Intercultural Outreach Initiative

Intercultural Outreach Initiative (IOI)


Mission: To provide international education programs that support the education, conservation, and social development of isolated communities by assisting local institutions in sustainably handling the human-environmental intersection.

The location
Join us, on a once in a lifetime opportunity to practice conservation through education and social development in some of the most exotic and significant wild places on Earth. From the virgin shores of Cuba, to the cradle of evolution in the Galapagos; we offer up memories, like no other.



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Yes, I recommend this program

I spent 3 weeks on the Tortoise Breeding Centre programme ran by IOI a few weeks ago. The experience was amazing. It was so much fun working with the Giant Tortoises everyday, you really got to know some of them and learn their characters. The working day was 8am - 12 which meant we had the entire afternoon to snorkel, relax on the beach, surf or just stroll around. I have to mention the accomodation is beautiful too :)
All in all I would throughly recommend this programme. I booked through Working Aborad and they were also amazing. I will definitely be back.

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Yes, I recommend this program

My wife and I stayed in Cocodrilo with Nene for two weeks in March 2020. The program was well run and Nene was a great host. The chef, Marie, was a fantastic cook/personality. We felt very welcome throughout our stay and ate very well! Mornings were spent helping Nene perform various conservation activities - lots of snorkelling. Most beaches were accessed by bicycle so we ended up pretty fit by the end of the program. We also spent a few days collecting seeds in the forrest and planted them on the beach. Afternoons we spent relaxing and interacting with the local community. It was amazing to spend time living as a local and helping the community where we could.

If you did this all over again, what's one thing you would change?
I would have practiced my Spanish more! We learnt Spanish for 6 months before going to Cuba. While we could understand all of the basics we would have liked to understand more to get the most out of this trip.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Once-in-a-lifetime experience working at the Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre on Isabela Island. IOI put us under the care of the Galapagos National Park, and we worked for 6 weeks at the centre. It was a far cry from our usual jobs in the city, and felt a little bit like being a zoo keeper; feeding the tortoises, clearing the enclosures, cleaning the ponds, supporting park staff with daily tasks and more.

What a privilege to contribute to the conservation of these endangered species - every day we felt like our work was valuable, and I loved sharing my newly-acquired tortoise knowledge with visitors to the park.

We were close to nature the whole time, seeing flamingos, marine iguanas and mangroves on our walk to and from work, then working every morning next to the giant tortoises. In the afternoons we were free to enjoy Isabela island, from hiking the volcano to surfing the beaches and snorkelling offshore. Highly recommended.

What would you improve about this program?
An improvement for IOI could be more education for the volunteers (currently any education you acquire about the Galapagos wildlife is self-led), a little more on-the-ground organisation, especially when you first arrive.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Not really sure the impact my 3 weeks in the turtle walk program made and feel like I could have stayed in the Galapagos for less money, but without hesitation I give this program a 10/10 and highly recommend to anyone wanting to be more than just a tourist. Walking a beautiful beach every morning / afternoon with purpose is a wonderful feeling. With IOI you are instantly plugged into a local and volunteer community and can see first hand the value of all the different programs, which are efforts I gladly support. I deeply miss the splendor of this island and applaud the efforts of IOI!

What would you improve about this program?
Some additional pre-program reading material with a more in depth description of the nature and value of the work would have been useful.
Having some bicycles for the volunteers would have been a nice touch as well.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Going to Cocodrilo was a once in a lifetime adventure! We had a fun and relaxing time while doing projects that were helpful to the people and the environment. Nene worked hard to make us feel at home, and to explain everything about the habitat and the village. He is very knowledgeable and took time to be sure our questions were answered. We learned a lot about the culture and history of the area, and the snorkeling was terrific. We were glad we brought full wetsuits, as the water temperature in Feb. is chilly. We also brought plenty of very strong mosquito repellent, which is essential. I'm very glad we were able to meet the wonderful people in the program, and have this experience!

What would you improve about this program?
I think having mosquito nets in the room for sleeping would be helpful. We would have brought work gloves if we had known.
Bring your own wine or rum if desired, as well as snacks, cookies, tabasco sauce. Also need more vegetarian options.


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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Jackson Whitfield

Jackson Whitfield

Why did you choose this program?

Galapagos has always been a 'bucket-list' type destination. A friend of a friend recommended IOI to me, and after some phone conversations and internet research, I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do.

I traveled to exotic places before, but mainly just as a tourist. With IOI, I had the opportunity to be so much more. The program helped add purpose to my trip, and it was really nice being instantly plugged into the local and volunteer community.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Lodging, meals, and volunteering schedule was all organized by IOI. All I had to organize was getting myself there and how to spend my free time!

