Elephant and Wildlife Conservation Apprenticeship in Thailand

Hone your research skills in the forests of Northern Thailand on a project dedicated to the conservation of semi-wild elephant herds.

Durations: 24 weeks
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Critical science

Critical science

You'll contribute to vital conservation research targeted at protecting the earth's most valuable ecosystems.
Ethical engagement

Ethical engagement

Using the UN's SDGs as a framework, we've made a commitment to positive, constructive and sustainable impact.
Beautiful adventures

Beautiful adventures

You'll spend your days exploring some of the world's most breathtaking, exhilarating and remote wildernesses.

Program information

Kick start your career on this apprenticeship in Thailand’s mountainous Chiang Mai region, where you will gain invaluable skills and experience to broaden your future career options. Teach English to community members, assist with biodiversity studies of the area including bird and reptile surveys, and contribute to monitoring the reintegration of elephants into the forest, which have been relieved from the tourism industry. Experience first hand the elephant’s in their natural forest habitat and observe their eating choices and interactions. Discover the unique Thai culture and lush mountains in this Northern region of Thailand.

Save up to 15%. Book before 31 March.

Get your special offer
Dates & Prices
What's Included
Life On Base
Free time
Cultural Immersion
Speak to alumni
Parent Info
Your Impact
Our Ethics
Program ethics
Qualifications & Training
Support & Safety
Covid-19 Response
Live Updates

Program overview

Travel to see the breathtaking mountainous scenery of Northern Thailand around Chiang Mai, and contribute to conserving the Asian elephants by living and working with traditional elephant-keeping communities.

This apprenticeship consists of three aspects, namely community development (including teaching English), biodiversity, and elephants. This makes it an ideal opportunity to gain practical experience of skills that would serve you well for a career in conservation or zoology, or if you have an interest in the natural world that you would like to develop further. Each of these programs is run independently but are integrated and highly relevant to each other.

The community program consists of teaching English to children at the school and to the elephant keepers (mahouts), as well as supporting community efforts to reduce their financial dependence on their elephants. The biodiversity program involves surveying and identifying reptiles, mammals, insects and birds in the local area using different techniques. The elephant program consists of leading elephant health checks, studying the behaviour of the semi wild herd, and educating other participants about Asian elephants.


Work placement

Join a 3-month work placement in a key role with either GVI or one of our local partner organisations, gaining essential conservation experience working on a research project or with an NGO.

Huay Pakoot

Experience the unique Karen culture and lush mountains of this beautiful region of Northern Thailand while observing elephants in their natural habitat.

Kickstart your career

Participate in three months of intensive fieldwork training to ensure you’re ready to launch directly into your conservation career.

Get a job placement

Work for a conservation partner for three months to get real practical experience and build a network of industry contacts.

Fast track experience

Join a targeted career-readiness program that’s based on two decades of experience to grow your leadership and career skills.

Get a career guarantee

Because our apprenticeships are so intensive and comprehensive, you’ll get a guaranteed job offer if you complete all components.

Advance your career

Gain international experience, receive four recognised qualifications and get a LinkedIn reference to boost your CV.

Get the edge

We know what it takes to work in conservation – that’s why our apprenticeships qualify for preferential recruitment when applying for GVI vacancies.


Some of the example typical activities you could participate in on this program.

Fieldwork training

Learn how to identify species, conduct surveys and population assessments, and assess threats to terrestrial ecosystems and ecosystem-level processes.

Lead conservation surveys

Hike through the nearby forest and hills to collect data on elephants, gibbons, and various other notable species essential to the local ecosystems, including birds, mammals, insects and reptiles.

Learn about Asian elephants

Gain an academic understanding of elephant biology and behaviour, and experience the bond they share with their mahouts and the role they play in Thai culture first-hand.

Project work

Join our ongoing conservation and community project work, including entering data into citizen science databases and leading environmental education workshops on environmental topics. You will teach English classes to the wider community to help improve ecotourism opportunities.

Leadership and fast track training

Take part in the following courses: Impact and Ethics, Intro to Project Management, Effective Communication, Leading Teams for Impact, Off-Site Safety Management, Participant Management, Self Leadership & Wellbeing, and GVI Policies and Procedures.

