Our A–Z of ethics summarises our stances on important issues and reminds us of our responsibilities to our stakeholders – communities, partners, participants, suppliers and staff. It outlines our expectations for how we conduct ourselves and the policies and practices to support these expectations.
Animal conservation & handling
We are dedicated to protecting animal’s natural habitats, contributing to animal conservation activities, and educating local and global communities about the impacts of their actions on specific habitats, unique species and the planet as a whole.
We have been operating conservation programs for over two decades using a strict set of international standards and the UN Sustainable Goals as our guide. Using this experience, we’ve compiled a set of guidelines for our programs that allow you to work with animals.
We do not allow participants to touch or get close to animals because it can be dangerous – both for the human and the animal. Apart from injuries (to both humans and animals), close contact can also spread diseases. In addition, disturbing the animal can interrupt its natural behaviour. For example, whales and sea turtles might be disturbed by divers coming too close to them – stopping them from eating, nesting or mating, and can force them to look for new places to live.
If visitors are conducting conservation research, getting too close to the animal can skew research data as the animal will exhibit stressed or threatened behaviour rather than behaving naturally.
We provide our participants with guidelines on how to minimise their impact on protected natural habitats. This might involve information about the impact of littering and plastic pollution, and touching or removing certain plant and animal species, as well as the importance of keeping one’s distance from local wildlife species.
Our partnerships with local organisations support environmental education. Long-term, sustainable conservation efforts can only be effective if the initiatives for protecting local wildlife and the environment are locally led. Any organisation that has conservation as one of its main goals should focus on engaging with the local community on these efforts. At its core, conservation involves creating awareness around why it’s important to preserve environments and species and how to achieve this. It should also focus on other sustainable development efforts – like childhood education and adult vocational training – to support local economic growth.
Our commitment to transparency drives us to higher degrees of openness than is necessarily required by legislation. In the same vein, our attitude towards confidentiality demands respect for legal and moral requirements to protect all stakeholders.
Things that are legally and ethically confidential could include, but are not limited to:
We are transparent about what we can’t or will not divulge, and the reasons for that. When it comes to organisational strategy, the information we will freely divulge or keep confidential relies heavily on the benefit or the potential harm to any given stakeholder.
Cultural appropriation can most simply be described as adopting aspects of another culture for some form of gain – to look cool, receive compliments or money. GVI does not condone cultural appropriation by anyone on any of our bases. We prevent cultural appropriation in many ways. We educate international participants in their first week on how to respect the particular culture they are entering. We impose strict rules on all of our bases on photo or videographic usage, and take appropriate action against offenders. Our long-term staff supervise interactions while participants are doing their program work.
It is so important to us that our participants develop a deep respect for the local communities. This will then lead to more meaningful engagement with the local community.
If you’re curious about the difference between cultural immersion and appropriation, read this blog on the topic.
Cultural immersion is the process of participating deeply in a different culture. It can look like learning the local language of the foreign country that you are in. It might be the opportunity to stay with local people in their homes and learn about their traditions, cuisine or music. Cultural immersion is distinct from cultural appropriation in that immersion starts with a deep respect for a culture and its people, and does not seek to exploit that culture for social or economic gain.
GVI’s stance on cultural immersion is that it is immensely beneficial for expanding people’s understanding of the world – both for local and international citizens. It gives them a new and increased perspective on the issues facing other countries and communities and how local people are working to resolve them. More so, it helps people begin to situate themselves in a broader context.
We actively encourage cultural immersion in our programs, because it is a great way for people to take part in cultural exchanges in a safe, respectful, supervised context. All of our programs take a community-driven, collaborative approach. We have long-term GVI staff at every one of our bases around the world who develop and nurture the relationships we have with local organisations and communities. This allows participants the privilege of living in the heart of a welcoming local community.
Local community members are happy to teach GVI participants how to speak their language and behave respectfully within the community. This helps achieve a deeper sense of integration, allowing participants to more fully experience local life.
A hand up, not a hand out – this a deeply held belief at GVI and is a central concept to our Five Empowerment Principles. We work actively to prevent local organisations from growing to need our aid. Instead, we work to ensure that local partners are learning and building their own capacity.
