Date on Honors Thesis

Fall 11-30-2016


Political Science and Sociology

Examining Committee Member

Dr. Choong-Nam Kang, Advisor

Examining Committee Member

Dr. Marc Polizzi, Committee Member

Examining Committee Member

Ms. Robin Esau, Committee Member

Examining Committee Member

Dr. Jeff Osborne, Committee Member


As history has demonstrated time and time again, often the most well-intentioned actions can have unintended negative consequences. This can often be the case concerning international voluntary service (IVS). This paper studies the motivations for development and relief nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to send volunteers abroad, and the ways in which volunteer-sending NGOs are able to use IVS in order to successfully and ethically impact development of a foreign country. Many scholars have argued that the recent surge of international volunteerism, in some way, exudes imperialism, perpetuates a Western savior complex, and magnifies inequalities rather than reduce them. Others describe the possible benefits from international volunteering, such as enhanced cultural competency and increased empathy and understanding for others, which could lead to greater awareness and advocacy efforts in the future. By using a case study of two international development and relief NGOs’ (Médecins Sans Frontières and Habitat for Humanity International) work in the international arena and in South Africa, this paper aims to study ethical dilemmas regarding the most common motivations and expectations for volunteering abroad and factors of success regarding international nongovernmental organizations’ (INGOs) development work abroad. This paper will propose strategic methods that individual volunteers and their sending organizations can utilize in order to ensure that IVS leaves behind more of a benefit than a burden in a community, and that IVS actually benefits the communities in which volunteers dedicate their time to serve.