Leadership responsibilities

Take on additional responsibilities such as entering data, writing reports and summaries, and updating species lists and fieldwork checklists.

Personal project

Work on an individual project that aligns with your personal interests.


Meet weekly in a small group with other interns and an experienced mentor to receive project guidance and feedback on your leadership style.


  • Data collection
  • Data entry
  • Population ecology
  • Species identification
  • Survey research
  • Wildlife conservation


Some of the partners we work with on base.

Huay Pakkoot Elephant Community Foundation
Local High School
Karen Hill Tribe Community

Program details

Dates and prices

Select a start date:

Exclusive offer. Book before the end of the month and receive up to 15% off this program.
COVID-19 flexibility. If COVID-19 prevents you from travelling, change your location and dates free of charge.
Payment plans. Flexible payment plans allow you to pay in instalments.

What happens next?

Once you apply, a personal Enrollment Manager will be assigned to walk you through the rest of the process.


The following itinerary is an example of the activities and project work that participants might get involved in on this program. More specific details of the program are finalised several months before each start date. The itinerary shown below has been followed by our staff and group volunteers in the past.


Start your day at the local coffee shop (passing buffalo on the way), followed by breakfast with the group at the base.


Go on a hike and spend quality time with protected Asian elephants to monitor and survey their behaviour.


After lunch, attend a conservation training session, or work on your research or internship project.


Visit the local school to teach English, facilitate sports activities and present health and wellness lessons.


Join a variety of conservation activities to empower the community to build more sustainable businesses.


Gather as a team to reflect on the day and chat about the realities of the local community and its environment.


Share a potluck dinner with your homestay family, prepared with fresh ingredients sourced from the surrounding area.


It's time for some fun and games. From quiz nights and Jenga, to stargazing and bonding around the bonfire.


After passing the first 12 weeks of your professional training and project work, you’ll get the rare opportunity of working directly for a conservation partner for the remaining 12 weeks! This is your chance to experience what it’s actually like to work in sustainability. You’ll get valuable on-the-job training and boost your career – and LinkedIn profile – with real international work experience. Your placement will be decided during the first 12 weeks of your professional apprenticeship, and could either be with GVI on base or at one of our external partner organisations. We’ll take into account your career direction, location preferences, and specific skills and passions to find the perfect match for you.


Huay Pakkoot Elephant Community Foundation

Local High School

Karen Hill Tribe Community



What’s included?

What's Included
24-hour emergency desk
24-hour in-country support
Airport pick-up (unless otherwise stated)
All project equipment
Food (except on long-term internship placements
Safe and basic accommodation (usually shared)
Pre-program training
Group introductory call
Welcome presentation
Endorsed GVI Specialisation Course
Endorsed Leadership Course
Project work
Sustainable project work
Leadership responsibilities
Data collection and research
Real projects with partners
Remote support
Program training
Weekly group check ins
Remote Academic Internship Supervisor
Remote Career Internship Supervisor
Preferential recruitment on GVI positions
Job portal access
Endorsed Careers Course
Career coaching sessions
Certificates and achievements
PDF reference - upon request
Linkedin reference and skills endorsement
What's Excluded
Additional drinks and gratuities
Extra local excursions
International and domestic airport taxes
Medical and travel insurance
Personal items and toiletries
Police or background check
Visa costs

Life On Base

Located in the heart of Northern Thailand, our base in Chiang Mai is surrounded by breathtaking mountains, fields, and forests. With beautiful hills all around, we have a bird’s-eye view over the fields and forests below. In the rainy season, the clouds roll through the base at eye-level. Being the middle of the jungle, elephants can be found throughout the surrounding areas.

When you arrive on base you will be welcomed by the villagers with a traditional Geju ceremony, which they perform for all new participants upon their arrival. During the Geju, food is blessed and pieces of string are tied onto others’ wrists to wish them good fortune.

The project work takes place in the Mae Chaem District, a 5-hour journey deep into the mountains, where the famous Karen elephant-keeping community resides. This community shares a unique and sacred relationship with elephants.

