Intercultural Outreach Initiative

Intercultural Outreach Initiative (IOI)

Why choose 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.


Diversity & Inclusion



As an organization, we are working to maximally reduce our emissions in line with latest climate science. Rather than simply offsetting by “paying” for our pollution and continuing business as usual, we are balancing remaining residual emissions through carbon removal credits and “in-setting”—mitigating internally as an organization.

Our Net-Zero 2025 Strategy extends our current 2021 carbon-neutral initiative which inset all of our Scope 1 (direct) and 2 (indirect) emissions, and offset all our Scope 3 emissions. Scope 3 emissions “are the result of activities from assets not owned or controlled by the reporting organization, but that the organization indirectly impacts in its value chain” (EPA 2022).

IOI’s programmatic on-site emissions, Scopes 1 and 2, were inset through our own conservation efforts. Our Scope 3 emissions, mostly created by travel to our faculty-led study abroad programs and volunteering opportunities, will be mitigated through collaboration with external providers.

Ethical Impact

Our 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.

What We Do
We strive to help establish ecological sustainability and social stability in our host communities by applying thoughtful assistance and expertise to local needs – financed by educational travel programs.

How We Do It
1. We offer volunteer opportunities in conservation, education, and social development, that provide our participants with life changing experiences, and our local partners with funding, expertise, and human power on site.

2. We offer study abroad programs in which students spend up to three months studying the local environment and learning the local culture.

3. We develop and implement outreach projects with local institutions that address pressing conservation, education, and social development needs via fundraising and grants.


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Yes, I recommend this program

Tortoises and the Galapagos islands

I stayed 3weeks on Isabella volunteering in the tortoise centre.
Volunteering and visiting the Galapagos Islands were both on my bucket list so not only a lifetime achievement for me but I'm happy to say I loved every minute of it.
Mornings are spent at the tortoise centre - learning and working (not too hard!). Although because my Spanish was very limited, it was a struggle for me to understand all that was being said.
Afternoons, evenings, and weekends are free to do what you want. Lots of times to explore the local area, on foot or cycle; and lots of time to tick off those must see sights. Also an opportunity to meet new people from all over the world.
I stayed in the volunteer house so lunch and dinner was provided in a wide choice of local restaurants. Cooking facilities are available in the house for breakfast. Room was ensuite.
IOI staff are always on hand to help with any problems, or to answer any questions.
Although it wasn't cheap, what price can you put on a once in a lifetime experience.

  • It's the galapagos!
  • Unique wildlife
  • Open spaces and open mind
  • Distance from UK
  • No kettle!
  • Poor spanish
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Yes, I recommend this program

3 Weeks On Isabela

I had an absolute blast volunteering for 3 weeks at the Tortoise Breeding Center on Isabela! I spent the mornings at the center doing a variety of tasks such as feeding the tortoises, maintaining their enclosures, landscape work on the grounds and even painting informational signs. Since I had free time every afternoon and on weekends, there was more than enough time to partake in the popular tours based on the island as well as enjoying Puerto Villamil town itself. I would recommend staying with a host family as they will help you really get to experience the island and they are all amazing people. I enjoyed my time volunteering so much that I extended my stay a week (thanks to the quick help of the lovely IOI team) -- if you are wondering how long you should stay, go for as long as you possibly can, you won't regret it!

  • Spending an elongated amount of time on a beautiful island! Great flora, fauna and people :)
  • Being able to directly give to the community and island itself through volunteering
  • Many land based tours leave from Isabela that can be done during your free time
  • Beware of the wasps on the island, I got stung one time and those suckers hurt!
  • The Ferry ride to the island can be very bumpy (especially in winter). Bring Dramamine
  • Food is simple and delicious, but can get repetitive (meat, rice & small side salad)
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Yes, I recommend this program


I loved everything! The experience was so amazing from the start and I would absolutely recommend to anyone considering. The staff were really helpful in getting me there and helping to get me settled, and were very accessible the whole time I was there. The food was incredible and a great way to experience local Ecuadorian cuisine. (Definitely try an empanada!) The town and the people are so awesome, the beach is amazing, and the adventures are endless. I wish I could've stayed longer! Bring bug spray!

  • Amazing city
  • Walkable community
  • Lots of friends around
  • The BUGS
  • Not great hot water
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Yes, I recommend this program

Sustainable Agriculture Programme - Los Najaranos

The work was tough but the experience was fantastic. If you want to get to know as much as possible about organic coffee growing, Walter will spent time with you and tell you everything he knows. It's essential to speak some Spanish to make the most of this opportunity. You will get involved in lots of manual labour but if you are outgoing and inquisitive, you'll really enjoy this experience. I'd certainly say that you need to like dogs as there are three rather exuberant ones which can be a little daunting at first. It really was an insight into how tough it is to be an organic coffee farmer and what life is like on the farm. I loved every minute of it!

