you think it will go unnoticed? Is this stewardship?


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Here are some thoughts for those VolunTourism entrepreneurs who may want to broaden their stewardship potential:

Maintain Your Principles

One item to consider in the stewardship of VolunTourism is to maintain your principles. If your entrepreneurial instincts create the desire to take risk with your principles, especially if one of those principles is to be a steward of VolunTourism, you are in the wrong business. Don’t bother. And this is where we enter a very tricky spot for the entrepreneurs who lean more heavily toward risk-taking: VolunTourism has too many folks scrutinizing, watching, participating in, evaluating, and assessing what is happening at all levels of your operations. Whether “the watchers” are community residents, voluntourists, research students & faculty, the media, or other entrepreneurs, you will soon discover that what you do and how you do it is under constant observation.

Make "Service" Your Guiding Principle

A second item to consider in the stewardship of VolunTourism is to let service be the guiding principle of your operations, not profit-motive. The list of possible outcomes in the reversal of this caveat is, of course, endless.

I have seen, with my own eyes, people added to a teambuilding exercise as part of a meeting group and because the individuals were not brought along with the core group on what was to happen, there were not enough supplies to accommodate the extra hands, etc.; it eventually impacted everyone. It meant more money, of course, for the entity that was proving as “host” for the activity, but the ripple effects were felt throughout the experience by many of the participants - - not good.

Who Is A Social Entrepreneur?

A social entrepreneur is a different kind of social leader who:

Identifies and applies practical solutions to social problems by combining innovation, resourcefulness and opportunity.

Innovates by finding a new product, a new service, or a new approach to a social problem

Focuses first and foremost on social value creation and in that spirit, is willing to share openly the innovations and insights of the initiative with a view to its wider replication

Doesn't wait to secure the resources before undertaking the catalytic innovation

Is fully accountable to the constituencies s/he serves

Resists being trapped by the constraints of ideology or discipline

Continuously refines and adapts approach in response to feedback

Has a vision, but also a well-thought out roadmap as to how to attain the goal

Procedural Integrity

A third item to consider in the stewardship of VolunTourism is to maintain your procedural integrity. For example, moving a would-be-voluntourist, through the queue of your processing system in a fashion that is more rapid than usual can result in a “nightmare” for community residents and other voluntourists. You simply do not want to go down such a path. The numbers of the monthly cash-flow statement may entice you to do otherwise, but don’t let this temptation lure you to bypass your procedures.

Offering Gratitude

The final consideration I will mention regarding the stewardship of VolunTourism is to offer gratitude at all levels of your operations. “Thank You” may be the most under-rated term in the language of homo sapiens. And when you can express those words in the native tongue of the communities in which you operate, Wowser!

A VolunTourism journey is like a major motion picture event. (I cannot emphasize this sufficiently!) There are forces beyond human control that literally descend on these experiences at one time or another during the course of an itinerary. Somehow, at the conclusion of a trip, if you really take time to reflect on all that happened, and, more important, everything that could have, but didn’t, it will literally BLOW YOUR MIND! Just ask anyone who has taken a trip, run a trip, served as a community liaison – pick a person – and s/he will be able to confirm this very fact.

Gratitude serves as recognition of both: 1) appreciation for the trip and everyone who served in bringing it to fruition, at all levels – no one person or thing being more important than another, and 2) our limited comprehension, which fails to fathom all that has occurred, how it came to pass, etc.

Final Remarks

These comments are not meant to suggest that entrepreneurship and stewardship are mutually exclusive. On the contrary, I think they can very much mutually nurture and support one another. The key is to harmonize them and to practice their respective utilizations in a manner that assists you in becoming proficient in knowing which one is best suited for the present situation. Being the entrepreneurial head of your operations while being the steward of VolunTourism will only serve you and everyone else who is being drawn to this combination of purpose meets passion.

At first, it may be difficult to recognize how large the ocean of VolunTourism is. You may be so enthralled with the number of ships on the water that you are unable to hold the stewardship perspective. Trust me; there is room for everyone. As soon as you know this, really know it, you will be able to say to yourself: “I am beginning to harmonize the relationship between the entrepreneur and the steward in me.” Alignment of what you may perceive to be idealistic with what you consider business savvy will, nevertheless, serve you and your constituents, reinforce your entrepreneurial spirit, and prove far more sustainable over the long haul.

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