From the base, it’s about a 50-minute walk to the river where you can see buffalo walking about. Despite being very afraid of people and quite shy, you might sometimes see them in the village. The open-air base is divided into two buildings. The older building is usually reserved as a study area – or for staff meetings, presentations and lectures. It has a table with chairs, a hammock for reading, and a few small desks. The newer building is where people socialise. The library is in the new building. It’s small and basic, consisting of a few bookshelves. You can enjoy beautiful sunsets right in front of the base, and there’s a fire pit which we use in the evenings . Moonglow Ridge is a beautiful area to take mats and stargaze. During free nights, we like to watch movies on the projector, sit around the firepit, visit a villager’s home, or take a night stroll. Games (board and card games) are well received and enjoyable to interact with the local community members. There are also a few friendly dogs around the base.


GVI Chiang Mai allows you to experience the local lifestyle. Each volunteer gets their own homestay with a family in the local community. This allows you to become immersed in t...


We provide transfers to and from the Chiang Mai Airport. If you are not arriving within the pick-up window, you will find regulated taxi stands at the airport. You can easily tr...


You will have limited access to long-distance communications whilst on the program, so make sure friends and family know how often they can expect to hear from you. Wi-Fi is usu...


Breakfast is available at base before the morning hikes, and lunch and dinner are typically home-cooked meals provided by your individual homestays. Food is simple but nutritiou...


From November to February, Chiang Mai enjoys its cooler months, when the temperature is mild and mostly dry. The weather is hot and humid between March and June, but as we are b...

COVID-19 Safety

Enhanced cleaning and social-distancing measures in place.

Learn more

Download our Travel Smart Checklist

Essential information you need to travel safely during the COVID-19 pandemic - including destination ratings, flight bookings and tests.

GVI experiences

We want you to make the most of the chance to live in – and contribute towards –  the most diverse and unique wildernesses and communities on earth. Introducing GVI Experiences – immersive adventure, cultural and wellness activities exclusive to GVI that have been specially designed in collaboration with our local partners to support and stimulate sustainable economic development. 

Enhance your impact. Expand your adventure. Explore your world.

Exclusive local GVI experiences
Learn traditional Karen cooking
Learn traditional Karen cooking
Taste tradition
Connect with the Karen people's culture
Connect with the Karen people's culture
Faith in mountains
Forage for forest medicine with a village elder
Forage for forest medicine with a village elder
The earth heals
Visit Thailand's highest peak
Visit Thailand's highest peak
The Roof of Thailand
Explore Thailand's elegant and mysterious waterfalls
Explore Thailand's elegant and mysterious waterfalls
Water travellers
See amazing biodiversity on a night trek
See amazing biodiversity on a night trek
The night calls
Take a sunrise hike up Two Tree Hill
Take a sunrise hike up Two Tree Hill
Into another world
Sleep under the stars alongside Asian elephants
Sleep under the stars alongside Asian elephants
Starry, starry night

Free time

Joining a GVI program not only allows you to collaborate with communities or work toward preserving unique ecosystems – but it also offers plenty of opportunities to explore the surrounding area or travel further to see what other parts of the region have to offer over weekends.

Field staff are a great source of advice and have helped us put together the following information on local travel options. You can choose to travel before or after your experience with GVI (subject to immigration restrictions), solidifying the lifetime friendships you’ve established on the program. Please note that the below options are not included in the program fee, and would be up to you to arrange at your own expense.

Weekend Trips


Pai is an amazingly small backpacker town with a huge street-food market. Tours  to the canyon, caves, and waterfalls are available. Check out Pa...

Local Adventures

Karen culture

The Karen people are friendly, minimalistic, generous to outsiders, and caring towards nature and wildlife. There are a number of community elders who are very conversational an...

Village celebrations

Visit the village’s Buddhist temple which is set alongside a sacred lake. During Thai holidays, you may hear chanting coming from the temple, see parades taking place, or witnes...

Night in the forest

Ten minutes away from the village, there’s a campsite in a conservation forest. Upon request, we sometimes take what gear is available on base and sleep out in the forest. We st...

