Volunteer Tourists and the SDGs in Bali
Agents of Development or Redundant Holiday-Makers?
Volunteer tourism is an ever-growing phenomenon and a multi-million-pounds industry, particularly in developing countries. Despite the manifold criticism for its neo-colonial nature – self-centered volunteers who romanticize the Global South as ‘poor but happy’ and short-term projects that create dependency rather than local capacity – it can, at the same time, be seen as a key engine for socio-economic development. The privatization and neo-liberalization of development has led to governments and development agencies increasingly delegating responsibilities to the volunteer, who takes on the role of an agent of development – continuing in times of the SDGs-driven Agenda 2030. However, little research to date tries to understand volunteers’ perceived developmental impact to link it with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that characterize the current development agenda. This paper, therefore, offers one of the first attempts to bridge the gap between volunteers’ experiences, their felt impact, and the SDGs by drawing on ethno- graphic data gathered in a volunteer project teaching English in the North of Bali. Its aim is to start a discussion as to whether and under which conditions volunteer tourism can be a viable instrument in line with Agenda 2030. Findings identify a range of obstacles for volunteer tourism in the Balinese context to be in line with the SDGs. These include a lack of needed skills and feeling of uselessness on volunteers’ part, expectations that are set too high through marketing, a lack of coordination, and the fact that projects don’t focus on the marginalized. However, there are also indications that volunteer tourism holds strong potential to put the SDGs’ universality into practice, and hence dissolve some of the bina- ries between North and South, and rich and poor – thereby creating true reciprocal partnerships, rather than encounters that are characterized by neo-colonial Othering.
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