In global health, the organization you choose matters immensely to the health of communities worldwide.
Unite For Sight is an esteemed global health delivery organization renowned as the world's highest quality global health immersion and volunteer abroad program. Unite For Sight provides an unparalleled global health experience.
Organizations that offer volunteer abroad opportunities go by many names, and their brochures and websites only tell part of the story. Committed to spreading best practices and eliminating the worst practices that are prevalent in other organizations with volunteer abroad opportunities, Unite For Sight developed this framework to evaluate volunteer abroad programs.
What should you look for in volunteer abroad opportunities, and what is Unite For Sight's model and strategy?
The type of organization matters.
There are many organizations whose programs rely solely on visiting volunteers to provide healthcare or other services. These "worst practice" programs usually take the form of "voluntourism," "volunteer vacations," and short-term medical missions. Volunteers involved with these programs may perceive that they are making an impact since they do not see or meet any local health professionals providing care or services in the region, therefore leading the visitors to believe that there are no local health care providers. However, they do not see health care professionals because such volunteer programs are not linked with the local healthcare infrastructure. By ignoring local healthcare providers, these programs undermine the local healthcare infrastructure, create additional barriers to care, and cause harm.
Unite For Sight is a global health delivery organization.
At Unite For Sight, everything that we do is focused on quality. In contrast to other organizations with volunteer abroad opportunities, Unite For Sight is a global health delivery organization that provides opportunities for volunteers to participate in the health delivery process by contributing their enthusiasm, skillsets, and expertise.
The healthcare strategy matters.
Unite For Sight is comprised of public health experts and social entrepreneurs who produce innovative programs and implement unparalleled healthcare strategies to eliminate patient barriers to care. In contrast, many organizations are trying to cash in on the ballooning global health interest, as evidenced by the multitude of new "global health" organizations (for-profit and not-for-profit) advertising volunteer opportunities in the last few years. Scraping together programs and growing as quickly as possible is not a sound strategy to deliver quality healthcare to patients in need; it maximizes recognition for the few in charge, leaving the international community to pick up the pieces.
At Unite For Sight, we know that local problems demand local solutions.
Global health delivery is complex, and programs are best developed by local medical professionals and local social entrepreneurs who are familiar with the barriers to quality care, and local beliefs and perceptions about health care specific to their communities. The local eye clinics possess unsurpassed experience and knowledge of their immediate surroundings and needs, and Unite For Sight harnesses the entrepreneurial talent of local leaders by providing support in the form of human and financial resources. Unite For Sight cultivates and invests in the talent of local healthcare leaders who have the determination and skill to create social enterprises that serve their communities' poorest people.
The type of volunteer involvement matters.
In spite of good intentions, international health work that does not follow global health best practice principles can be wasteful, unethical, and harmful. Worst practices are serious public health concerns that create new and oftentimes more substantial barriers to patient care, thereby reinforcing and furthering health disparities and the cycle of poverty. Furthermore, these worst practices violate concepts of social justice and human rights. Allowing medical providers to practice beyond their abilities is one of the worst and most dangerous practices in global health. In newspaper articles, blogs, and the websites of NGOs and other organizations, there are countless descriptions of frightening and dangerous practices of non-medical professionals involved in the unauthorized practice of medicine in developing countries.
Unite For Sight advances global health.
Unite For Sight's Global Impact Corps program is designed to enhance effective global health delivery. Unite For Sight Global Impact Fellows assist local healthcare professionals at the level each volunteer's training allows. Global Impact Fellows also complete important pre-departure training about global health delivery so that they firmly understand effective program development and the importance of medical care by local medical professionals.
Quality volunteers matter.
The quality of volunteer participants is crucial. Many organizations enable prospective participants to register, "apply", or become a volunteer without a legitimate application process. This does not ensure that the participant will fit well with the organization's mission, and it demonstrates that the organization is not seriously committed to implementing quality programs in the field. When providing human resources to local communities, NGOs, and healthcare providers, it is extremely important that volunteers are vetted and that only high-quality applicants are allowed to participate. Unqualified participants are not able to meaningfully contribute, and their behavior often requires close monitoring, which distracts local organizations from their missions and daily operations.
Unite For Sight has a rich history of phenomenal volunteers.
By requiring volunteers to undergo a thorough application process, Unite For Sight ensures that only quality participants become involved with our organization. The application enables us to learn about prospective volunteers' motivations and intentions. Requiring letters of recommendation demonstrates that Unite For Sight is serious about the quality of its participants and the importance of its work and programs. Unite For Sight is also the pioneer of volunteer management and training strategies, and other organizations and universities require their participants to complete our training materials prior to participating in programs abroad.
Volunteer abroad programs frequently present themselves as opportunities for vacation, travel, adventure, or "escape". Organizations with this type of representation are marketing programs to vacationers and do not have a commitment to supporting local professionals. Just as volunteering in the U.S. is not considered a vacation, volunteering in a developing country should not be considered a vacation or an adventure. Volunteering requires the same level of devotion and professionalism as a job. Individuals expecting a vacation are unprepared for the rigors of volunteering abroad and are especially prone to unprofessional behavior that can negatively impact local communities. Representing volunteer work in developing countries as an "adventure" indicates disrespect for the local community and the developing world.
Unite For Sight has the greatest respect for our partners and the communities in which we work.
The photographs on an organization's website can give an important indication about their level of respect for the local community. The organization's website photos should indicate that the organization is humble, considerate, and respectful. The website should not make stereotypes or generalizations, or try to exploit public sympathy. Individuals in photos should never be shown as objects of pity awaiting a visitor to help.
Financial responsibility matters.
While some "volunteer organizations" are nonprofit, others are for-profit. This distinction does not, however, explain how the organization's funding is used. It is important to review organizational financial reports to determine if and how their funds benefit the local community. Many organizations utilize most or all of their funds on headquarters staff to operate as a tour company or a travel agency. Others state that funding is provided to local communities, but there is no indication about how much is used, how it is used, or how the organization determines how and why to allocate funding to a particular project or community. It is important for organizations to use their funding to directly benefit the local community. The organization should undergo annual financial audits, and the organization should clearly report how and why its funding is used for specified purposes. The funding must be used in a cost-effective and fiscally responsible way.
Unite For Sight maintains the highest financial standards.
We have been fiscally strong from the beginning, and we operate an efficient organization that is dedicated to investing 100 % of all donations to provide eye care for patients living in extreme poverty.
The growth strategy matters.
Many organizations' programs suffer when they grow for the sake of growing. This overreaching leads to organization stagnation and subpar support for both their existing and future partners.
Unite For Sight grows organically.
We have opted to grow Unite For Sight organically to ensure that our organization remains the best global health experience for our Global Impact Fellows and implements the highest quality of healthcare delivery programs with our partners. Our commitment to organic growth ensures that all of our partners and volunteers, both present and future, are guaranteed the comprehensive support and development resources that have made Unite For Sight a highly successful and sought-after global health delivery organization.