The island life was pretty carefree, laid back, and easy, but when questions did arise from time to time the program coordinator was consistently available to answer them.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

General travel wisdom I've gathered is to pack light as possible while being ready for as many types of weather as possible. Miscellaneous clothing items can be purchased along the way while toiletries, meds/vitamins, or a simple first aid kit when in need shouldn't be taken for granted. Always bring a good attitude and be willing to go with the flow. A good book and headphones help too.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Fresh coffee and fruit in the mornings, and once or twice a day walking a stretch of pristine beach collecting data on green sea turtle nesting. Surfing, biking, and siestas on most days. Enough free time here and there for excursions, self-enjoyment, and to get to know the people and animals of the island.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

It's natural to fear what's foreign, at least initially.

After several trips abroad, I've found that whenever I go to a beautiful place, it's full of beautiful people, so I didn't really have any fears. I was concerned that my volunteer work would have a meaningful impact, and while it's tough to say for certain that it did, it was a very positive feeling to at least try to be a force for good and a part of collective actions that do make a difference.

Looking back, what do you miss most about the time in your program?

The way of life. To live simply, peacefully, with purpose. To love yourself and those around you. Easy to do on an island paradise, a little tougher in the hustle and bustle of the 'real world.'

Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Daniel Ponce-Taylor

Job Title
Strategic Partnership Advisor
International business development, experiential education and service-learning consultant with 15+ years experience in setting up, managing and evaluating high impact conservation and community development projects in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and South Pacific. Long term experience in international networking. Currently focusing on designing and developing high quality environmental and development service-learning opportunities for international students in Cuba and Galapagos.

Passionate about helping students reach their maximum potential and find new ways to develop their careers.

My role is to help IOI find new partners, both academic and others who will help promote IOI’s programs in different corners of the world. I also work in contributing to increasing IOI’s impact on the ground and how to engage a wider community in becoming part of the solution.
Daniel Ponce-Taylor

What is your favorite travel memory?

Some of my best travel moments are linked to the ocean, where I feel most relaxed and at home. I remember a dive I did in Australia, in the Great Barrier Reef, where after an amazing dive exploring and being mesmerized by the colours and diversity present, we started hearing some "weird" noises.

We looked around and the noises kept getting louder. It was after a few minutes that a shape appeared not too far away, and the noises kept getting louder and louder, that we realized that a whale was close by.

You can imagine how amazed we were, and our jaws dropped and nearly our regulator! What an amazing memory!

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

IOI is a special organization. As a non-profit, we make decisions differently than other volunteering and service-learning providers. The priority is always the sustainability of the communities where we live and operate and the objectives set by our local partners and IOI. This means that when promoting our projects, we do it very differently than with other organizations I have been involved with.

I have also had higher engagement with the UN network since one of IOI's global objectives is to have a proactive engagement with the UN and the Global Objectives and Sustainable Development Goals.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

Many, difficult to choose one, but I love one from a biologist major, who went to IOI's Galapagos Tortoise conservation project. Her feedback was amazing, she had an incredible time, but what I really liked was the fact that she chose that project as she wanted to experience being in the same ecosystems that Charles Darwin was many years ago and where he developed his theory of evolution. She loved discovering similarities between Darwin's books and today's Galapagos and species.

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

Difficult to say as all programs and locations are amazing!

Any of the Galapagos programs; as a marine biologist, Galapagos is THE place to be, an evolutionary lab, where you can see nature at it's best. And on top of the projects, I could do some amazing dives in my free time...and yes, diving in Galapagos is out of this world!

And of course, the Marine and Coastal ecosystem conservation project in Cocodrilo, Cuba. Cuba has one of the most pristine reefs in the Caribbean, with a higher percentage of coral coverage and bigger fish than nearby regions and countries. So being able to contribute to the conservation of this reef structure would be an amazing project to be part of.

What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

Commitment to the local communities!

Our staff works super hard, always placing our host communities and projects as priorities. As we live in those communities, we feel highly responsible for balancing the positive and, the potential, negative impact that having international participants and volunteers can have.

I am very proud of the work done in the Galapagos where many local initiatives have developed into fully functional operational local coops and community groups, achieving the ultimate objective of ownership and empowerment.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

As I mentioned before, I think IOI is different in that decisions (business and operational) are always made with the sustainability of our host communities in mind. IOI has had organic growth, slowly developing the projects and expanding areas of influence, working with local organizations and community groups, resulting in projects that are owned by all stakeholders and where participants feel their contribution from day 1.

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