The Global Health Division (GHD) Executive recognizes the existence of the profitable industry of volunteering abroad,and its potential to promote global health as well as the substantive risk of overlooking its effect on local communities. Often described as “voluntourism”, the industry has developed into a thriving business. For clinicians pursuing global health opportunities, it is essential that they research the organization(s) that they wish to collaborate with.

The following are guidelines that the GHD strives to uphold in order to maintain socially responsible relationships with individuals in developing countries:

  1. We do not engage in initiatives that provide only a temporary benefit to communities. Any interventions that occur as a result of our work strive to be in the best interest of the local community, and have a prioritized goal of environmental and economic sustainability.
  2. The organization respects the cultural beliefs of the community, and does not attempt to provide help that is unwanted or unnecessary.
  3. We consider the history of the organization and its principle mission to ensure that it is consistent with current projects.
  4. We consider whether or not the organization was developed with local input, with an understanding of the needs in the community or by an outside organization. Both forms of organizational development may be socially responsible, although the latter may require more thorough communication and evaluation.
  5. We do not partake in work that takes away a position from a local, capable person. Specific consideration is given to whether or not positions for foreign-trained workers have been created out of a specific need of the local community.
  6. We expect organizations we collaborate with to be transparent about where they allocate their funds.
  7. We provide donations through a community leader who understands the local needs. This aims to avoid a superiority complex between people of the developed and developing worlds, and encourages us to give based on need rather than for self-fulfillment. These are important factors in maintaining a healthy relationship with members of a community.
  8. We promote mutual exchange of knowledge, opinions and resources, enabling both parties to learn from each other and value all contributions equally. This fosters a healthy professional relationship, and supports global equality.
  9. We strive to ensure the highest quality of physiotherapy practice and hold the organization accountable to providing this level of service.
  10. We encourage clarification of common terminology, especially as it relates to public health and sustainability.
  11. We support a partnership between the host community and the clinician, with a framework that puts the needs of the local community first, and the needs of the clinician second.

The above guidelines were developed in early 2016 to help Canadian physiotherapists navigate the process of choosing an Organization to volunteer or work with. Please send your comments and questions to globalhealth@physiotherapy.ca.