Through The Years

  • 1984-1989

    Global Volunteers’ genesis was the simple idea of waging peace by providing development assistance to local people in need. We began slowly, and experimentally, to encourage humanitarian-minded Americans to invest short periods of time living and working with people in developing communities. In this way, local leaders gained the resource of culturally sensitive and open-minded volunteers, while the volunteers experienced a genuine, non-tourist perspective of daily life in the host community. It’s hard to imagine today that this optimistic plan arose before the internet, before cell phones, and before most host communities even had electricity! With a paid part-time staff of one, and a small cadre of volunteers, we incubated the “philosophy of development” in the law offices of Co-founder Bud Philbrook.


    Our first efforts were labor projects in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. In 1984, Global Volunteers Co-founder Bud Philbrook led two teams of four volunteers to Woburn Lawn, a tiny hamlet surrounding the famed coffee plantations of the Caribbean. There, we built chairs and desks for the elementary school, helped repair a village road, and painted a community center. The intention was to demonstrate that “average” individuals, with proper guidance, could contribute in a meaningful way to on-going development projects. This was a unique proposal…different from the standard “top down approach,” and we learned early on that volunteers were anxious to put their skills and energies to work for improving local people’s lives.


    The concept of combining service with international travel was largely a curiosity in Global Volunteers’ early years. Organizations such as Earthwatch and Habitat for Humanity mobilized citizen activists to assist with specific service agendas. But Global Volunteers was the first to pioneer short-term non-sectarian, non-governmental broad-based community development assistance for two or three weeks at a time.  It was service that local people wanted. From 1985 to 1988, Global Volunteers expanded to Guatemala, Tanzania and Mexico, where the work projects focused on agricultural and health projects, such as providing potable water, improving irrigation, expanding reforestation, and digging latrines. 1989 ends with seventeen teams and 163 volunteers having been sent to 5 countries.

  • 1989 - 1993

    Global Volunteers’ experienced and committed Board of Directors set out to demonstrate how true “people-to-people” initiatives in micro- economic and human development can succeed through a private, apolitical, nonsectarian organization. We chose our host partners thoughtfully, and prepared our volunteers carefully. We requested projects that could be directed by local leaders, evaluated frequently, and sustained over the long term. Meanwhile, media coverage and personal referrals helped to broaden our outreach, and encourage mainstream acceptance of international volunteer service. Since it would be fully one decade before the term “volunteer vacation” was coined, in 1984, the idea of volunteering on vacation was still considered a “fringe” concept. By 1989, however, the curiosity of cultural adventurers and the rise of the internet led more and more volunteers to our service programs. This growing synergy enabled us to extend our service opportunities into Indonesia, Poland, at home in the U.S.A., and laid the foundation for rapid expansion the following four years. Additionally, Global Volunteers proposed “service opportunities” to Elderhostel, and became the internationally renowned organization’s first volunteer partner. “Elderhostelers” joined Global Volunteer’s Indonesia service programs first in 1993, and later added Poland, China, Italy and Greece to their itineraries.


    Our Philosophy of Service defined short-term volunteer service programs from the start, and guided our evolving development efforts throughout the first five years. By fully honoring local people’s wisdom and vision for self-determination, our early work in Jamaica, Guatemala, Tanzania and Mexico led to greater understanding of and appreciation for the potential of cross-cultural partnerships, as well as the intricacies of international assistance. As we continued to invest in host communities’ long-range development projects, we strengthened our response to local needs as they arose…moving from strictly labor and infrastructure projects to teaching English conversational skills and childcare.

  • 1994 - 1998

    At the same time, Global Volunteers’ office staff expanded to meet the growing program demand. The position of Volunteer Coordinator was developed to respond to prospective volunteers’ inquiries and help them select service opportunities suited to their skills and interests. This period witnessed the “volunteer vacation” concept emerging into the mainstream.  A major sign of the growing acceptance of international volunteer service by “average” individuals was the ground-breaking partnership of Global Volunteers and Elderhostel of Boston, then the largest US organization providing ongoing learning opportunities for American seniors.  Through Global Volunteers’ initiation, exclusive teams of adventurous, mature adults were introduced to short-term service on selected teams in Indonesia, Poland and Italy initially.  The program extended to additional countries in future years.


