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. We take our ethical commitments seriously and are constantly evaluating what we do to ensure we’re making the most ethical choices. It’s important to us that we stay true to our values and maintain the highest ethical standards.
Activities we don't do
In 2018, we made the decision to end our support for orphanages, but we did so with careful consideration for the well-being of the children involved. Rather than abruptly withdrawing our support, which could have had a negative impact, we embarked on a gradual withdrawal process that spanned several years. Throughout this transition, we collaborated with external consultants to prioritise the protection of vulnerable individuals. We also provided assistance to our partner organisations as they shifted their operations towards alternative care options. In cases where our partners were unwilling to make this transition responsibly, we made the difficult decision to withdraw our support.
Providing ethical travel experiences in different parts of the world means that we often interact with communities that contain vulnerable persons. GVI does not work directly with residential care institutions and we don’t participate in any work that involves caring directly for people with disabilities, refugees or internally displaced individuals.
This commitment was made with the understanding that displaced people, refugees and persons with disabilities may require specialised care and services. Participants on GVI programs are unlikely to have the specific skills, training and experience needed to support vulnerable populations effectively and safely.
GVI provides a range of public health programs focused on education and preventing potential illness and injury. This can include health awareness and personal health education workshops, assisting qualified health professionals with data collection and contributing to resource development.
We do not deliver medical programs because these require some measure of academic qualification, and some level of formal training and previous experience through apprenticeship or internship.
Allowing people with no qualification or experience to participate in or undertake such activities, even under the supervision of qualified or skilled individuals, creates a high potential for harm to come to anyone involved.
We don’t condone or offer participants the opportunity to engage in medical veterinary procedures as these too require a level of academic qualification, training and experience.
On some of our programs, participants might work with local veterinary clinics, but this is a small part of a different program. These activities are always very clearly defined and easy to monitor – typically limited to funding support and local education campaigns on animal health. This means the risk of unethical practice and harm is minimised.
Animal handling and conservation
At GVI, we deeply value and respect animals. We take ethical considerations seriously in all our animal-related work. Our commitment is to ensure that our interactions with animals are responsible, compassionate and guided by a strong sense of empathy.
Using our experience in the field, we’ve compiled a set of guidelines that allow us to offer programs where volunteers work with animals ethically. These guidelines include:
These guidelines are followed when delivering program activities, assessing their impact, and when reporting and publishing findings and results.
We ensure that at each hub where we handle animals, our staff have updated and documented expertise on animals. We follow all the necessary safety precautions and guidelines and release the animals back into the wild immediately after data collection. This includes specific knowledge about the biology of the animal species in question, and a willingness and ability to take care of animals properly.
Climate Action Plan
Mass coral bleaching. Severe tropical cyclones. Destructive wildfires. It’s clear that we are facing a climate crisis and increasing threats to biodiversity. GVI is in business for protecting the future – mobilising a global movement for environmental conservation and community development. We are accelerating our work to help communities protect and preserve nature sustainably. And we are using any influence we have to campaign for systemic change from governments and local communities, and educating our participants to become influencers of the change.
We are implementing a climate action plan by:
– Supporting local partners and communities. We support community-led efforts to protect the planet through volunteering, capacity building and fundraising
– Investing in conservation. We work to protect and restore biodiversity, reverse habitat destruction, and prevent species extinction. This involves working with local partners to plant trees, restore mangrove forests and corals to offset our carbon footprint.
– Influencing and campaigning. We strive to use any influence we have, to meet climate change with systems change.
– Reducing carbon emissions. We have taken active steps to reduce our carbon footprints at our hubs by:
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.
GVI works with local organisations to implement construction projects that are open to participants. Local ownership is one of our core 10 Ethical Principles and is the reason why all construction projects are locally-led and only initiated at the request of the community or partner. This approach contributes to the sustainability of these construction projects by ensuring that the construction project will serve the community and not fall into disuse.
Participants contribute to construction projects mostly by undertaking small tasks like painting, easy woodwork or hanging shelves – tasks that do not require specialised skills. When tasks call for extensive experience (eg. welding or bricklaying), local professionals or organisations are employed. These local resources are funded through program fees, grants, fundraising and donations via GVI Charitable Programs’ projects and contributions. This approach ensures the quality of the project and supports local businesses.
