Ben Brown is Head of Sustainability and Risk at International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ). He oversees IVHQ’s approach to risk management across all programs globally and ensures the right steps are in place to keep volunteers safe. Ben also has responsibility for making sure all IVHQ programs are responsibly run and make a lasting positive impact in communities.
What position do you hold at IVHQ? What has been your career path so far?
I oversee risk and sustainability at IVHQ. We know that two of the most important things to our volunteers are feeling confident that they’ll be supported to stay safe, and being sure that they’ll be able to make a worthwhile contribution while abroad. We also know that having a focus on social and environmental sustainability is not only good for communities and the planet, but is also good for IVHQ long-term.
My career path so far has been in sustainability roles for telecommunications and media companies in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. I’ve been lucky to work on some really inspiring projects in my career and these have given me a good background in creating and running initiatives that make a real difference in communities and have a positive impact on the environment. IVHQ is a great place for me to expand this experience.
What about the future of the industry? How do you think volunteer abroad and international education will change over the next 10 years?
The concept of volunteering abroad has evolved quickly over the last 10 years and I expect it’ll change even faster over the next 10. Those people wanting to travel abroad and volunteer in a community no longer have to commit to a two year Peace Corps program and I’m proud of role that IVHQ has played in making volunteering much more affordable and accessible to travelers all over the world.
Over the next 10 years I predict we’ll see two big trends:
- Community expectations will change. I think the communities that host volunteers will expect both more and less from volunteers in the future. Communities and projects that were typically very poorly supported by local states and other social structures historically appreciated whatever additional support volunteers were able to bring, but we’re already seeing this change. Community partners in the future will expect less in terms of the kind of transformative investments and skills exchange that may have been sought previously but they will expect more from volunteers in terms of their cultural awareness, responsible behavior and their ability to inject new ideas that stimulate innovation and enterprise. Communities in the future will see volunteers as sources of creativity, diverse ideas and youthful challenge, rather than as sources of hands-on labor.
- Volunteer expectations will change. We’re already seeing volunteer expectations changing and they will continue to shift significantly over the next 10 years. We’ve always had a big focus on transparency in relation to our fees and we know that volunteers will continue to expect a greater level of openness about where and how a volunteer travel provider spends any money that they pay for the experience - and rightly so. I also think volunteers will expect more in terms of understanding the long-term impact that they are contributing to and again I think this is a good thing. The generation of travelers that will be most influential over the next 10 years are more socially and environmentally conscious than those before them and they’ll demand greater clarity around how their time abroad genuinely makes a long-term impact. Of course, this goes both ways and volunteer travel providers will have to get smarter about how they manage and shape volunteer expectations before they head abroad. We already actively support people to create expectations that help them to be responsible and valuable volunteers abroad. We do this through our pioneering online training tools.
The volunteer travel organizations who understand how to balance these shifting community and volunteer expectations properly will become the most preferred options for responsible travelers over the next 10 years.
Every member of the IVHQ team plays an important part of our commitment to being a certified B Corp, and I’m proud to be involved.
Describe a time when you felt especially proud to be part of the team.
I’ve been a part of the IVHQ team for around two years and I’ve always been proud to be involved. We’re an organization made up of young, ambitious people who are all motivated by enabling travelers to make a contribution to community projects, so it’s pretty easy to feel inspired at work!
But one time recently that I’ve felt especially proud to be a part of IVHQ was when we became a certified B Corporation. We’ve always measured our success differently so earning a B Corp certification in 2015 was recognition that our commitment to communities and environmental sustainability is making an impact. B Corps have to meet to rigorous standards and I was proud to find that many of these standards were already things that were important to IVHQ. For instance, we already measure and manage our environmental footprint, our service actively supports those in need, and we get stuck-in and contribute to the community where the IVHQ head office is based.
What is the best story you've heard from a return volunteer?
To me the best stories are always those that show the impact that a volunteer abroad experience can have on someone’s life direction. We constantly hear tales of former IVHQers who have changed their study or career direction dramatically as a result volunteering with us, and I love that because it means that we having an impact on people and helping them to think differently about what they want to do with their lives.
The best story I’ve heard from a returning volunteer was from a women who volunteered with IVHQ in Nepal back in 2011. Following her IVHQ experience she changed the direction of her life dramatically and founded a not-for-profit organisation which supports local health initiatives in Nepal. To date her organisation has invested more than US$70,000 into upskilling local Nepali people to deliver healthcare training in remote areas of the country, and her work is a good example of responsible community investment.
In my view there is nothing better than volunteering abroad for challenging your mindset and finding inspiration.