It seems that nearly every GAP year program, international school curriculum, and business incentivizing “volunteer leave” is now harping on the concept of “service learning”. They are no longer calling it “volunteering”, as the learning is being emphasized, but what I think we need is a further revolution of this concept. I no longer believe in “service learning” as the best thing to promote to travelers visiting a new place. I now believe in and want to promote the concept of:
Learning to Serve
By prioritizing learning, we are able to live the mantra I now try to repeat and remember: we have to learn before we can help. By noting that learning comes before serving, we are reminded of participatory development theories, about researching before we act, about how doing good isn’t something we can take for granted – it takes work. Learning Service means we are learning HOW to be of service: learning about development issues and how we might help or hinder progress through our interventions, about how to vet responsible partners for our money or our time, and about who the players are in the areas we are passionate about and where our skills might add the most value.
Businesses, let your staff members have that same “volunteer leave”, or even more of it, if they decide to learn before they help. Invest in their learning service options so they can become better world citizens and they, your company, and our society will be better for it.
Schools and parents, incentivize your students to learn before they help. Don’t send them out telling them to solve problems they don’t yet know about. Remind them that, just like writing a great paper, we need to do our research first. Show them how that is done by modeling learning service in your school programs.
If any of you reading this are interested in writing a short paper with me on this topic at some point, let me know as I’d love to send this concept out to schools and CSR programs as a challenge to them to incentivize more responsible service by prioritizing learning first.
What are your thoughts on this? Is there a better way to do or to describe whatever you believe to be the most responsible way to travel to a new place?