5 Reasons Millennials Volunteer Overseas

Millennials are that group of young adults loosely defined as being aged between mid-20s and mid-30s. We get a pretty bad rap in the mainstream media for being supposedly entitled, self-important and apathetic.

There is much discussion about the phenomenon of “slacktivism” in millennial culture. Slacktivism means taking part in social activism in an indirect or “lazy” way, like signing an online petition or sharing an article on social media.  People are participating in the public town square, but it’s online and they don’t show up in person –because they supposedly don’t care enough or are too lazy to get involved.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to this age group giving back to society, especially by volunteering!

millennial volunteer

According to an Associated Press-Gfk poll, people aged up to 30 think everyone has a very important obligation to give back to society through volunteering. This is the first time in history that our age group has seen it as a priority.

Other forms of community involvement, such as voting or keeping up with current events, aren’t given as much priority by millennials. Volunteering is the only form of community involvement that adults under 30 now rate as highly as older people do.

So what’s different about volunteering that has motivated millennials in ways that other kinds of community involvement have not?

1. Volunteering as part of education

Volunteering can provide an experience and education like nothing else. We have grown up in a world where community service and volunteering programs are often part of a school or university curriculum.

With the growth and progression of Western society beyond the 20th century goals of “making enough money to be the breadwinner for my family”, or “accumulating wealth to live the high life” or “starting a Fortune 500 company”, younger people want a broader multicultural experience. They want to feel like they’re worth more than just being a taxpaying number in some database. We've moved pretty far from 1950!

1950s family

Travel is easier and more available than at any time in history, and there are many opportunities for gap-year students or post-graduates to combine an exciting trip overseas with some time spent at a volunteering program.

2. Exposure to volunteering through the workplace

Far more so than the older generations, millennials have been exposed to volunteering, community service and fundraising in many areas of their lives. This reinforces the message that giving back to society should be a natural way of life.  One of those areas of exposure is their place of work, where employee volunteer programs are becoming more and more common.

Corporate social responsibility has become a big part of the employee experience, especially since the turn of the 21st century. This gives companies tax breaks for their expenditure and it isn’t purely charity, but it’s a fantastic way of helping communities.

As an example, in the city of Port Elizabeth in South Africa, the Love Story community project is sponsored in part by large companies such as the SPAR Group, who also invite company employees to volunteer with the project. Khaya Volunteers helps to support the project by providing volunteers from overseas to work with the local people who run it.

love story project

According to the 2014 Millennial Impact Report, one-third of the millennials surveyed said that their companies’ volunteer policies affected their decision to apply for a job. 55% said that such policies influenced their decision to accept a job offer.

Throughout the four years of the Millennial Report’s survey, some key trends emerged:

  • Millennials want to help other people, not institutions.
  • Millennials support issues rather than organizations.
  • Millennials believe that assets such as their social network, their time, and their money have equal value.

Most of the millennials felt they were working for a company that was making a positive impact on the world.  They want to ensure that their corporate job is consistent with their personal values.

3. Millennials don’t trust institutions to create change in society

Millennials are turning away from organizations and institutions, especially government. We’re starting to realise we have to count on ourselves to create the kind of changes they want. We want to use our own platforms and actions like volunteering overseas to improve the global community.

Turning away from established institutions isn’t exactly a new phenomenon in the last half-century of history. For example – in the 1960s in the West, many people stopped trusting that the government had their best interests at heart. The Cold War was at its peak as shown by the building of the Berlin Wall, there was a looming threat of nuclear attack, and civil rights protests showed everyone that the trusted institutions of society were failing many of its members.

In the modern world, we’re bombarded by much of the same kind of actual or looming wars (and Walls!), financial crises and civil unrest.  In a way, it’s even worse for modern people though – these days, the bad news is shown in graphic detail 24 hours a day in the media, with not much positivity to balance it out.

It can be overwhelming. Many of us want to be reminded that things are not as bad as they seem – by going out and making them better.

4. Volunteering gives social approval amongst peers

“Millennials just want to show off how hard-working and virtuous they are to get Instagram likes. They’re just virtue signaling to their peers.” Sounds familiar?

While some people will use volunteering or community service work mainly for the purpose of self-promotion, it’s far from the full picture. Many people want to connect volunteering with making a real difference. Sure, millennials volunteer for social reasons and cool photos, but they also need and deserve to know how their time and effort changes lives.

travel millennial

5. Millennials don’t buy the “White Saviour Industrial Complex” version of volunteering

These days, there is 24-hour online media streaming, with constant upsetting visions of developing countries as war-torn places with helpless victims waiting for assistance from the generous West.

Unscrupulous volunteer service providers take advantage of this unbalanced view, and convince well-meaning volunteers that much of the world is waiting to be saved by them. They charge large sums of money for people to travel overseas, thinking they will be able to help – and they end up actually harming communities at worst, or wasting their own and other people’s time and money at best.

Violence, unrest and poverty are certainly the reality for many countries, this is true. The fact remains that most places on Earth are becoming more peaceful, happier, healthier and democratic.  

Older generations still fall into the trap of envisioning societal change as something that the West is “donating” to the world. Better-informed and well-travelled younger people are becoming more aware that everyone is moving forwards – because that’s what most humans want to do. It’s important to find an ethical, responsible volunteer service provider that works with sustainable programs in developing countries to help people help themselves.

khaya staff1

As a final note, the increase in interest in volunteering amongst millennials is very good news for society. Not only do younger people want to change communities through volunteering, but they’re also in their prime years to start thinking about becoming parents – maybe not now, but soon! 

The next generation , with insightful and experienced volunteer Millennial parents, might be even more keen to give back to society. Hopefully this trend will keep going through all future generations.


FREE Volunteer Travel Guide

Get our Volunteer Travel Guide for absolutely FREE!

Volunteer Travel Guide Cover Pic

Send My FREE Guide!


Have any questions?

Let us call you and we can have a chat!

trust badge
volunteer project khaya
provincial visitor experience