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VOLUNTEERS WITHOUT BORDERS.org - Is the official website for the Volunteers Without Borders Foundation, (Reg. No. Chor Mor 353) based in Chiang Mai, Thailand. 

The primary objective of The Volunteers Without Borders Foundation is to develop a more equitable model for responsible tourism that puts (local) people over profits, protecting their futures, customs and culture against the negative impacts of mass or mainstream tourism.

Its collaborative operating model ensures that 100% of funding contributed by volunteers for specific VWB community service projects does just that (without any commissions levied on them.)

VWBs overheads and other expenses are funded exclusively by Track of the Tiger T.R.D., its tourism industry partners. In selected cases, skilled volunteers are subsidised by individual and corporate donors. 

Overview

Introduction & History (Read more / read less.)

The Volunteers Without Borders Foundation, registered (Chor Mor 353) in 2010, evolved from a CSR Initiative started in 2004 by Track of the Tiger T.R.D. (Tourism Resources Development), in collaboration with the Ban Mae Lai village community, Chiang Mai. The project established a nature trail along a length of the Mae Lai stream that ascends from 1000 to 1600 m.a.s.l. over and around some 17 waterfalls and through the community forest.

Grant funding for construction materials and labour was provided by the PATA Foundation, and was subsidised by donations/labour from school clients under their community service requirement.

Track of the Tiger covered some labour costs, and the development of a nature trail guide book, plus overheads, marketing and booking costs. The project won the SKAL Ecotourism Award for 2006.

The beneficiaries:

  • Track of the Tiger benefited by establishing a platform for experiential learning programmes for its client markets - International school, corporate team building and special interest travel.
  • The village community benefited from the construction work, trail entry fees, employment opportunities for guides and service staff at Pang Soong Lodge, and better access to and protection for their traditional community forest.
  • Donors, volunteers benefit by having 100% their CS donor funding and hands on effort go directly to the project they were working on, and not to cover marketing and overheads etc. Their input builds an opportunity for the village to generate sustainable revenue - and more.

To build on that success the model transitioned from CSR Initiative to registered non-profit foundation status to ensure a clear separation of profit and non-profit operations. To that end, Track of the Tiger & The Maekok River Village Resort continued their symbiotic relationship with VWB, covering all overhead, admin and marketing costs, ensuring that 100% of funding contributed by volunteers went directly to the CS projects they worked on.

The Maekok River Village Resort & Student Centre, used the community service component of its experiential education programmes to attract donor funding and labour from its visiting schools clients. Over a few short years they completed 150 projects injecting US$ 850'000.- (teaching English, building classrooms, water systems, toilets, a special needs school wing), into the schools of the Amphur Mae Ai, area. Their efforts were recently honoured with an award by the Thai Ministry of Education.

The Board of Directors for VWB, chaired by the MD of Track of the Tiger, draw no salaries, expenses or remuneration for their services. They reason that their companies benefit from providing the accommodation, meals and services) for those undertaking VWB's CS/CSR projects, which in many cases are also used as platforms for delivery of their experiential learning programmes.

In an environment where the well established non-profits are under increasing scrutiny for the exhorbitant salaries, remuneration packages and expense entitlements of their directors and senior management, the flow of much needed funding and hands on help to those in need is under threat. The control of funding lies firmly in the hands of the donor /volunteer, who can and must police the non-profit sector by demanding transparency and accountability from the organisations that seek their support. 

With the advent of the internet, and symbiotic operating models like the one outlined above, non-profits can now be locally operated and reduce the percentage of donor funding spent on overheads to an absolute minimum, and provide potential donors/volunteers with (a) an audited summary of annual accounts that state clarly where donor funding is spent. (b) an assessment of what long term their contribution to the projects will accomplish.

We welcome your enquiries.

 

Volunteering - The Conundrum (Read more / read less.)

After years of watching the rapid and sometimes questionable practices employed in the voluntourism industry, we realised that much of the good will, funding, and positive impact of the volunteer's efforts were being diluted by poor project selection and predatory practices.

In too many cases projects were selected to provide the best 'feel good' factor for the volunteer, and the highest commissions for the placement agency/operator, with little attention being paid to maximising the potential long term benefits of the volunteer's input. Without industry oversight the onus is on the individual volunteer to ask the right questions. They should consider:

  1. What benefit does a child derive from being given number of English language lessons the content and quality of which is often tailored to the volunteer's capabilities than by the student's needs, if the students family cannot afford the costs (transport, accommodation, clothes, books etc.) for the next step, or the non-profit providing the service, has not put options for further education or the means to afford it in place?
     