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.
Diversity, equity and inclusion
Our mission includes everyone. There is no room for discrimination or marginalisation when it comes to working towards global sustainable development. Our belief in collaboration and equal partnerships with all stakeholders drives us to find ways to improve diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in our network.
We see DE&I as separate but deeply interrelated concepts. Diversity is the variety of characteristics such as ethnicities, ages, genders, sexualities, differing physical and mental abilities, linguistic differences, socio-economic or health statuses, and cultural backgrounds that make people unique and are represented in a given context. Diversity also includes the intersectionalities of these characteristics. Equity refers to ensuring fair treatment, access and advancement for each person by taking deliberate action to correct for/dismantle existing marginalisations. It is different from equality which relates to treating each person the same. Inclusion, for us, is the active practice of making space for diverse viewpoints and voices in a given context, so that everyone is respected and valued.
When it comes specifically to DE&I and our participants, we aim to attract and accommodate as diverse a pool as possible. We never require anyone to differentiate themselves. We wouldn’t ask out of respect for them and because of ethical best practices. However, if someone chooses to let us know that they identify as part of a marginalised group, we provide comprehensive support throughout their time on a program. We also offer scholarships for marginalised groups to improve their access to the global opportunities for learning and growth provided by our programs. Additionally, to support those who have higher financial needs, we have developed a fundraising platform for people to use in raising funds for their GVI program.
It is important to us that our staffing and organisational culture are representative of the many parts of the world where we work and that all members of the GVI team feel equally valued and included. We have constituted a Diversity Equity & Inclusion Committee to advance the following three goals:
The committee works in collaboration with teams and departments across the organisation to implement initiatives that increase DE&I. When we have the resources to do so, we engage experts to accelerate our learning as we are continually educating ourselves and remain humble in this space.
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.
Gender equality means that all genders are valued equally in society, and that all genders can fully exercise their human rights. Some of the most important components of gender equality are equal legal status and legal protections, as well as the ability to acquire and manage resources like information, skills, property and income.
We believe that all genders are equal and should be treated and valued equally. We show this through our programs; our diversity, equity and inclusion priorities; and our language. We actively work on advancing gender equality through our dedicated gender equality; women’s empowerment; and justice, equity, diversity and inclusion programs.
LGBTQ+ rights are human rights. We aim to create an environment where members of the LGBTQ+ community are respected, supported and feel that they belong. Our approach to LGBTQ+ inclusion is based on best practice and the advice of experts, but we are still continually learning and may not always get it right. Providing LGBTQ+ inclusion training to staff at all levels is a core aspect and important first step to continuing to create a diverse and inclusive culture.
We ensure that participants from the LGBTQ+ community can travel safely to our hubs, and are equipped with the best of our knowledge of the prevailing environment, social norms and legislation of the country they’re travelling to. As a way of protecting our participants, we have created mechanisms for them to self-identify confidentially through our intake forms if they wish to. In this way, we can tailor our recommendations of suitable locations and provide extra support on base if necessary.
While we do our best to support all our participants so that they can travel while being their authentic selves, we also have a duty to advise them of best practice when travelling to places where the LGBTQ+ community may be subject to discrimination. Our hub staff play a critical role in helping LGBTQ+ participants understand and navigate the local context so that they can enjoy a safe and fulfilling stay. Participants also have a responsibility to prepare themselves for travel however, and we encourage them to conduct their own research on their destination.
To find out more information per hub, read our LGBTQ+ Travel Guide here.
Mental health and well-being
We understand that mental health is at the heart of our well-being and forms a core part of our ability to be the best versions of ourselves. Doing our part to contribute to some of the world’s most pressing development challenges is inspiring and invigorating but can also be demanding. Therefore, we place a strong emphasis on the mental health and safety of our staff and participants.
We request participants indicate any mental health or other medical conditions they have before joining our programs. This allows us to make better recommendations for suitable programs, and to provide more effective support on base. Our field staff have been trained to support participants with mental health conditions and neurodivergence, and we also provide a 24-hour hotline for participants and staff who need immediate and confidential care.
Our mental health support approach focuses on:
Our Mental Health Management Plan outlines this in more detail.
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.
