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It’s easy for organisations in a wide variety of industries to pay lip-service to ethical practices.

In the same vein, it’s easy for entities to think they are operating and conducting business ethically when they just aren’t.

Here at GVI, we don’t want to be guilty of that. We want to be better and try harder. We want to constantly develop our understanding of ethical best practice. In doing so, we hope to help establish a new standard for education and international development organisations, and social enterprises.

Ethical best practice has always been at the heart of GVI’s work as a social enterprise operating in the international development space. We haven’t always done everything right. And over the past year, we’ve looked long and hard at where we came from. We’ve thought about who we want to be, and how we’re going to get there.

Ethicality within the international development space is an immensely complex, ever-evolving arena. Some practices that were once considered exemplary have since been proven problematic.

And so, who is to say that the methods of best practice we adopt today won’t be overturned as poor practice in the future? This process happens regularly through advances in research and an increasing pool of global knowledge and experience. As we strive to participate in this process, we have to continuously consider our role and responsibility, and make decisions based on what we think is right.

At the time of writing this article we are still involved in some projects that occupy ethical grey areas. We are slowly and responsibly extricating ourselves from, or reconfiguring our involvement in, these projects. This is an example of the advancement in best practice.

These now “grey areas” were once clearcut, and considered good practice. But now, they aren’t.

This is why we constantly strive to keep up to standard with best practices. When best practices are updated or evolve, we assess whether they will still be the best fit within the local and global contexts where we operate. When they do, we create plans to apply them.

However, it is not possible to reach a golden standard of ethicality. It will always be a journey. And it has been, and will always be, one that we take.

This badge is a manifestation of our journey of reflection and growth. We call it the Badge of Ethics, and it symbolises everything we believe about ethicality in sustainable development.

It was developed through a process of collaboration. It took several months and the intuition, experience, and research of many team members to arrive at a symbol we felt could begin to capture the way we see ethicality in our industry.

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The Hand

The hand is packed with meaning. Our CEO Steve Gwenin encapsulates our stance on human empowerment – deeply intrinsic to ethicality in sustainable development – with the phrase: “A hand up, not a handout.”

Locally-driven development is a collaborative cycle. The hope is that foreign organisations will eventually be cycled out. We hope that the communities and ecosystems we work in will no longer need our support. We believe that they will be able to guide the hands of others in their families and communities going forward.

But the meaning of the hand goes further. A “hand up” must be asked for, and not blindly offered by those who think they know better. This is why the hand faces outwards, almost in a “stop!” gesture.

When studying, interning, or volunteering abroad, many western individuals and organisations unknowingly enter into an unequal power dynamic. In this dynamic, they usually, and unintentionally, position themselves as the would-be saviours of a “poor” community.

It’s not difficult to understand how this would happen at a subconscious level. One simply has to look at the past two centuries’ worth of media portrayal of “developing nations” to get a sense of where these built-in biases come from.

In the media, some nations are portrayed as less able to develop themselves and needy of foreign intervention. Once, GVI was a part of the perpetuating these ideas. But we took a moment to stop, and think about it. And that is what we want this badge to say.

“Stop. Think about it.”

Wanting to serve others, who can benefit from the help of fellow humans, is beautiful. But the best intentions can still do permanent damage when action is taken in poor practice.

We need to have conversations about how to do good and do it well. We need to have conversations about doing good, better. We need to talk about doing good in a way that is collaborative.

The Fingers

Take a look at the four fingers in isolation. They are reminiscent of a bar graph. Long-term, measurable impact has always been important to us. We haven’t always gotten this right, and along the way we have learnt many lessons about sustainability and measurement.

The bar graph represents progress in a very particular sense. When looking at a bar graph, or analysing data in general, we look to find answers to questions, and solutions for problems.

Data that highlights weaknesses and data that is poorly collected is just as valuable in this endeavour as positive data. We take the lessons learnt from mistakes along with our successes: this is our ethos. We take the bad with the good. We progress using the lessons that both have to teach us.

The Palm

The next part of our badge is the spiral, which forms like a wave in the palm of the hand. Spirals represent our journey as we constantly expand our understanding of our own practices, and strive to grow and become better.

The swirl looks almost like a wave, tumbling over on itself. This symbolises motion, inevitable and sure, like the ocean. This is activation, but not activism; movement without disruption. Our work is stable, predictable, but still dynamic and flexible in the face of challenges. This is what this spiral represents for us.

Our Dreams For The Badge

Our goal for our Badge of Ethics is for it to grow beyond GVI, and be embraced by other organisations. For us, this badge represents striving for ethical best practice, as it evolves over time. What will it mean for you?

The badge does not mean that we have reached a fixed point in best practice as an organisation. Such a claim would assume that we know everything and that we no longer have anything to improve on. Instead, we will lead the way as various industries adopt the ideal of doing good, better. We will grow and reflect, and then grow some more. We will remain open and transparent about the mistakes we’ve made.  

We hope, one day, that this badge will grace the websites of travel agencies, volunteer organisations, NGOs, and hospitality providers who have committed to practising ethicality at its most advanced level. Are we ambitious? Yes. But like the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) we aim high. We would rather aim high and get halfway, than aim low and stay there.

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