There is no question that the volunteer abroad industry is constantly growing. With the many options available, we wanted to take a closer look at the most popular countries to volunteer in. Instead of doing a survey, we decided to rank every country in terms of how many people are searching for volunteer opportunities in that location via Google Search. Although this report doesn’t tell us how many volunteers actually participate in volunteer programs in these countries, it gives us an idea of the destinations people are most interested in.
Go Overseas is all about helping potential volunteers make the most educated decisions possible when choosing a program and by understanding where the most interest lies, we can continue to improve the resources we bring to our users.
India came in at number one for the most global monthly searches for volunteer opportunities. With more than a billion people living in India and almost 26 million tourists visiting India each year, it’s clear why so many people are searching for volunteer opportunities in India.
While some issues like poverty, education and health care are pressing, India could use support from volunteers in nearly every sector. According to the UN Millennial Campaign to end poverty, “Among the gravest challenges facing India today is its persistently high Infant Mortality Rate (IMR).” There are many chances for volunteers to fight to save mothers and infants alike by working with organizations and NGO’s dedicated to providing health care support in India.
Maybe there are greater factors than the social issues that attract volunteers to India. It could be the leftover relics of history of ancient India, the wildlife, the large and diverse economy, the rich culture, or a number of other attractions in rural areas and cities like Delhi and Mumbai.
The top ten most searched countries for volunteer opportunities abroad includes countries in varying locations with a wide range of differences and similarities.
Europe is the only continent not represented in the top 10. This doesn’t come as a surprise since more volunteer work is needed in developing nations in South America, Africa and Asia. For this reason, the United States may seem out of place in the top 10; however there are a few recent events that help shed light on the high demand for volunteering abroad in the United States.
A few possible reasons for the US’s top spot include:
**These search result numbers don’t include searches made from within the United States. This was done to make sure that people volunteering locally weren’t didn’t change the results. See the Methodology section for more details.
Another pattern in the top 10 is the trend for disaster relief volunteering. This report makes it clear that natural disasters have a large impact on where volunteers decide to spend their time helping others abroad. The 2010 earthquake in Haiti, one of the deadliest of all time, ignited the spirit of volunteerism worldwide. From sending care packages and money to rescue efforts and building shelters, we saw many forms of volunteering in action. Similarly, the earthquake in Japan in 2011 inspired 930,000 people worldwide to get involved in disaster relief.
This may offer another explanation for the popularity of searches for volunteer opportunities in the United States. Tens of thousands of volunteers came from all over the globe to lend a hand during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and even now New Orleans is still recovering and rebuilding with the help of local and international volunteers.
Based on our insider industry knowledge, we assumed that most people want to volunteer in underdeveloped nations for a few reasons. First, Third World countries seem like the place where volunteers can have the most impact. Second, volunteers from industrialized, Western countries can get away from the hectic, technology-driven lifestyle back home. While there are many worthy volunteer projects at home in the United States and in other Western countries, voluntourists are usually looking for something that offers a bigger change from the norm.
|Search Rank||Country||Population Below Poverty Level|
Based on this, our expectations were a little off. Countries that need the most help in terms of development aren’t necessarily at the top of this list. This tells us that many people volunteer for personal reasons as well. Long-term volunteer trips and projects focused on advocacy and policy are probably most effective when it comes to alleviation of poverty. Even so, the little things should never be underestimated. Changing one life or helping one person is more than enough to make a volunteer trip worth it.
Table 1 shows our top results and the countries’ poverty levels. Other countries that have high poverty levels include: Madagascar 81.3%, Niger 43.6%, Zambia 68.5%, Swaziland 40.6%, Nigeria 69%, and many more unfortunately.
*Statistics were collected from the World Bank, some poverty levels are more up to date than others. Poverty level is defined as "percentage of the population living on less than $1.25 a day at 2005 international prices."
|Search Rank||Country||Endangered Mammal Species|
|Search Rank||Country||Endangered Plant Species|
These tables show the top ten countries with the highest number of endangered plants and animals. Conservation volunteering is very popular in tropical countries (like environmental research in Australia, and turtle conservation in Ecuador or Costa Rica). African and Asian countries with diverse animal and plant populations are also popular volunteer destinations.
However, these statistics from the World Bank (tables 2 and 3) tell us that volunteers choose their destination based on other factors since only three of the top ten searched countries appear on these lists. Even if volunteers are working with wildlife in countries with a smaller number of endangered species, they are still filling an important need and making a difference. Voluntourism is clearly a mutually beneficial action – volunteers choose the trip and destination based on interest and availability where they can enjoy a new culture and give back, and the host community gets help with various community development needs. As long as this relationship stays beneficial for both parties, voluntourism will continue to grow.