Football, volleyball and ultimate frisbee

Join other participants for a game of football, volleyball or ultimate frisbee at a field next to the school. Just be sure that it’s not being used by the local students for the...

Hiking trails

Take a hike along the corn fields to watch the sunrise. This trail offers excellent views of the forest. Or take the forest trail – you might even see some gibbons. This is quit...

Smoothies, noodles and fashion

Visit Boh Luh’s Smoothie Shop, a two-minute walk from base. Boh Luh sells delicious smoothies made from mango, banana, passionfruit, watermelon, and other fruit. Make use of the...

Movie nights

We have a projector at base as well as a large selection of movies. Sometimes we take a vote on which one to put on after dinner (or when we have a quiet afternoon).



If you need to get a workout in, you’ll find our gym on the lower floor of our base hut. It includes a gym bench and weights.


Ping pong

On the lower floor of our base hut, you’ll find a ping-pong table. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself engaged in a heated ping-pong tournament against some of the mahouts!<...

Cultural Immersion

Engaging intimately with a new context teaches global awareness, adaptability and critical thinking – skills highly valued in the modern marketplace. Local and cultural immersion is encouraged on all our programs around the world, and will also be one of the most enjoyable aspects of your experience. Luckily, there are many different activities that you can get involved in during your free time, or before and after your program.

On our community programs, the focus is on cultural topics, while on marine or wildlife programs the emphasis is more on the environmental element. Use your evenings and weekends to explore topics like local cuisine and religion, or how sustainable development challenges are affecting local contexts.

Spirituality and religion

Most people in the village are animists, who believe that all objects, including animals, have a spiritual...


Many visitors to Thailand choose the destination because of its amazing food culture. From street food to culinary delights in the finest Thai restaurants, you will never be sho...


There are festivals throughout the year, the most notable being Songkran – the Thai New Year and water festival – held in mid-April, and the lantern festival in November. Nation...


Thai is the official language of Thailand and is spoken by roughly 36 million people across the world. In the project location, their first language is Pakinyaw, which you will ...


Rachel Rawles

05 Mar, 2019

Hi, my name is Rachel. I have recently spent 6 months doing an internship with GVI in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. This is the second project I have been on with GVI in the space ...

Alex Santiago

11 Oct, 2018

My name is Alex Santiago. I am the Bio-diversity intern for the Thailand Elephant Re-introduction Program. My main focus on the project is to identify and research the species livi ...

Alex Ocana

11 Oct, 2018

I graduated from Austin College in May of 2016 with majors in Biology and Spanish; at the time of my enrollment in the GVI Chiang Mai program, I was in the beginning stages of deve ...

Vanessa Gravenstine

11 Oct, 2018

When I was an undergraduate student and I envisioned my life as an environmental scientist, I imagined I would be riding in some adventure-movie style Jeep chasing elephants in Afr ...

Kristina Jenkins

11 Oct, 2018

I began my journey with GVI Chiang Mai as a short term intern and got far more out of my stay than you could imagine. After spending two months on an internship I was offered a sch ...

Victoria Ireland

11 Oct, 2018

During my time as a 3 month intern on project, I learnt and experienced more than I could have anticipated. I feel as though I really contributed to the great efforts of the progra ...

Rosie Willmott

07 Sep, 2018

Hi! I’m Rosie Willmott and I am one of the six month interns here on the GVI Thai Elephant project in Chiang Mai province, Thailand, and have recently finished my A-level courses i ...

Murray Robertson

25 Nov, 2013

As an intern on this program I've had what I can genuinely say to be some of the best and most rewarding experiences of my life. Living and working closely with the Karen people of ...

Speak to alumni

If you’d like to find out what the experience of joining a GVI project is really like, simply contact us and we’ll put you in touch with one of our many Alumni.

We’ll try to match you to an Alum based on your location, nationality, age, stage of academic career, gender, and program interests. This allows you to gain insights into the experience that is most relevant to you.

Depending on your location you might be able to speak to an Alum over the phone or online, or meet up with them face-to-face at a coffee shop nearby. We also run a series of small events around the world where you can speak to GVI Alumni, Ambassadors and staff members.