  2. Whether they should they be paying arguably exorbitant fees to enrich a commercial operation sometimes disguised as a non-profit to bathe and feed elephants, or should they research/listen with an open mind, to the arguments put forward by (a) The pro-animals rights group. (b) The pro-indigenous rights group. (c) Those who suggest a compromise, and seek support for solutions that would have the greatest long term impact on elephant conservation?
     
  3. Whether they should stay away from orphanages altogether to stop abuse - children being rented in for profit - or should their assistance be directed to (a) funding salaries for qualified long term local staff (not unqualified foreign volunteers) to look after the children, (b) building infrastructure and equipment, and providing access to education for the genuine orphans?

In short, the very people and causes that volunteers seek to help are put at risk by volunteers who fail to research the options carefully or conduct the due diligence needed, and as a result do more harm than good.

 

The Problems (Read more / read less)

The phrase 'Over-tourism'  is widely used in tourism today, and refers to the negative impacts of high volume tourism on destinations, the local people, their lifestyle cultures and the environment. The experts are touting many solutions, based primarily at reducing tourist numbers and increasing prices - thus retaining revenues.

Whilst this may address the overtourism problem, (in the short term), it does little to address the impact od a decline on those providers (hotels, guest houses, restaurants, vendors etc), established to meet the market as it was. They will be locked in a race to the bottom - where room rates, service standard and guest quality drop, crime increases, and the destination goes into decline.

Fortunately, the more progressive local businesses and tourism representative bodies are realising that the only way to survive is to broaden the base of the tourism product, by placing greater emphasis on the real USP's of the destination (culture, customs, lifestyle, environment) They know that in offering unique rather than contrived travel experiences, and by maintaining product quality, they will attract a better and more sustainable market.

The challenge is that most of the products and services that appeal to the target market client, are not suited to 'mass tourism', nor can they offer the high commissions that the traditional tourism industry business model demands. 

 

The Solutions (Read more / read less)

Tourism provides a great opportunity for us to address inequality worldwide, but without the introduction of an alternative business model that levels the playing field for micro and SME based, locally owned tourism businesses, the huge - and long promised - potential of tourism to create employment and opportunity. 

To deliver on the promise of tourism, we need a set of collaborative strategies and integrated solutions.

The Travel4Good Business Model

The Travel4Good business model, a colloboration with Volunteers Without Borders, is a social enterprise driven online search, research, booking platform, designed to level the playing field for micro and small/medium tourism businesses, by offering a fee based alternative to the commission based system that so disadvantages them.

The Development of Travel4Good Tourist Routes

 

Travel4Good is developing a network of tourist routes radiating out from, and between tourist destinations, starting with Chiang Mai, Thailand. They link previously little visited and potential new attractions/activities, (unique and rewarding travel experiences) that showcase the customs, culture and lifestyles of the areas they pass through. Expanding the tourism attraction beyond the confines of the developed tourist enclaves, reduces the negative impacts without a reduction in guest numbers, and spreads the benefits of tourism more equitably.


The Development of LVBEs (Local Visitor Based Economies)

Whilst the T4G Tourist Routes will help provide revenue for individual businesses and/or communities, the real challenge lies in providing local people with the skills, employment and opportunity, to establish and run those businesses. This is where Volunteers Without Borders comes in.


As the typical T4G guest is a responsible traveller, we know that they prefer to use the local services (accommodation, activities, food etc.), and organic or non-chemically contaminated food is high on their list of priorities. VWB's mission is therefore to provide education in 3 areas:

  1. Basic English language - suitable for use in rural tourism.
  2. Small Scale Sustainable Agriculture - to provide the much needed 2nd revenue stream to supplement income, finance self improvement, and increase the appeal of the area to T4G visitors.
  3. Local Tourism Business Development - to provide the local businesses with basic skills to run a profitable, responsibly operated business with the highest service standard possible. The benefits are significant:

By spreading the tourist attractions beyond the confines of the tourist destination or enclave, into the rural areas, we reduce the negative impacts of, and extend the longevity of its appeal.
 
It reverses the migration of rural workers from their communities to the poverty of slums in or around the city. The negative impact of this exodus on the individual workers, on the very old and very young left behind, and on the fabric of their traditional cultures is devastating.
 