In addition to ranking the countries overall, we wanted to look at how they compared to other countries in the same continent. Smaller, lesser-known countries may draw fewer tourists but what does that mean for volunteers’ interest? Take a look for yourself!
South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, and Tanzania are the most popularly searched countries for volunteer opportunities in Africa. South Africa, the second most popularly searched country globally, boasts an especially diverse culture (11 official languages) and the largest economy in Africa. Almost anywhere you go in Africa, you are sure to find an important volunteer project to contribute to, from HIV/AIDS education to wildlife and environmental conservation.
Several of the most popular countries in this report are located in Asia, including India, the most popular. Thailand comes in at number three globally, which is no surprise with the growth in tourism to this beautiful country. From the bustling capital of Bangkok to the breathtaking rural areas filled with rich agriculture and ancient temples, volunteers can lend a hand in any way they choose. The wonders of Nepal, including Mount Everest, also bring international and volunteers by the thousands. While the north is extremely mountainous and rugged, attracting the more adventurous of travelers, Southern Nepal is much more urbanized.
Volunteers can find an infinite number of ways to give back to these Asian destinations. Malaysia, for example, comes in at 24 on our list and ranks in the top ten for both endangered plant and mammal species, making it a great place for conservation volunteer work. China is another popular destination, the 11th most searched, that is in need of conservation volunteers for projects like protecting pandas. Foreigners also play an important role in teaching English in Asia as conversational English skills are highly valued in the working world.
Following Haiti, Costa Rica is the second most popularly searched Latin American country. Costa Rica is an example for countries striving for environmental sustainability and conservation. Volunteers can find some amazing outdoor volunteer programs working with the environment and wildlife in this tropical setting. Ecuador and the world-famous Galapagos Islands are also popular places for conservation volunteering.
Not all of Latin America is made up of tropical destinations though. There are many different types of volunteer activities in countries as diverse and large as Brazil and Peru. From supporting the rights of the large indigenous populations to orphanage work, any volunteer work can be helpful.
While Europe may not seem like the obvious place for volunteers to give back, there are plenty of opportunities for exciting volunteer projects. The United Kingdom was the most popular place in Europe to volunteer in terms of searches. While the UK may be very popular for volunteers, the results may also be skewed since the UK is made up of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Volunteer opportunities in Ireland, Spain and France are also commonly searched. Popular volunteer activities in Europe include teaching English, working with children, historical restoration projects, and more.
Here are a few statistics to give you an idea of how many people volunteer overseas, where they go, and why.
Voluntourism, an ever-changing and growing industry, can take place anywhere and involve any type of work, from physical labor to research. Whether you want to go somewhere popular with many volunteering options or somewhere more remote and challenging, there is sure to be numerous ways for volunteers to help. While the search results may not have been exactly what we expected, these rankings tell us a lot about global trends in volunteering abroad. By understanding the how popularity relates to poverty and other factors, we can better understand the implications of voluntourism.
Use Go Overseas to find the perfect volunteering combination of your interests, travel and giving back!
Katie studied public relations at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, CA and is now working with Go Overseas in the Bay Area. Her experiences with traveling abroad combined with her passion for Latin American culture and community service fuel her writing and creativity.
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We used the Google Keyword Tool, and various reports on global volunteering, along with our expertise in the volunteer abroad market.
We searched the following phrases, followed by a country name:
“Volunteer in” and “Volunteering in”.
After running a separate search for each phrase, we added up the results to calculate the final total for each country. This number is not an exact amount, but a 12-month average of Google’s global monthly searches for these phrases.
Yes. Along with people searching for volunteer programs abroad, this search also takes into account people looking for jobs within their home country.
For Western countries (US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, etc.), we also subtracted the local searches to take into account people who wish to volunteer locally.
To find out the search total for the United States, we ran a search of both the “United States” and “US” and used the most searched term. (Same with the UK. We added Scotland and Wales to the UK number but not England because the numbers for England and the UK were the same so it seemed most likely that they overlapped and shouldn’t both be counted.)
The Republic of Georgia didn’t return enough search results, so we searched for “Georgia.” However, this also took into account people searching for the U.S. state. Because of this, we decided to remove this country from our list because the results did not accurately reflect just the country.
**Numbers may vary as Google AdWords monthly search numbers are regularly updated.