    Meanwhile, within the media, Global Volunteers obtained prominence with CNN appearances, feature articles in major nationwide newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and in the first edition of Volunteer Vacations.  All helped to stimulate the general public’s imagination about personal peace-waging and the needs in host communities worldwide.


    Because of this heightened global awareness and personal response, Global Volunteers’ outreach greatly accelerated each year, with three new development partnerships established annually. By the end of 1998, we were offering service programs in 12 new countries:  Russia, Vietnam, Costa Rica, Spain, Italy, Greece, China, Turkey, Ecuador, the Cook Islands, Ghana, and Ireland.


    When the U.S. trade embargo against Vietnam was lifted in 1994, Global Volunteers immediately established a partnership with PACCOM and Mekong Delta communities in southern Vietnam to help construct school facilities and teach conversational English.


    In a continuous endeavor to wage peace by enhancing international understanding and addressing cultural stereotypes head-on, Global Volunteers’ Board of Directors accepted invitations to establish service programs in southern Europe.  The first team to this region was sent to Spain in 1994.  Three new “firsts” were established in 1996.

    –        Turkey was the first Moslem country in the middle east region to host Global Volunteers teams.

    –        Ecuador was the first service program engaging doctors and nurses in providing critical health care for disabled children.

    –        And in China, Global Volunteers was the first nonsectarian American volunteer organization to work in the country’s heartland in 50 years.

  • 1999 - 2003

    In 2000, new development partnerships were established in India, Romania and Ukraine – all centering primarily on support and care for impoverished, disabled, abandoned and homeless children in rural communities. The poorest of the poor – these are the faces which inspired Global Volunteer’s founders 15 years earlier. In 1999, we celebrated a significant milestone: 15 years of international service partnerships amidst a growing field of “volunteer vacation” options! Given world events that, combined, threatened to forestall our consistent growth (Y2K, embassy bombings, global pandemic), Global Volunteers overcame each potential setback and persevered in the increasingly challenging field of volunteering abroad.


    Much of Global Volunteer’s effort in 1999 was ramping up for one of the most ambitious worldwide celebrations of service attempted in 15 years: The Millennium Service Project. As Americans shared an anticipation of the “Best New Year’s Eve Ever,” 15 new host communities throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico prepared to host inspired volunteers who had committed – some as early as two years before – to mark the turn of the millennium 2000 in an act of service. Having earned special consultative status with the United Nations – Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Global Volunteers’ unique grassroots connections were seen as effective avenues for local leaders to access the international arena. We were honored to be among only a very few U.S.-based NGOs identified to play this role, and have devoted our service program efforts to align with the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, which unite nations to overcome global poverty and disease in eight critical areas by 2015. Further, we continue to follow the recommendations of ECOSOC, to help “promote higher standards of living, full employment, and economic and social progress; identify solutions to international economic, social and health problems; facilitate international cultural and educational cooperation; and encourage universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”


    In 2002, Global Volunteers and the Sino-American Society, embarked on “Project Peace,” a joint effort to build a technologically advanced school and library in the remote village of An Shang, China – an emblematic plan in the months following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In memory of An Lin, our Chinese host’s daughter, Project Peace was dedicated in 2005. A child-sponsorship program was initiated the next year to provide additional funding to enable hundreds of village children to attend this wonderful new school.  In 2003, we accepted an invitation to serve a picturesque, romantic community in Hungary, where volunteers teach English to enthusiastic, creative youth and young adults. Over time, working with several native English speakers for many weeks each year – year after year – the students gain confidence and agility in using the English language.

  • 2004 - 2009

    In the last five years of Global Volunteers’ history, ever-increasing numbers of citizen ambassadors have reached out through short-term service assignments to extend international good will – and demonstrating the average American’s generosity of heart.  More and more “alternative travel” options have arisen worldwide to compete for the traveling public’s discretionary dollar. The once obscure “working vacation” now appeals to first-time international traveler as much as the veteran. The Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) estimated in 2007 that more than 55 million Americans have taken a “volunteer vacation,” and nearly twice that many are considering doing the same in the near future.


