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10 Years of Responsible Volunteering: In the spotlight – Q&A with Globalteer founder, Jim Elliott

Volunteer Organisation - Globalteer

General manager, Jim Elliott set up the volunteer organisation, Globalteer in 2006 to offer a more rewarding and more effective way of volunteering to people who simply wanted to help out where help was needed. Although Jim is a very unassuming and a rather private person, we were determined to get him under the spotlight for our tenth anniversary and find out what makes Mr Globalteer tick. Here's what he had to say:

Q1. What was your inspiration to set up Globalteer back in 2006?

I was an active volunteer in the UK, something I truly enjoyed and felt passionate about. I had previously volunteered through an international volunteer organisation placing volunteers and also independently through a local NGO. Both overseas placements had serious issues that made me think that there must be a better way.

The commercial volunteer organisation was expensive and none of the money that I paid went to support the local project. This left a bad taste in my mouth. It was also a big issue for the project director who felt this was unfair.

Volunteering with the local NGO was free but I felt unprepared, unsupported and ultimately I did not achieve much. This was simply because the project did not have the resources to support and make use of volunteers.

There must be a better way

Both projects were doing great work so I thought there must be a better way for them to utilise volunteers. I considered the concept of charging volunteers in a similar way to the commercial volunteer organisation. I quickly realised that in return the volunteers deserved to better services and support. Also, the projects could benefit enormously from a portion of the fee as a donation to the project so to help them continue and expand their work.

At that time, I was on a year out from work and after travelling and volunteering in Asia. I started to write a business plan for a new volunteer organisation and a new way to volunteer overseas. I refined my concept of volunteering overseas where the volunteer receives services and resources that allows them to become truly effective volunteers whilst also supporting the projects financially.

When I returned to the UK I presented the idea to the Charities Commission. They advised that Globalteer set up a volunteer organisation as a non-profit for six months to test the concept and then apply to become a fully registered charity.

The concept was very popular with volunteers and even more so with our partner projects. They would now receive well-prepared volunteers as well as financial assistance to help them support the volunteers and provide resources for their work. Within one year, the Charities Commission in the UK accepted Globalteer as a registered charity and we have been operating under their guidelines ever since.

Q2. And looking back, what are you best memories after ten years of Globalteer?

The travel, living and experiencing new and amazing cultures, meeting hundreds of new like-minded people. But at a deeper level, setting up community schools for disadvantaged children in Cambodia and Peru and watching them grow and develop into amazing projects. Seeing the kids at those projects grow and develop from marginalised children into university graduates.

One of my favourite more personal memories was taking my daughter to see the elephants at the project in Cambodia. She fell in love with Princess who was very friendly and smaller than the other elephants. My daughter still has a picture of princess in her room 7 years later!

Q3. Which were the first projects you worked with?

The first projects Globalteer worked with were an amazing project for street kids, a community school and a clean water project. We still work with and send volunteers to all of these original projects. It has been a privilege to see them grow and kids get through school and move into the world of employment.

We also started working with the elephant and wildlife project in Thailand. They proved very popular and seen hundreds of Globalteer volunteers over the years.

Q4. How and why did you decide to work with these projects?

I had volunteered with these projects myself so saw personally the impact they have. So I wanted to help the projects as best I could. I saw the value that international volunteers could bring to these projects. I therefore decided that I wanted to do more to help them in the long term. The projects themselves wanted more volunteers but did not have the time to recruit, prepare and support volunteers. They were using their valuable resources on their own core development and conservation work. I decided that my skills could be best put to use by providing the projects with this service.

Q5. What made you want to give people the opportunity to volunteers with these projects?

Whilst spending time at these projects, I saw the need and also the impact that volunteers could have in helping projects achieve their aims. They needed the skills and manpower that volunteers could bring. They also needed the funding to continue their amazing work. I also know first-hand what it is like to be given the opportunity to help out for a cause you feel passionate about. Especially in a well-managed way, and I wanted more people to be given that chance.

Q6. How have projects evolved and changed over the years?

It is just amazing to see the difference in the projects. The street kids project in Cambodia is one project in particular that has grown from very humble beginnings to a project that has profoundly impacted the lives of many street children. I have seen the community school in Cambodia that we founded grow hugely from the early years thanks in part to the support and funding from volunteers. These days all the projects we work with are much more focused on realistic and meaningful objectives and maximising the impact they can make with the resources available.

Q7. What about volunteering with Globalteer – how has that changed?

Globalteer has evolved too, using the feedback we have received over the years from both volunteers and projects. We now provide more support and services to the volunteers than ever before. This means that volunteers are much more prepared and better supported during their volunteering. It also means that the projects can concentrate on their work knowing they have valuable and useful support of our volunteers.

Q8. Globalteer has always been committed to responsible volunteering – what does that mean for volunteers?

It means that volunteers only work with projects that are genuinely impactful. Projects that have the structure and resources to properly utilise volunteers. We have a very strict partnership policy, we only work with the best projects whose charitable objectives align with ours and which are able to maximise the impact of volunteers.

As well as that, all volunteers working with children are background checked and all the projects we work with have to adhere to approved Child Protection Policies.

Q9. And what does it mean for the projects you work with?

The main advantages are that the people we place at the projects are fully prepared and able to carry out the volunteer work needed by their chosen project. There are no disappointments in expectations from either the volunteer or the project.

Q10. Have you seen any changes in people’s attitudes to international volunteering over the years?

Volunteers have become more aware of the difference between good and bad volunteering and a good and bad volunteer organisation. There are still many commercial volunteer organisations that send volunteers overseas but there is a ground swell of people calling for more regulation in volunteering which is great. There have been many positive steps to make good volunteering the standard. In fact, many volunteer organisations have adopted some of Globalteer’s ethical volunteering practices in light of volunteers becoming more aware of and demanding more responsible volunteering.

Q11. What do you think has been the most positive impact of Globalteer’s work in the last ten years?

For me this falls into two areas. First, it is the achievement of charitable aims through the projects we have set up and through our partners. For example, thousands of abused and endangered animals have been rescued and rehabilitated; thousands of children have benefited from improved education, better employment prospects and better health.  Globalteer was instrumental in providing child protection policies to many organisations in Cambodia. I am certain that this has protected many vulnerable children over the years in a country where child rights and safeguarding are still not commonplace.

Secondly, it is the profound affect that volunteering with us has had on many volunteers’ lives. We have placed thousands of volunteers with our amazing partners, helping them to achieve their objectives and expand their work. Many of our volunteers have become long-term supporters of their projects. They have helped to raise awareness of serious global development and conservation as a result of their time volunteering with us. It truly inspires me to do more when our partner project directors express their appreciation and the support that Globalteer and our volunteers have provided them.
Q12. What are you hopes and plans for the next ten years?

For international volunteering I really hope to see the industry becoming more responsible and ethical as a whole. In my time living abroad I have seen too many volunteers with unethical volunteer organisations turning up to volunteer totally unprepared, unsupported and who are ultimately ineffective with little work to actually do. We also need to work together to see an end to un-vetted and unchecked volunteers working at projects without child protection policies and practices. There is so much good that can be done by well managed volunteering programmes, but this is not the way. Cutting corners like this potentially does much more harm than good.

For Globalteer, I hope to provide our amazing projects and partners with ever more volunteers. They can then continue to grow and do even more great work. I would also like to see us team up with more carefully selected partners over the next 10 years to help expand the positive impact of their work supported by our volunteers.

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