Get a first-hand perspective

Meet us

Meet the team

Get acquainted with the GVI Asia, Thailand, Chiang Mai family


Senior Program Coordinator

Parent Info

‘If only every student could do this. It changes your life in all the right ways,’ says Chris Heritage, parent of Luke Heritage, one of our teen volunteers who has participated on two GVI programs, one in Costa Rica and another in South Africa.

We are a parent-run organisation that is incredibly serious about health and safety, and increasing the impact, as well as the long-term career benefits of our programs. Our programs help young people develop the skills to select a career path that is personally fulfilling, and live a life aligned to the well-being of our planet and the global community.

Ken and Linda Jeffrey, whose son Sam volunteered with GVI in Thailand, talk about how the experience affected Sam. He also went on to volunteer with GVI again in South Africa. ‘I know it sounds like a cliche but in a sense, he did go away as a boy and he came back as a young man. Both of us could recommend GVI without any hesitation to any other parent thinking about exploring an opportunity for their children to explore the world and to see different parts of it.’

Parent Info Pack

Download the Parent Pack and learn more about:

Our staff: All our projects are run by staff, selected, vetted, trained, and managed by our central office.
Health and safety: Our safety practices include a child and vulnerable adult protection policy and high participant ratios.
Staying in touch: See what’s happening on base, by following a hub’s dedicated Facebook page.
Free parent consultations: We would love to talk to you about exciting opportunities available for your child.


When it comes to support, we ensure that each participant is provided with unparalleled, 360 degree support, from your initial contact with the GVI Family, all the way through your program, and even after, as you become part of the GVI Alumni Team.

As part of this promise, we will ensure, whenever possible, that one of our dedicated staff will be available to meet you at the airport. In most locations, we also set up a Whatsapp group to help with managing airport arrivals. We will arrange with you prior to your departure that, should you arrive in the agreed upon pick up window, a member of our staff will be there to welcome you, easily identifiable in a GVI t-shirt or holding a GVI sign and wearing a friendly smile. This means there will be someone there to greet you as you land, and from there you will be transported to your GVI base to start your adventure and meet the rest of your team.

COVID-19 safety

Enhanced cleaning and social-distancing measures in place.

Learn more


Download our Travel Smart Checklist

Essential information you need to travel safely during the COVID-19 pandemic - including destination ratings, flight bookings and tests.

Your Impact

All of our programs have short-, mid- and long-term objectives that align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). This enables us to report on our collaborative impact across the world in a streamlined manner, measuring which UN SDGs we are making a substantial contribution to. Furthermore, this will help our local partners and communities measure and visualise their contribution to the UN SDGs.

Prior to your arrival on base, you will be educated about the UN SDGs. Then once you arrive on base, you’ll learn about the specific goals we have in this particular location, our various objectives, and also clarification of how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these.

Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to be an active global citizen after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.

Please note: Both conservation- and community-focused programs are offered at this location.

GVI Chiang Mai’s programs work in collaboration with the local Karen hill tribe and village of Huay Pakoot. To promote sustainable ecotourism, we work with the elephant-keeping community to assist monitor the introduction of elephants into their natural habitat after their previous lives in tourist camps.

Your contribution will assist in keeping these elephants in protected forests, continuing the conservation of these beautiful animals and what remains of their fragmented forest habitats, as well as providing funding to keep the project running. We also offer alternative livelihoods and English lessons to the local community. Upskilling in English helps facilitate a self-sustainable ecotourism industry. The goal of this project is to have semi-wild herds of elephants living, socialising, and foraging in their natural habitat – supervised by their mahouts from their local village.

Elephant Surveys

We work with local mahouts to track elephants in the forest – collecting behavioural data through observation, taking note of the following:

  • Two-minute interval activity budget on each elephant
  • Interaction with other elephants
  • Vocalisation recordings (written not audio)
  • Monitoring stereotyping behaviour.

Every week we do a health check (eye drainage, tongue check, etcetera). It’s important to note that we have a hands-off approach.