Our partnerships with various stakeholders are central to everything we do at GVI. We work with schools, local community groups and organisations, government conservation agencies, and many others. Every one of our partnerships represents a unique relationship. We’re committed to working hand-in-hand with our partners to bring about sustainability and empowerment within the communities in which we work.
This process starts with defining the partner’s goal and objectives. This means clarifying what the partner wants to achieve, and ensuring that it can be achieved ethically, in a way that is empowering to all involved. Our role is to act as collaborator and facilitator to achieve those goals by assisting with providing extra skills and resources to achieve our partners’ goals.
GVI actively works against creating a dependency on our support by local partners. We do this by building in-country capacity so that the projects become self-sustaining. Exit strategies are also put in place upfront, so that we know that the positive impact will continue long after our end-date arrives.
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.
Everyone has the right to their own religious beliefs and practices. As an organisation, GVI is secular. However, we have the utmost respect for the various religions of our staff, local community members and international participants. Our bases around the world are safe spaces for everyone to interact on an equal, neutral footing. We actively work to maintain the safety and neutrality of our bases because we believe in the power of cultural exchange. We pride ourselves in the fact that people from all religions can come to our bases and learn from each other in a secure, open setting.
The goal of responsible travel is to minimise the negative impact that international visitors might have on a local economy, natural environment or unique culture. As a sustainable development organisation supported by international contributors, we take responsible travel to a new level of engagement and awareness. We believe that travel should not simply seek to minimise potential negative impacts of global tourism but to strengthen visited regions through the engagement of international visitors in long-term, locally lead, sustainable development programs.
Our staff and participants around the world contribute to these locally-led programs, but before they do they are provided with training on best practices. They complete training on the 17 UN SDGs, the issues in the region, and how local partners are tackling these challenges.
Participants also receive training on how to act in a culturally appropriate manner, and how to prevent harm to a local natural environment when working on nature conservation projects.
Safety and support
We also pride ourselves on our incredibly high standards of support and safety. These standards apply equally to all of our stakeholders, from participants, to staff, to local community members. However, sometimes there are people that require additional security when travelling abroad. These are most notably vulnerable groups that include solo female travellers, ethnic, religious or racial minority groups, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Our enrolment managers have thorough knowledge of all the health and safety protocols for every GVI base around the world, and are highly equipped to discuss any fears or concerns anyone might have. We do our best to implement additional levels of safety and security for unique situations and provide a 24/7 emergency contact line that is contactable from anywhere in the world.
When studying, interning or volunteering abroad, sometimes well-intentioned individuals and organisations enter into an unequal power dynamic. In this dynamic, participants might unintentionally position themselves as the would-be saviours of a “poor” community. We are clear that our partners and the broader community are the experts in their context and any solutions that are developed or work we do is to address needs identified by the community as a development priority.
Over the years we’ve also tried to steer clear of representing our staff and our participants as “saviours”. We are always working to improve how we represent the communities and organisations we partner with so as to steer clear of perpetuating antiquated stereotypes and power imbalances. We have updated our marketing materials accordingly and will continue to review them. So that this principle remains at the centre of our work, we discuss the “white saviour complex” with our participants and explain why it’s harmful.
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.
Volunteering with children
The well-being and education of children around the world is essential to the advancement of several United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). We are committed to achieving these goals and partner with local organisations to deliver a range of child well-being and education projects.
Our staff and participants engage directly with children, which means strict measures are put in place to protect the children that we work with from any harm. In line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, we protect children’s well-being and their rights in all our programs and activities.
All staff and participants are trained in our Child Protection Policy which outlines the control measures and processes in place. The policy sets standards and expectations for how staff, participants and partners should behave when interacting with children, and includes specifications on the ethical use of images and other media. The policy also stipulates communication and reporting procedures for any suspected breach of child rights.
Wild animal captivity
We believe in a world where animals can roam freely and continue to thrive in their natural environment. Captivity denies animals the chance to have a normal life. There are also numerous health concerns for animals that are locked up. Therefore, in all our conservation research and programs, we do not keep animals in captivity. In cases where we find animal that requires attention and care in captivity, we take cognisance and approach animal welfare departments and ethical NGOs who can take care of animal hygiene, have facilities to quarantine new arrivals, ability to provide necessary vaccines, health screening procedures, nutrition evaluation, clinical or related waste material treatment and disposal and a comprehensive pest control program.