The system can easily be supplemented by a well run, cost effective supply chain that brings the 2nd revenue stream product into the main destination, for the benefit of both citizens and rural folk, of the type of visitor they would like to attract.

Collaboration with VWB - by and between Universities/ VWB/ Private Sector Partners / Donors & Sponsors

 The disparity between the skills students learn in the university environment, and the level and work experience they need to  become a productive member of a team in the business world is problematic for both those seeking gainful employment, and those offering it.

 

In the eyes of the recruiter, today's BA is yesterday's MSc, and the difference between applicant A and B comes down more often to the 'real life work experience' they have accumulated.

 

Opportunities for quality work experience are few and far between. Most interns or those on work placement are not given the training or responsibility they had hoped for, function as low level assistants, and as a result are often turned off pursuing a career in the field they were 'placed' in.

 

The collaboration between Track of the Tiger, The Sanpatong Experiential Education Centre, The Maekok River Village Resort, and Volunteers Without Borders offers much more in terms of work variety and responsibility than they are likely to find elsewhere.

 

We believe that by packaging the work experience we offer, we can provide an attractive and valuable opportunity through which the student may gain the work place skills he or she needs. He or she can also report back to their corporate or institutional sponsor, with high quality materials that will have enormous CSR value. It will also help reduce the learning curve between the student leaving university, and entering the workplace.

 

More detail can be found on the CS & CSR Project Menu.

 

Collaboration - Who Does What (Read more / read less)

The following stakeholder groups all have important roles to play in the process.

Stakeholder Group

Roles and Responsibilities

The Volunteers Without Borders Foundation.

  • Provides a range of projects and assistance to local communities aimed at developing skills, employment and opportunity in the LVBE (Local Visitor Based Economy.)

(See: CS & CSR Project Menu.)

Track of the Tiger T.R.D.

  • Provides transparently priced supporting services for those working on VWB projects - (accommodation, meals, transport, training, supervision.)
  • Covers VWBs Admin/Overhead and Promotional costs as part of its own CSR programme.
  • Uses VWB Projects as a platform on which to deliver customised corporate team building, CS/educational (for visiting schools), CS /special interest programmes for Travel4Good Club Members. The clients donate funds/materials/labour direct to the VWB projects used.
  • Uses its Travel4Good initiative a low cost online platform to provide market access and booking services connecting LVBEs with the responsible tourism market.

Individual & Small Groups of Volunteers

  • Pay Track of the Tiger T.R.D. for the transparently priced support services.
  • Pay a donation towards the costs of a specific project (transparently stated - and generally covering materials/local labour assistance - from breaking ground to completion.) 

Customised Programmes- Projects can be selected by the volunteer group from a menu. Additional activities (adventure, special interest etc.) can be added to provide a more rounded programme.

Fixed Departure Programmes- Projects are pre-designated.

Corporate & Institutional Sponsors

  • Are invited to fund longer term VWB Volunteers with specific skill sets, (teachers - to run our Saturday School project) and (experts/interns - to assist in the development of business models, online profiles, best practices, 2nd revenue streams and more for new T4G Business partners.

     
  • Are invited to fund individual projects ( primarily infrastructure in local schools) the work on which is undertaken by individual volunteers and visiting schools.

Note* All volunteer work on sponsored projects will include the generation of promotional materials (stories, photography, video) to be submitted to the sponsor for use in CSR activities.

Development Partners

Special Interest Travel Operators

  • May include participation by their clients in a VWB volunteer programme as a component part of their overall itinerary, without any additional charge, as part of their own CSR contribution to responsible tourism development.
  • May consider charging their clients an organising fee, (not a commission) over and above the price quoted by Travel4Good for a customised tourist route programme.

Note* The menu of activities offered to clients taking a customised T4G tourist route programmes include VWB volunteer projects - typically short duration (2-3hr) installation of knock-down style playground equipment/mushroom houses/greenhouses - in rural schools along the route.

Rural Schools / Community Members

  • Wishing to benefit from VWB volunteer/corporate funded programmes must commit to (a) training to ensure best use of projects established. (b) compliance with a post installation reporting programme that allows donors to track the ongoing benefits of their support.

Local Government

  • Is invited to collaborate on the LVBE development initiative, and is integral to ensuring its success.

T4G Business Partners

  • T4G Business Partners (accommodation, restaurants, activity centres) along any of the many T4G tourist routes to be developed, with the facilities to host Saturday schools/training workshops etc., are invited to express interest in doing so.