“Soft Power,” Selfishness, or Altruism? Motivations and Satisfaction of US-based International Volunteers

By Liz Jackson and Genejane Adarlo.

Published by The International Journal of Diversity in Education

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Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: September 20, 2016 Free Download

Postcolonial critiques of international development organizations scrutinise their role in “soft power” public diplomacy, observing as symptomatic the partly self-serving motivations and naïve beliefs about the world of many volunteers. However, international volunteers are not necessarily influenced by political agendas or selfishness; nor should they be assumed as naïvely complicit in problematic international relations strategies. This article examines the perceptions of United States-based volunteers in education and public health working with an international development organisation, exploring their motivations and senses of satisfaction with their experiences. By framing volunteers’ experiences as fundamental to the field of international volunteerism, our findings add nuance to simplistic views of volunteerism as a broad tool of soft power or as acts of selfless altruism, enabling volunteer programmes to become more holistic, grounded, and critical in conceptualizing their work.

Keywords: International Volunteering and Service, Development, Motivations, US, Altruism

The International Journal of Diversity in Education, Volume 16, Issue 3, September 2016, pp.21-34. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: September 20, 2016 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 924.995KB)).

Dr. Liz Jackson

Assistant Professor, Division of Policy, Administration, and Social Sciences Education, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Genejane Adarlo

Doctoral Candidate, Division of Policy, Administration, and Social Sciences Education, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong