Written by: Madeline Kubiseski, Master of Health Administration Student
Rebecca Tiessen is the University Chair in Teaching, and Professor in the School of International Development and Global Studies at the University of Ottawa. Her research explores gender equality and development, foreign aid and the role and impact of international aid workers in partner countries.
On January 23rd, the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the IWK, International Development Studies and the Global Health Office partnered together to host Dr. Rebecca Tiessen for a public lecture. She presented on her research as it relates to the ethical considerations of international interns and volunteers which she began while working as a faculty member in the IDS Department at Dalhousie in 2005.
She began with a takeaway message for the audience: international volunteering can be highly valuable and contribute to skill development, capacity building, and change the lives on individuals, within the parameters of good ethical practice.
Throughout the lecture she addressed the mainstream privatization of international volunteering, and the associated headlines about “international volunteers do more harm than good”, “volunteers unleashed”, and “voluntourism”. Rebecca emphasized the importance of research required to move past a single narrative of international volunteering. This requires a collaborative research process to capture the perspectives of the host organizations, local volunteers, the volunteer sending organizations, and the international volunteers themselves.
Her research has examined effective practices of international volunteering and the contributions of volunteering in their home country upon return. Her most recent work examines the role of international volunteers in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment, social innovation and youth employment.
Her work on gender equality seeks to understand how and if international volunteers are serving as role models and assess the impact that international volunteers have on gender equality. Her findings support the hypothesis that international volunteers have significant gender equality impacts including: creating opportunities for women to take on leadership roles, establishing advocacy groups that address gender inequalities, motivating local women to go back to school, inspiring local girls and women to break societal and gender boundaries, and supporting local leaders to model positive change. She also noted that male international volunteers were found to have a positive impact on breaking gender roles, supporting women and promoting feminism. This research is ongoing as they continue to collaborate with host organizations and local volunteers to understand the impact of international volunteers on gender equality.
The full discussion can be found on the Dalhousie YouTube channel. The Global Health Office, the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and International Development Studies would like to thank Rebecca for coming back home to Halifax to share her research and insights on the ethical considerations of international volunteering.
More information about her research and findings on international volunteering can also be found in her books:
- Learning and Volunteering Abroad for Development (Routledge, 2018)
- Insights on International Volunteering: Perspectives from the Global South (co-edited with Kate Grantham and Benjamin Lough, Voluntaris, 2018)
- Obligations and Omissions: Canada’s Ambiguous Actions on Gender Equality (co-edited with Stephen Baranyi, McGill-Queen`s, 2017).