Gibbon surveys
We conduct comprehensive surveys of the daily activity pattern and habitats of White-handed gibbons under natural conditions, which include:

  • Five-minute interval activity budget on each gibbon group member.
  • Recording the feeding, travelling, resting and social activities of gibbons, through various methods.
  • Document location and movement through continuous GPS readings with handheld Garmin GPS receivers.
  • Survey groups for one minute on sighting, with each individual observed for 10 seconds.
  • Observe feeding and collect voucher specimens of the plant foods that are identified by preparing herbaria.

Biodiversity Hikes

We conduct day and night biodiversity hikes, recording any species we see, including birds, gibbons, bats, snakes, reptiles, lizards, amphibians, frogs, and toads. We add images to iNaturalist and eBird.

Quality Education

We work with the local government school – with both teachers and students. Our school-based teaching involves English language, health and wellness workshops, environmental education workshops, and sports activities. Our community-based lessons involve adult and child learners in the community. These are often informal evening sessions, based around what the learners want to learn.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals

All of our programs have short-, mid- and long-term objectives that align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). We want to be able to measure our collaborative impact across the world in a streamlined manner, so all our staff and volunteers know which UN SDGs they’re making a substantial contribution to. This also helps our local partners and communities measure and visualise their contribution to the UN SDGs.

Prior to your arrival on base, you’ll be educated about the history of the UN SDGs. Then, once on base you’ll learn about the specific goals of your location, the long-, mid- and short-term objectives, and also insight into how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these goals on a global level.

Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to act as active global citizens after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.

Our partners

Project objectives


GVI Chiang Mai Long-term Objectives:

1. Increase and promote ethical elephant tourism.

2. Create a viable self-sustaining eco-tourism program for the village. As well as supporting a stable herd of elephants living naturally in the forested area of the village.

3. Improve standards of living and job opportunities for people in the Huay Pakoot village.

4. Improve sustainable natural resource management in the Huay Pakoot area.

5. Ensure a thriving population of wild White-handed gibbons in the Huay Pakoot area.


The best decisions in international development and conservation cannot be made without accurate and up-to-date data or informed research. Our many field teams around the world collaborate with local and international partners to analyse data and draw conclusions. In addition, many of our participants have used research they have collected on their various GVI projects to complete their Masters, Doctorate, or postdoctoral studies. We also run a fellowship program which connects postdoctoral researchers at globally-respected universities with our many sustainable development programs around the world to support their research and ensure continuous improvement of our best practices on base.

All of our publications are on Google Scholar
Google Scholar
View publications
‘Avian Diversity as a Measure of the Impact of Megafauna Reintroduction into Evergreen Montane Forest.’
Scientific Publication

International Ornithological Congress of Southeast Asia Conference in Thailand

Heather Gilbert and Amy Bradley
GVI Thailand Chiang Mai Annual Report 2018
Annual Report
Liane Fulford
GVI Thailand Chiang Mai 2019 Annual Report
Annual Report
Liane Fulford

Our Ethics

Below is a list of core ethics and best practices we believe are essential to the operation of high quality, ethical volunteer and sustainable development programs. We believe that all responsible volunteer and sustainable development operations should focus upon these principles. If you are considering volunteering, these are some of the key considerations you should question, to ensure that your time and money contributes towards positive change.


We want to constantly develop our own understanding of ethical best practice. In so doing, we aim to provide an exemplary industry standard for other education institutions, international development organisations, and social enterprises. Our Badge of Ethics stands for the drive to always do good, better. Find out more, click on the Badge below.

Our 10 ethical commitments


Locally Driven, Collaborative Projects

We aim to design all our projects in collaboration with local organizations and communities and ensure that they are locally driven.


Clear Objectives & Sustainable Outcomes

We aim to clearly define short-, mid-, and long-term objectives with sustainable outcomes for all our projects.


Impact Reporting

We aim to track, record, and publish the impact of each of our projects.


Working Against Dependency

We aim to build in-country capacity by assisting local organizations in becoming self-sustaining.


Responsible Exit Strategies

For each local organization we work with, we aim to have a plan in place for withdrawing support responsibly.


Clear Roles & Specialized Training

We aim to ensure that every participant is assigned a clear role and that they are fully trained and supported to carry out their work by specialized staff.


