Looking for a place to find the perfect volunteer opportunity abroad? Check out GivingWay, a new online platform that connects travelers with over 250 international organizations around the world.
Eight years ago, as a stay-at-home mother of two young children a yearning developed that wouldn’t let me go. I had always been fortunate to travel and I quit my career in business to stay home and raise my kids. Yet after a few years, I felt like something was missing. I wanted to give something back and make a difference in the world, outside of my daily life. I turned to the internet and found an organization that for a fee, provided a short-term international volunteer experience working with elderly in a small town in Costa Rica for a week.
It was such an amazing, life-changing experience that I did it again the following year in Morocco with the same organization. The only downfall was the price was exorbitantly high – over $2,000 for a week that included lodging, food and administrative fees and did not include airfare. As a woman traveling alone I thought it was my only option to find a short-term international volunteer position without going through a church or mission group. I viewed the high fees as my donation to helping others, not realizing that the majority of the money did not go to the non-profit in country.
I was so inspired by my experiences volunteering abroad that I dreamed of making a list on my blog of different international organizations that accepted volunteers. However, I never got around to it. You can imagine my delight when I learned about GivingWay, a new online platform that connects travelers with international volunteer experiences around the world for free.
Volunteering abroad – also known as Voluntourism – is one of the fastest growing sectors of international travel, with an expected 20 million travelers participating in volunteer activities on a trip by 2020.
Currently the volunteer travel industry is dominated almost entirely by placement agencies that typically charge large fees to match travelers with opportunities at grassroots organizations. Volunteering abroad has become a business in which placing agents profit off the difficulty volunteers and nonprofits have in finding each other both off and online. Despite the large fees charged by the placement agencies, little of the money raised actually goes back to help out the international organization.
“I spent a year as a volunteer English teacher on the Thai-Burma border years ago, and I was shocked to see how far astray the industry is heading,” said GivingWay’s founder and CEO Orit Strauss. “I was compelled to create GivingWay to level the playing field and make volunteering abroad accessible to all.”
By removing the middlemen, GivingWay’s unique online platform makes finding volunteer experiences around the world easy, simple and free. Launched in November 2015, the website directly connects potential volunteers and nonprofits, empowering small, remote NGOs with limited reach to recruit skilled volunteers. The platform already lists opportunities with more than 250 registered NGOs from more than 50 countries on five continents.
GivingWay provides each nonprofit online tools for managing their relationship with volunteers (applications, scheduling, etc.) free of charge. NGOs determine specific local needs and list the available projects and required skills on the website, where potential volunteers can search and sort results by region, country, interest and activity. Projects can range from teaching in a school in India to scientific data collection onboard a research vessel in Italy to veterinary assistance in Tanzania. (GivingWay takes an ideological stance against orphanage tourism and does not accept volunteer opportunities at orphanages.)
As travelers explore volunteer opportunities, they can read about the nonprofit, the work it does and the type of assistance it seeks; see what is provided by the organization and at what price (such as accommodation and meals); get in touch with the appropriate person at the organization; and read reviews of the volunteer experience from like-minded travelers.
Each NGO determines what it can provide their volunteers, as well as what it charges them if any costs are incurred during the experience. This way, any financial benefits go directly to the NGO and into the local community, not to a third-party matchmaker.
While the ability to find volunteering opportunities through the platform will remain free for nonprofits and volunteers, GivingWay will soon add revenue-generating services, like travel-booking services (hotels, airfare, and insurance) and online donations. This will make GivingWay a one-stop shop for travelers booking volunteer trips.
GivingWay is the brainchild of Orit Strauss, founder and CEO; Alon Elish, founder and chief technology officer; and Gigi Levy-Weiss, founder. Strauss is a commercial/hi-tech lawyer with more than 10 years of experience at Israel’s leading law firm. Elish is a seasoned entrepreneur with more than 20 years of technical and product-related experience in the web and mobile space. Levy-Weiss is a serial entrepreneur and one of Israel’s most active angel investors. The company is based in Tel Aviv, Israel.
I had the pleasure of learning more about GivingWay’s exciting platform from an interview with Orit Strauss, founder and CEO of GivingWay. Here is what Orit has to say.
What inspired you to start GivingWay?
The idea of creating GivingWay was inspired by the understanding that volunteering abroad had become a “business” – and a lucrative one at that – in which the biggest beneficiaries are the (mostly Western) placement agencies and not the local communities themselves. We want to make volunteering accessible and easy for all and we want to enable even the remotest of organizations to be found by suitable volunteers that match their actual needs. We believe that by cutting out agents and agent fees and allowing volunteers and NGOs to have direct and open dialogues, the chances of maximizing impact to all involved are much higher.
Explain your model as a “social impact tech company” and “for-profit” company. How do you generate income?
