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.