With this said, donations and monetary funding do have a specific and impactful part to play in the bigger picture of empowerment and project success. For example, we support fundraising initiatives particularly when they are led by the community themselves, often for a specific project. Projects supported by donations should also enable the community to engage and contribute in a meaningful way. This will ensure that the community owns the project and will continue to use and maintain the final outcome once it is built.
Ethics are a cornerstone of our approach to volunteering. Best practice in this area is constantly evolving, and we strive to understand and adapt those practices that make sense for our approach, and to be an example to other volunteering organisations. We believe that communities and local organisations are partners, not recipients and should be equal owners of any volunteer project. For more information on our approach to ethical volunteering, please see Our Ten Etical Commitments, our Badge of Ethics and Five Human Empowerment Principles.
Natural disasters and other world crises
Global crises and natural disasters tend to highlight and can even exacerbate existing socio-economic inequalities. There have been some occasions when GVI has responded to natural disasters or crises. When a disaster or other crisis strikes areas where we have local operations, we first assess the situation. Then, we decided in collaboration with local partners to take action. Specific objectives are laid out, best practices are reviewed, and then work begins to assist in crisis recovery in an ethical, participatory and integrated way.
When disasters or crises don’t affect our own bases and we can’t take direct action to help, we may be able to help with relief or recovery via the GVI Charitable Programs, a USA Registered Charity that supports projects and campaigns through monetary donations.
National and international politics no doubt have integral effects on international development and, occasionally, on GVI’s operations. This ranges from potential local political unrest in the countries where GVI is based, to foreign aid politics that influence how GVI can engage with local organisations, to noteworthy political elections in various countries.
At GVI, we believe that everyone has the right to their own political beliefs and practices. As an organisation, GVI is apolitical, and we choose not to engage in any form of national or local level political debate, rhetoric or practice. We do not invite any form of politics into any of our workplace settings, whether at an office, on a project with one of our partners, or while engaging with participants.
As a general rule, the longer a program, the more impactful it is for both the projects on the ground and for the participants themselves. However, short-term programs – of one to two weeks – can be extremely impactful, if they are planned and conducted well.
Participating in a short-term program can be just as effective as longer-term programs. The world needs more people who are aware of global and local contexts and issues, and have the drive to want to do something good.
At GVI, we have designed and developed programs specifically for participants who can only join for a short amount of time. The impact is mostly about contributing a small part to a bigger picture, and the personal and professional growth of the participant.
Our highly trained staff on the ground act to oversee long-term projects, which participants on short-term programs plug into. Working with local partners, our staff plan, manage and track programs wherein short-term participants play a vital role by completing incremental micro-tasks that all add up.
For example, data collection programs at some of our conservation bases work using participants to collect and capture data after they have been properly trained in the technique. Another example is our construction projects. Short-term participants can complete a micro-project, such as painting a classroom in a bigger school renovation program.
For further reading on whether short-term programs can have an impact, read this blog post.
Successful partnerships and collaborations require trust. Trust creates increased security in relationships and creates a safe space for all stakeholders. It allows us to focus on learning, and implementing best practices to the best of our collective ability.
Transparency is key at GVI. Our mission to build a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference and our Five Empowerment Principles call strongly for transparency. We don’t compromise when it comes to our mission success and sticking to our empowerment principles.
We believe in open conversations and ensuring our stakeholders have enough information to make informed decisions. We do our best to admit our mistakes if and when we make them. Finally, transparency is always key when discussing our objectives and steps forward.
Since the beginning of GVI, we have spent over 65% of all funds directly on our projects. It is our mission to support field operations in the long term. Rather than abandon programs that recruit fewer participants, we strategically invest from our fully staffed sites to help maintain our presence across the globe.
The remaining 35% that is not directly invested in our programs covers the cost of participants recruitment, the operations of our head offices, and the support of projects indirectly through the GVI Charitable Programs. Our offices are of vital importance to ensure the safety and well-being of all our participants and our charity is an essential tool for providing financial support to our ongoing efforts.
Be sure to have a look at this interesting blog article about why you should pay to volunteer abroad.