We are what you call a “social impact company” since we are a for-profit company (as opposed to a not-for-profit organization) with a strong social agenda running through our core values. Apart from the ability to search for and connect with NGOs on our site for free, we also provide NGOs with various other free services such as application and scheduling tools, database and network management tools and social network promotion services. Since we are a for-profit company we are starting to implement income-generating sources which will be offered to users on our site such as travel bookings (flights, accommodation), travel goods and services (insurance etc.), paid promotion for local businesses and handling fees for facilitating donations as is customary in online donation platforms.
How do you find and screen volunteer opportunities? What kind of research do you do to know that they are legitimate and safe (this is most pertinent I believe for solo female travelers)?
To be eligible to create a profile on GivingWay, an organization must be legally registered, must be run by and for the benefit of local communities and must have a contact person with at least basic English. In addition, since we are strongly opposed to “orphanage voluntouring”, we took an ideological stance and do not allow orphanages on the platform. It is important however to understand that as opposed to a placement agency or a volunteering company that is itself the provider of the volunteering opportunities, GivingWay is an online platform that provides a virtual “meeting space” for organizations and volunteers. While we are in close contact with many of the organizations, we build strongly on the “power of the crowd” and strive to create a strong community where peer-based-reviews by volunteers, the exchange of knowledge and the sharing of information play a strong role in vetting organizations from the ground up. We do take very seriously any negative report we receive about organizations and always reserve the right to remove from the platform organizations that do not comply with our policies. We have had a couple of cases where we received very bad reviews about certain organizations and we immediately removed them from the platform.
Provide some examples of the volunteer opportunities you provide.
As an online platform, GivingWay is like a giant “billboard” through which organizations and volunteers can connect according to their own preferences. As long as both sides comply with our platform policies, organizations and volunteers are free to set up their own profiles, describe who they are, what they are looking for, what their requirements and preferences are etc. In an industry dominated by agents and middlemen that don’t always take into consideration what the actual needs of the local organization are, our goal is to shift the focus over to the organizations themselves so that they determine and manage the whole process with their volunteers, starting from the definition of what they need (skills), what they provide (some provide accommodation/meals) and through to whether they charge any fees from volunteers (it is entirely their prerogative to decide if and what they charge). We do not interfere with the process between the organizations and the volunteers and we see our role here as merely to provide help as needed – by facilitating communications, providing the tools for this process and by providing useful and relevant content on volunteering etc. – but at the end of the day it is between the organizations and the volunteers to work out all details between themselves.
In this spirit, the volunteering opportunities listed on GivingWay are not provided by us – they are provided by the organizations themselves. With over 250 active organizations from more than 60 countries worldwide, there is a rich variety of organizations and volunteer opportunities that range in type of work and duration etc. Some organizations offer short-term volunteer projects while others require a minimum period of time, some organizations don’t provide accommodation while others do (and will typically charge their volunteers for such) and many organizations also welcome families. Volunteering types range from teaching, childcare, administrative work, fundraising, animal care, conservation projects and many more. We are currently working on new filtering possibilities which will include short/long term and other popular searching parameters.
Who are you typical volunteers? (age, background, etc) and what are they looking for to achieve by volunteering?
The great thing about volunteering is that there are practically no barriers to it! Almost anyone, of any age, gender and background can find a suitable organization that could benefit from his or her skills. Statistically speaking, there are more female volunteers than men, the typical volunteer is from a relatively higher socio-economic background and is in his/her twenties and thirties (although there are many mid-lifer and retiree volunteers). The reasons people volunteer are quite diverse but I would say that for the most part people today are looking for more “meaningful” experiences both in day-to-day life as well as when travelling; also, cultural immersion, creating an impact, meeting people from all over the world and giving back are some of the main reasons folks are volunteering around the world.
What makes GivingWay different from other organizations providing similar services?
As a free and direct platform, GivingWay is unique in that it makes volunteering abroad accessible to all and allows for even the remotest of organizations to connect with suitable volunteers according to actual needs and relevant skill sets. Unlike placement agents that charge an arm and a leg to connect volunteers and organizations (with the majority of these fees remaining with the agents and NOT reaching the local organizations…), through GivingWay there are no agents and no agent fees and if certain fees are charged (for example in exchange for providing accommodation), such fees are charged by and paid directly to the local organizations themselves. In addition, we offer various free online tools to organizations to help them manage their relationship with volunteers and are creating a vibrant community rich with content and services through which people can discuss, learn, share and prepare for their volunteering trip so that the positive impact to all involved is maximized.
How does GivingWay promote sustainable tourism and cross-cultural understanding?
By shifting the focus from what placement agents and even volunteers THINK is needed to what the local organizations themselves ACTUALLY NEED, we believe we are playing an important part in changing the way people perceive their roles as volunteers. We believe that facilitating direct dialogue and relationships between volunteers and organizations directly impacts sustainable tourism since this way resources (skills, time and money) are all directed to the local communities themselves and this can greatly affect the further use of resources by and for the benefit of local communities. By encouraging and educating people about ethical, respectful and responsible volunteering we believe we are also contributing to cross-cultural understanding and building relationships that mutually benefit both volunteers and local communities.
For more information and to read volunteer reviews and blog posts on GivingWay, click here. Happy volunteering!