  • A great chance to learn about sustainable agriculture
  • If you're committed, you can improve your Spanish a great deal
  • If you're a fitness fanatic, you'll definitely get your work out on this project!
  • If you can't speak Spanish you might feel isolated and bewildered.
  • The days are long and you are committing more of your time than on other projects.
  • You've got to be happy about getting dirty, rolling your sleeves up and getting on with the job.
Read my full story
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Yes, I recommend this program

Great time with Turtle nest monitoring / Eco Tourism

I spent one week in the Turtle Nest Monitoring team and one week in the Ecotourisn Team. For me it was a perfect mix of both activities. I felt very welcomed from the first second on, I was blessed with a wonderful caring family and I don’t want to miss this great time on Isabela Island. You can feel and see that IOI really cares about nature and the community, to be a part of this was a great experience. The mix of working, spending the time with your family, have time to explore nature by yourself or with other volunteers was so much fun and overwhelming. I hope I can stay in contact with many of them. Even if I immediately learned that my Spanish was very rusted, I am more than happy I have chosen to stay with a local family - people and so caring, openminded, friendly and thankful! There are so many things you can do - from snorkeling to biking, diving, hiking…. You will love this beautiful landscape.

What was your funniest moment?
The first moment I met my family and learned that they don’t speak one single word in English. I asked myself why I am doing this, but we laughed so much and really had a great time, you will learn so much things - one of it is that you can communicate even with no great Spanish skills, it will work!


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Alumni Interviews

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

Shaun William Casey

An international event management specialist with 35 years' experience. Shaun has a passion for travel, volunteering, photography, learning languages and experiencing different cultures.
Shaun William Casey


Why did you choose this program?

I've always wanted to visit the Galapagos. It's remote, exotic and somewhere few people from my part of the world have visited. I wanted to spend my time learning new skills and gaining insights into a totally different way of life. It was important for me to be able to make a difference by giving something back to the local community.

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

As I'm a retired person, I organised the entire programme myself. I wanted to stay for a considerable amount of time in order to be able to be part of the local community. As a result I opted to participate in three different programmes: turtle nest monitoring; giant tortoise breeding centre; sustainable agriculture programme. In my spare time I volunteered to teach English in the community to people from all walks of life.

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

Do your homework and prepare well. What do I mean by this? I spent considerable time writing my profile and ensuring that IOI understood in advance what I wanted to achieve. This allowed them to place me with the perfect host family and make the most of the intercultural experience. Being a mature volunteer, I wanted to ensure that I was committing a significant part of my day to helping the community. This was achieved not only by the programmes offered by IOI, but also by my own efforts to teach English in the community, building social media content for small businesses and generally get involved in local community initiatives which were outside the scope of the IOI programme.

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

It very much depends on the programme. The turtle nest monitoring programme was a relatively low commitment option with only one hour required twice a day, walking the beach and recording data. Work on the coffee plantation involved a six hour commitment per day, which was much more labour intensive but equally fulfilling. Being able to speak Spanish was invaluable, as I was able to communicate with local colleagues and learn so much more about the projects I was working on.

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

Having travelled extensively during my life and my career my only fear was that I would not be placed with a family which would facilitate my intercultural experience or help me develop my Spanish further. The main fear was overcome by the excellent work of IOI matching me with my host family. The whole experience was simply outstanding and it surpassed my expectations.

Are IOI programmes suitable for the mature volunteer?

Generally yes! However, I do think that you need to do your homework and ensure that you express your expectations in your personal profile. There is always a danger that the volunteer experience could turn into voluntourism. For example, many programmes seem to focus on gap year students and potentially the balance of actual work and leisure activities might not suit everyone. If we take the turtle nesting programme, it was only a two hour commitment per day and that wasn't sufficient for me.

I supplemented the experience with other volunteer activities I created for myself to ensure that I felt fulfilled in terms of my personal commitment to the local community and requirement for learning. These activities fell outside the scope of what IOI offered. Make sure that the experience is going to deliver for you personally as one size definitely doesn't fit all. For me, it was a trip of a lifetime, achieved through the hard work of IOI, a certain amount of luck and some initiatives I took to ensure that I maximised the value of my stay.

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.

Professional Associations

The Forum on Education Abroad Logo
World Youth and Student Travel Conference Logo