It’s interesting how we compartmentalize our minds. We expect non-profit organizations to be responsible, eco friendly, sustainable, and respectful of local customs and regulations. We expect it because they are designed without a profit-incentive. Their motives are supposed to be 100% pure—based on nothing but altruistic humanitarianism or environmentalism. Of course, this is extremely simplistic, nothing is ever 100% anything, but this is the stereotype. When it comes to for-profit organizations, we lower our expectations considerably. We don’t expect the same level of consideration because we recognize the equation has a business side. Why is this? Shouldn’t we be more concerned when an organization has a profit incentive?
I think some of this stems from our fear of over-regulating businesses or from our inability to enforce regulations overseas. We don’t see the financial reports. There aren’t always boards of directors overseeing operations or voting on policy. We know all of this and we incorporate it into our expectations—if something isn’t always good we don’t assume it will be. This is why it is so refreshing to find a for-profit voluntour organization that focuses on exactly this issue: holding tourism to a higher standard.
The Great Projects work to establish “standards in endangered animal welfare and conservation in the tourism sector.” Without standards, businesses are set adrift. They make decisions without precedent and, sometimes, end up damaging the very people or animals they hope to protect. The Great Projects are based in Malaysia and Borneo. They’re focused on orangutan conservation and are now the “number one company sending volunteers abroad to experience conservation of orangutans.” They measure their success in dollars: in Malaysia, 121 Great Projects volunteers brought more money to orangutan conservation than 95,000 tourists on orangutan vacations, voluntour or otherwise.
The Great Projects is an effort of Way Out Experiences, a UK company. The Great Projects was designed to establish a reputation for responsible tourism. Other voluntour companies should be taking notes. Building a company that does genuinely positive work while still managing to make a profit should be the goal of any voluntour outfit. The Great Projects does it by working with local communities and by doing exhaustive research on the regions in which they work and on the animals they hope to protect. They also focus heavily on education, offering animal welfare courses via their website for interested volunteers. The Great Projects won Virgin Holiday’s Responsible Tourism Awards in 2009 and 2010.