World’s Challenge’s announcement that they would be withdrawing from orphanage voluntourism received a great deal of media attention and interest from the child protection and tourism sectors, and students, schools and parents. World Challenge had a long history of placing teams in orphanages, under the misguided impression that residential care was an acceptable model of care for vulnerable children, and that these type of volunteer projects were an appropriate way for student teams to engage with local communities and provide ‘service learning’ experience. With an increasing awareness and evidence of the harms of orphanage voluntourism, World Challenge had internally identified a need to move away from these placements.


As part of my work with ALTO, and my associated advocacy work as a member of the ReThink Orphanages Network, I approached World Challenge to request a meeting with the Global Managing Director, Pete Fletcher. Upon hearing the evidence on the harms of orphanage tourism, World Challenge made a decision to partner with ALTO to begin the process of transitioning away from orphanage placements.


In close consultation with the World Challenge team, ALTO developed a customized exit strategy that would align with World Challenge’s core objectives and business model, while placing the protection of children first. The strategy involved a process of intensive internal consultation, impact evaluation, technical support, communications support, stakeholder engagement and partnership brokerage.


ALTO worked with World Challenge to complete a process of withdrawal from orphanage placements following a comprehensive assessment of potential social and economic impacts on partners. ALTO provided specific case support on transitioning relationships, and links to local child protection networks. By the end of 2017, all remaining partnerships with residential care institutions were ceased, and ALTO remained on standby to support and provide technical support to orphanage partners considering transition to family based care models.


Managing internal and external communication was key in ensuring World Challenge’s successful exit from orphanage partnerships. ALTO worked closely with the World Challenge team to develop a communications strategy for all stages of the withdrawal, and managed the global media campaign, which received significant traction.

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Beyond exiting orphanage partnerships, World Challenge requested ALTO’s support in exploring how they could make an active contribution to raising awareness about the harms of orphanage tourism. ALTO managed a process of scoping practical opportunities for students to engage responsibly with the issues surrounding orphanage tourism. This process involved brokerage of a partnership between ALTO, World Challenge and Ayana Journeys to create a critical thinking workshop experience for World Challenge teams, piloted in Cambodia and Vietnam in 2017.

Workshop infographic


World Challenge remains committed to leading the student travel sector in ending orphanage tourism and plans to expand the critical thinking workshops to include teams in all destinations. ALTO is continuing to provide technical support to World Challenge on their journey to ensure all of their community projects are ethical, sustainable and responsible and is proud to support this journey.