Respect for all

In all our actions we aim to respect the skills and efforts of all and seek to protect the rights, culture and dignity of everyone who engages with GVI.


Local Ownership

We work to ensure that credit for the results of any project, along with any data collected, research conducted, or Intellectual Property developed, remains the property of local organizations.


Transitioning from the Orphanage Model

We do not condone and aim to withdraw support of orphanages and residential care centers.


Child and Vulnerable adult policies

We will live by our Child Protection and Vulnerable Adult policies.

Continual Development

As an organization, GVI is committed to striving toward best practice, and to educating both our potential participants, our partners, and the world at large about them. Both the volunteering and sustainable development sectors are increasingly, and rightly, under scrutiny. Many recent local and global articles highlight poor practices and questionable ethics. GVI is widely recognized for striving to apply global best practice in the volunteering, education and sustainable development sectors throughout our operations by reputable organizations such as ChildSafe.

However, global best practice is always evolving and we dedicate both time and resources to engage with internationally respected experts and learn from the latest research to ensure our programs both fulfil their potential to create maximum positive impact, and minimise their potential to create unintentional negative impact. Along with and as part of the sustainable development and volunteering community, we are constantly learning and applying this learning to practice. We do not always get everything right, but we seek feedback from our community members, partners, participants and our staff, and react accordingly. We know are already doing a great job, and feedback we have received confirms this, but we aim to do even better and are continuously refining our operations to improve upon our already excellent reputation.

Program ethics

No orphanage programs

We don’t support or allow participants to work in institutional residential care facilities, also known as orphanages. We partner with ReThink Orphanages and Freedom United.

Learn more
Child and vulnerable adult protection policy

Our Child and Vulnerable Adult Protection Policy requires all our staff and participants to complete a criminal background check and to learn why you shouldn’t reveal a child’s identifying factors in photographs. We support the ChildSafe Movement.

Learn more
No medical volunteering

We don’t offer any programs where our participants engage in medical treatment. This is because our participants aren’t typically qualified to do this work and would therefore not be able to do this work in their home country. Our participants only assist with public health programs.

Learn more
No disability support programs

We don’t offer any programs where our participants work directly with people with disabilities. This is because our participants aren’t typically qualified to do this work and would therefore not be able to do this work in their home country.

Learn more
Aligned to local objectives

Each one of our initiatives is aligned to objectives set by a local organisation or professional. Our staff and participants work to support these local actors in achieving their specific goals.

Local employees remain employed

Our participants don’t replace the staff employed by local organisations. Rather, they support currently employed staff with achieving their objectives. Our goal is always to increase local capacity to address local problems.

Local employees remain focused

Participants require training and support to ensure that they carry out tasks correctly. Our staff provide this training and support so that local staff can focus on what is truly important to their organisation at the time.

No entertainment-based activities

We don’t support the use of wild animals for entertainment purposes. This includes riding animals, having them perform tricks, feeding or bathing them or getting close to them to take photos

No orphaned animal sanctuaries

We don’t encourage, support or allow the rearing of “orphaned” wild baby animals kept at a “sanctuary”. The conservation value of these types of programs is negligent and would only ethically be used in extremely rare cases

Guidelines for touching or movement restriction

When wild animals are restricted for conservation purposes we follow the guidelines of Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa (FTTSA), approved by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.

Animal welfare guidelines

We ensure that the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare are followed. These include the freedom to express normal behaviour and freedom from distress, discomfort, hunger, thirst, fear, pain, injury or disease.

Local community empowerment

We ensure that conservation efforts are also always locally led, that community needs are front-and centre of any conservation effort and that our participants, projects and partners work to increase local community engagement in local conservation efforts.

Learn more
No veterinary programs

We don’t offer any veterinary programs or animal rescue and rehabilitation programs. We don’t allow participants to do any work they would not be able to do in their home country.

Learn more


A GVI program is an investment in your career. No matter which you choose, you will be working toward improving your employability by mastering new social skills, gaining further technical expertise and earning qualifications in many cases. Most of our staff are, in fact, GVI Alumni, and we have helped many of our Alumni discover, move toward, and earn their own personal dream jobs. Each program includes introductory workshops, ongoing presentations, as well as on-the-ground professional support provided by our very own trained staff members. In addition, our training programs are critical for helping us to ensure the long-term impact of our sustainable development projects around the world.

