A Note About "Voluntourism"

Anyone choosing to serve in a disadvantaged community knows that it is a daunting proposition. Far too often, well-intentioned people decide to spend a few weeks in an emerging country doing “service” with little to no understanding of the unintended, negative consequences of their efforts. They want to do good, but unfortunately, end up hurting the people that they came to help by inadvertently damaging social, economic, or environmental systems.

20 Years of Sustainable Building

Over Two Decades of Sustainable Building

At Humanitarian XP, we know that when service is done correctly, volunteers can be miracles for people who live in poverty. We have witnessed this time and time again over more than two decades in this space, serving in hundreds of global locations and providing people with access to health care, education, and social services critical to their well-being.


We have also learned that setting out to serve requires a sincere commitment to understanding the people and places where we serve. In our efforts to bless the lives of our brothers and sisters around the world, we have a responsibility to learn before we act. Any organization claiming to do humanitarian work perfectly is likely unaware of the complexities involved, so here at Humanitarian XP we live by a simple creed: try to do as much good and as little harm as possible in our efforts to help and to love.

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So. . . What is "Voluntourism"?

Our unapologetic mission is to change lives through service—by that we mean the lives of Builders, as well as the lives of those we serve. Over the years, we’ve found that this is a symbiotic relationship; unless our project is truly sustainable and has long-term impact for good in the community, it does not have the life-changing effect on Builders that we promise.



“Voluntourism” is an ugly term that has grown up in academia over the last ten years, and disdainfully refers to people who perform humanitarian work to boost their own image, or go into poor communities just to take pictures, without ever getting to know the people they serve. It also refers to those who work on projects that are completely unsustainable or worse, detrimental, to the locals. Sometimes, it just refers to people who have never thought about the repercussions of their efforts or understand what they are doing. 

Over the years, we’ve taken a very close look at the impact of our projects. At Humanitarian XP, as we continue to learn what it means to be responsible humanitarians, we want to teach those lessons to our Builders as well. We continually ask ourselves several important questions:

Are we creating an over-reliance on our volunteers?

Are there negative cultural repercussions from our efforts?

Will this building be maintained and used properly by a reputable organization?

Are we disrupting the local environment or economy to a detrimental outcome?

These questions, among others, have helped us design a 360 degree rubric that we now use as the Humanitarian XP standard for sustainability to evaluate our economic, environmental, social/cultural, and political footprint. This rubric was originally designed by a group of MPA students at Brigham Young University and has undergone many iterations since then.

Our focus at Humanitarian XP has always been love—developing real relationships with the people we interact with and with one another. At first glance, that can be perceived as self-serving. However, the relationships developed on trips turn into real friendships that are mutually supportive, and through social media, often last indefinitely. We hope to constantly improve as we continue learn more about the needs of the people we love. As humans, and as Christians, we believe that is all we can ask one another.