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

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.
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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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Yes, I recommend this program

2 Weeks in The Galapagos

I spent two weeks with IOI in The Galapagos on Isabela Island. I would do it again and I wish I would have stayed longer!

*Pre-departure Communication
*On-site Volunteer Coordinators
*Free time

*Learning was lacking and I wasn't sure exactly what and how I was contributing for the Sea Turtle Nesting program. There was not a great deal of time explaining Who, Where, What, When and Why. It would have been nice to have met the person who was in charge of the Sea Turtle Program and what their objective was (other than the obvious of saving sea turtles).
The Galapagos Program was a little more informative as we were interacting with the Parque Nacional employees who were knowledgeable.

What was the most nerve-racking moment and how did you overcome it?
Climbing down the sketchy rope ladder into the Trillizos cave and breaking the wooden wrung freaked me out. I climbed back up to the top and was happy I survived LOL.


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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.

Professional Associations

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