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Africa

No Selfies With Cute Babies: On Finding the Way to Responsible Voluntourism

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No Selfies With Cute Babies: On Finding the Way to Responsible Voluntourism

by Shanley Knox, featuring interview with Kate Otto

Have you ever seen those beautiful photos of volunteers with small, African children wrapped in their arms? At first glance, these photos represent selfless individuals making a difference. But, could there be a deeper issue at stake?

Hashtags like #InstagrammingAfrica #MedicalBrigades, #GlobalHealth, and the nostalgic #TakeMeBack are growing in popularity as students and young professionals experience life changing trips to Africa and beyond. But, research is showing that these trips are not always beneficial to local populations.

In her recent piece, “#InstagrammingAfrica: The Narcissism of Global Voluntourism,” Lauren Kascak writes that, “Volunteerism is ultimately about the fulfillment of the volunteers themselves, not necessarily what they bring to the communities they visit. In fact, medical volunteerism often breaks down existing local health systems.”

As organizations work to improve the impact of “Voluntourism,” we, at WhyWhisper, took a look into the digital side of sharing these experiences. 

We asked Kate Otto, a World Bank consultant and the founder of Everyday Ambassador, to weigh in with her tips on impactful digital documentation surrounding your volunteer experience. 

Below, her tips for helping, instead of hurting, through your social sharing:

WWCo: How can we do better in digitally sharing our overseas experience?

Kate: The golden rule of sharing your experience overseas on public, digital media: imagine that everything you're posting to your Facebook, Twitter, and blog will be read and observed by everyone who you talk about in those posts (even if you know they don't have accounts on these platforms, or access to Internet). Would they be hurt, insulted, belittled, or disempowered by your comments or photographs? Would they probably think you're misunderstanding them? Then don't post it.

Have the consent of anyone who you're posting a picture of to post it to the world. Basically, even though the people you're working with are different from you on many levels, treat them the way you would like to be treated.

 WWCo: Can posting a certain projection of Africa and other destinations in the Global South be harmful?

 Kate:

1. There’s nothing wrong with taking and posting photos of yourself and the people who you're working and living with abroad; this can be an act that solidifies friendships and documents moments of joy and gratitude in the same way we would do in our 'home' environments. The problem isn't with your action, it's with your approach. There's everything wrong with taking and posting photos of yourself and the people who you're living and working with abroad, if in doing so you present yourself as "saving" or "helping" others, or in any way being "above", "smarter than", "more advanced' than "them".

2. Avoid us/them narratives at all costs. We are we. We are all people. We give and take in our relationships (and if you think you're the only one giving, you're probably not in a relationship), and we are gracious and kind and respectful in our relationships. By doing anything other than treating each other as equals, we are perpetuating systems of oppression. So be cool.

WWCo: What is the way forward toward documenting and sharing our experiences in a more positive way?

 Kate:

1. Honestly, document less and live more. Enjoy your experience without having to document every moment of it. 

2. Question yourself always: are you documenting for yourself, or for others? If it's for others, why? Be honest with yourself about whether you're taking and posting that photo to craft your "image" for others, or because you genuinely want to share a specific, meaningful moment with friends/family who are happy to share in your joys, whether they're your new friends abroad or your 'home' friends.

3. The absolute key part of travel and volunteering/voluntourism is about building meaningful relationships, and it's your responsibility to decide how (over)documenting your experiences will diminish or enhance your capacity for deep, lasting human connection.

To dig a bit deeper on this topic:

For effective ways of writing about your service/voluntourism experiences, check out EA's #WednesdayWisdom blog series 

For a weekly roundup of hot media on the topic of being authentic in a technology-saturated world, check out EA's #WeeklyPassport blog series

Looking for concrete tips about managing your voluntourism experience? Check out EA's recent webinar "No Selfies w/ Cute Babies! And Other Tips for Your Summer Abroad"

Pre-order Kate's book "Everyday Ambassador" to get a deeper analysis of these topics, pub date Jan 2015

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Beyond Marketing: Here's What I Really Learned as a Social Entrepreneur

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Beyond Marketing: Here's What I Really Learned as a Social Entrepreneur

by Shanley Knox

I joined the WhyWhisper team after four years of work as a social entrepreneur. 

WhyWhisper gives me a place to pass along the lessons I learned in branding a social enterprise. After riding the highs and lows of running a business on my own, WhyWhisper gives me opportunities to work for social change while also being a part of a community. And as a freelancer who, in any given month, can find herself working from East Africa, California, or New York City, WhyWhisper gives me a digital platform to consistently call my home. 

As I work with other companies and causes, I’ve discovered that we share more than the goal of building an impactful brand. We share the often inspiring, but sometimes disparaging, journey along the way. 

So, here are a few things I've learned that have nothing do to with how clickable a campaign will be, but have everything to do with working for social change.

It’s Going to Be Different Than You Think

When I started Nakate Project in Uganda, I thought I would be linking artisans in rural villages to skills training in urban areas, so as to generate local sales. Two years later, I was working to promote female-led Ugandan businesses in international markets. At first, I balked when I saw that change needed to happen. But I began to learn, over time, that the ability to pivot within your business is the only way to effectively find a model that creates impact.  

It’s Going to Take Longer Than You Think

I thought I’d see marked results within a few weeks. I wanted large, measurable impact. If somebody told me it would be years until I began to feel the satisfaction of seeing actual change, I might have quit right then and there. I didn’t want to have to go through the painful building phase where I had to keep seeing the unmet needs of our target population, and feel humbled by my lack of power. What I learned along the way is that systemic change runs a long, painstaking course, and social entrepreneurs experience setbacks, obstacles, discouragement, and failed efforts.  

It’s Going to Be Harder Than You Think

I knew cognitively that pushing social change in Uganda would be hard. I knew it would be long hours, and not a lot of pay, but I didn’t know that it would hurt. I hadn’t yet processed that real change involves the willingness to push through social and societal norms. It means being the odd woman (or man) out. It means saying things that people don’t like to hear, and working to explain why systems should be shifted. Sometimes, it means leaving parts of your business or work behind when it's no longer in line with your vision. All of it is emotional, personal, and often painful. I’ve come to understand that this is part of what makes social change so worthwhile -- good things never come easy. 

You’re Going to Change More Than You Think

I was a different girl when I started Nakate. The business, in itself, has pushed me to my limits. It’s humbled me. It’s exhilarated me. It’s given me a platform to write, to speak, to meet people across the globe, and to discover an entirely new home for myself in East Africa. At some point, I realized that I hardly recognized myself. The experience of living so far out of my comfort zone had pushed me to become someone new. 

It’s Going to Be More Rewarding Than You Think

I wanted to quit Nakate a hundred times on a hundred different days, but I didn’t. And I’m grateful for that, every single day. That’s because my social enterprise didn’t just teach me how to persevere, run a business in a another culture, or afford me the determination and vision to continue pushing through my failures and mistakes. It taught me how to fight for what I love. It taught me to believe in my work, and to have enough humility to change when I discovered it may be faulty. 

Every day I sign in to begin my work for our clients at WhyWhisper, I bring gratitude with me -- gratitude for all that I’ve been taught in my own journey, and gratitude to have found a community at WhyWhisper where I can walk alongside others as they embark on a similar journey. 

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