    In 2004, Global Volunteers’ Board of Directors enthusiastically advanced new opportunities to serve a small, resourceful aboriginal community on Australia’s northeastern coast. This distinctive service programs in a distant country symbolized Global Volunteers’ dedication to service partnerships in all regions of the globe. At the same time, we established a new partnership in Peru – providing volunteer assistance to homeless, abandoned and orphaned children in Lima, and in succeeding years, we expanded partnerships in South Africa, Portugal, and Hanoi, Vietnam.  Each year, up to 33 percent of the volunteers on any Global Volunteers team are repeat volunteers. Co-founder Bud Philbrook attributes this impressive repeat rate to both “responding respectfully to host partner’s development needs and engaging all age groups in genuine service opportunities.” Global Volunteers set the standard in 1984, and continues to excel in genuine development assistance worldwide. As we celebrate 25 years of service the following distinguishes us in an ever-expanding field of volunteer abroad programs:

    Unique Philosophy of Service: Global Volunteers teams work “hand-in-hand” with local people at the invitation and under the direction of local leaders on community-based work projects.

    Non-sectarian orientation: While we may work in partnership with faith-based or local government entities, Global Volunteers is strictly non-religious and apolitical.

    Development foundation: Global Volunteers is led by experts grounded in development and intercultural administration.

    Direct financial support: A portion of each volunteers’ service fee is spent on project materials or direct financial support to the on-going project. Additionally, student scholarships, and classroom and child sponsorships sustain critical resources.

    Exceptional Host Representatives: Our commitment to “best practices” in our service work extends to our local hosts. Global Volunteers host partners are community leaders who strive to engage volunteers to the maximum extent in all aspects of the community.

    Proprietary Program Methods: We employ tested and perfected orientation and education sessions along with team-building exercises designed to optimize team cohesiveness.

    U.N. Consultative Status: Global Volunteers works as one of only a few select NGO for this designation in partnership with the Economic and Social Council.

  • 2010 - 2014

    As Global Volunteers embarks on the second 30 years, we envision our influence on international volunteer service enlarging both in depth and scope.  By publishing the Essential Services Prospectus, launching The St. Lucia Project and announcing the Tanzania Demonstration Village Project during this time period, Global Volunteers is poised to advance the role, respect and value of short-term volunteers worldwide.

    The Essential Services Prospectus:  This formative document clearly outlines the pivotal role of short-term volunteers as a delivery network for comprehensive development resources.  The “12 Essential Services Triangle” is derived from the innovative work of the World Food Program, United Nations Children’s Fund, World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization. The services Global Volunteers helps local partners deliver to at-risk children and families are organized into the broad categories of: eradicating hunger, improving health, and enhancing IQ.  Although we help local communities in all 12 areas, most volunteers work on three:  School and household gardens using Earth Box technology; hygiene education focusing on hand washing with soap and water; and general education tutoring of math, science, reading and computer literacy along with conversational English.  As an infinitely renewable resource, short-term volunteers can transform the long-term self-sufficiency of local communities.triangleTransparent

    The St. Lucia Project:  Global Volunteers initiated The St. Lucia Project to (1) demonstrate that the 12 Essential Services enhance the intellectual capability of at-risk children, and (2) prove how a continuous stream of short-term volunteers, working under the direction of local leaders, help parents and community organizations deliver those services through sustainable development projects. Short-term volunteers are a key ingredient to the success of this project because they bring enormous energy, skills and catalytic assistance to the effort, and they pay their own expenses.  The effort to deliver the essential services and document changes in IQ will take at least five years and require between 200 and 300 two-week volunteers per year. Global Volunteers is exploring a research design and conducting conversations with possible funders. Researchers will establish a baseline IQ for children and then conduct a follow up study in 3 to 4 years later. If the effort to raise children’s IQ in Anse La Raye is successful, it will definitively demonstrate that short-term volunteers can have a measurable and scalable impact on social and economic change.


    The Tanzania Demonstration Village Project:  Building on the work Global Volunteers has done in the Iringa District of Tanzania since 1987, we plan to expand the 12 Essential Services Model to 100 communities in south-central Tanzania. We expect it will require a minimum of 10 years in each community for the necessary behavioral changes and appropriate technological innovations to take effective root. Three hundred short-term volunteers, working in teams of 13 to 18 volunteers spread over the course of a year, are needed to help parents and community organizations deliver all the essential services to each community of 2,000 to 4,000 people.  When this demonstration project is successful, we will expand our reach to other parts of Tanzania, throughout Africa and across the globe. This effort could literally change the world. It only requires two percent of the developed world population to volunteer for two to three weeks. We all know two people out of 100 who, if persuaded they could help change the face of the planet, would step up and participate!