For all GVI participants

Orientation: Your Health, Safety and Wellbeing

Learn about COVID-19 pre-departure guidelines, base expectations, personal and area hygiene practices and what we are doing to keep you safe.

Orientation: Travelling Responsibly and Ethically

Learn about the importance of child and vulnerable adult protection best practices and how to apply them while on project.

Orientation: UN Sustainable Development Goals

Introduction to the history and evolution of sustainable development, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and how these related to your project work.

Orientation: Further Opportunities for Impact

Learn about our country locations and further opportunities available to you during or after your program.

For all participants at Chiang Mai

Conservation: Survey Techniques and Logistics

An introduction to different survey techniques and best practice guidelines for surveys; introduction to different types of data and how to record information via a datasheet.

Conservation: Biodiversity & Target Species Identification

Learn about biodiversity and how biodiversity is measured, and classifying different species and how to identify species that indicate the health of the habitat.

Certificates & qualifications

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University of Richmond Certificate Careers in Sustainability

Career paths in social and environmental impact are not as well-established as in other fields. That’s why we’ll provide our interns who have successfully completed their program with our Careers in Sustainable Development course. In this course, you’ll learn about current and emerging opportunities in a range of sectors, allowing you to make the best decision about your future.

This online course, valued at £295, is included in all internships. Full course details can be found here.

University of Richmond Certificate Leading Teams for Impact

Leadership is a critical skill set for anyone looking to make an impact or drive sustainable development. Develop your own leadership style and learn how to set achievable objectives, give effective feedback and manage conflict successfully. After successfully completing the course, which you have the option of doing prior to your in-country program, you’ll receive a certificate from the University of Richmond.

This online course, valued at £295, is included in all volunteering programs. Full course details can be found here.

University of Richmond Certificate Wildlife Conservation

If you have a passion for wildlife conservation then this course will provide you with the foundational skills and understanding needed to achieve your conservation-related goals. You’ll learn about the various methods of wildlife monitoring, as well as exploring the delicate balance involved in terrestrial ecosystem management. After successfully completing the course, which you have the option of doing prior to your in-country program, you’ll receive a certificate from the University of Richmond.

This online course, valued at £295, is included in all volunteering programs. Full course details can be found here.


Alongside your practical on-the-ground work experience, an internship, fellowship or apprenticeship with us comes with curated one-on-one career mentorship and support, including a free GVI online course and exclusive access to a range of job opportunities.


Job portal access

Gain exclusive access to our carefully curated job portal that advertises vacancies in the conservation and development sectors.

GVI online course

Accelerate your post-internships career with a certified GVI online course offered in partnership with the University of Richmond.

Career coaching sessions

Take the next step in your career with two one-on-one career coaching sessions from a remote mentor to guide and advise your professional development.

Career mentorship

Continuing support and advice from a career supervisor to help you connect with specialists from all around the world and develop your insider knowledge.

LinkedIn reference

You’ll get professional endorsements from your supervisor and mentor for all your new qualifications and skills on the world’s largest careers site.

Career guarantee

For interns completing a program of three months or more, we offer an employment guarantee – there will be a job placement waiting for you once your internship is complete!

The GVI Online Careers Course is in partnership with the University of Richmond

Preferential recruitment

Exclusive to those participants enrolled in any of our professional apprenticeship programs is a chance to jump the queue – you will receive special consideration if you apply for a job at GVI!

Support & Safety

We won’t sugarcoat it — traveling abroad is usually a complex process that carries an element of risk. But this is exactly why we’re passionate about providing extensive support throughout the process as well as the highest safety standards during the in-country phase. We believe that volunteering abroad should not only be impactful, but an enjoyable experience that carries as little risk as possible. This is exactly how we’ve been able to maintain our reputation as the most highly respected volunteering organisations in the sector over the past two decades.

COVID-19 safety

Enhanced cleaning and social-distancing measures in place.

Learn more


View support and safety protocols