Social entrepreneurship and volunteer tourism: beauty and the beast?

William Cooper, Konstantinos Tomazos

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

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This paper highlights definitional issues for social enterprise. The question of what might be considered to constitute a social enterprise and the importance of clarification of such is discussed. The volunteer tourism sector is presented as an example of the social enterprise genre. The paper highlights the need for further research into the nature of social enterprises such as the volunteer tourism business.
Prior Work
Definitions of entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship are often unclear, therefore categories may be disputed within the genre (Morrison 1998, Bridge, O‟Neill and Martin 2009). This paper argues that while given organisations may be argued to sit within the genre of social entrepreneurship, there is a need to clarify their position therein. The volunteer tourism sector is presented as a business sector which comes within the parameters of social enterprise and for which there is a clear need for further clarification regarding the nature of the business. The paper explores the espoused theory and the potential similarity or difference with the theory in practice.
The top forty volunteer tourism organisations by international expansion level were selected from those meeting the research criteria, using the Volunteer Abroad Database. These were then further examined on the basis of their Website content. The 40 organisations selected were examined in relation to key areas of interest based on the International Volunteer Programme Association criteria of ethical practice. The areas of interest for this research were: declared status, pricing policy, diversification, screening of volunteers and involvement of locals.
The results obtained show that there is ambiguity at a number of levels regarding the espoused approaches of the organisations studied and their approaches as evidenced by their operational methods.
The ambiguous nature of social enterprises is highlighted and a case for volunteer tourism to be considered as a form of social enterprise is presented. Issues are highlighted which clarify the need for further research into social enterprises generally, and volunteer tourism in particular, in order to investigate the range of approaches adopted by different organisations and the impact of such on stakeholders.
This paper contributes to the ongoing debate regarding the nature of social entrepreneurship and related research, where it may be argued that we must clarify the nature of the organisations we choose to examine, and the criteria we choose against which to do so. Debates in the social entrepreneurship literature and in the volunteer tourism literature are aligned and the complexity involved in attempting to evaluate the impact of volunteer tourism enterprises, and their claimed and actual modes of operation at the business and ethical levels highlighted.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - 2009
EventInstitute for Small Business and Enterprise (ISBE) Annual Conference - Liverpool, England
Duration: 3 Nov 20096 Nov 2009


ConferenceInstitute for Small Business and Enterprise (ISBE) Annual Conference
CityLiverpool, England


  • social entrepreneurship
  • volunteer tourism
  • ethos


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