How Not To Be A “White Savior Barbie”

The instagram account “BarbieSavior” is less than three months old but has already garnered a 95k following and been reported on in the BBC, Huffington Post and The Guardian.

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“BarbieSavior” is a satire account poking fun at the naïve “white-rescue” attitude of young volunteers traveling to Africa or other less-developed regions.

In the tradition of good satire, it is funny, while calling out contradictions and problems with voluntourism. Yet, there is the danger with satire that instead of having an impact of change, the object of the satire becomes only an object of ridicule. Those laughing become self-congratulatory and the dialogue doesn’t move forward.

So how do we have change? Here are some tips on how to not become a “White-Savior Barbie”.

Research before you go: Research research research! There are many options out there to do good in a way that is collaborative, sustainable, and mutually beneficial. Choose a program that is dedicated to quality and will discuss concerns about sustainability and partnership. Consider organizations that have gone through a vetting process and are committed to standards like those who are part of International Volunteer Programs Association. Talk to former volunteers and learn as much as you can before you go. If the project involves vulnerable youth or medical interventions, consider the organizations and your own qualifications. Educate yourself on the ethical issues surrounding volunteer projects and make sure you are choosing a project that aligns well with your values.

Check your privilege: In other words, reflect on advantages you may enjoy because of your social standing. One great way consider privilege is to ask yourself if your behavior would be allowed back home in a similar circumstance. Be conscientious with the camera. Be humble and learn cultural customs and norms

Realize you are not going to save the world. While it is honorable to want to have a lasting impact, consider the complicated and complex issues surrounding poverty, social justice, and global health. Consider your own experience and qualifications and realize that volunteering abroad may just be the beginning of your journey.


  • A Apperley says:

    good advice e 🙂

  • Jade says:


    I am looking at travelling to Kenya, Africa to volunteer and have been approved to do so with a company called Volunteer International HQ (IVHQ) and was recommended to contact you by for advise before volunteering.

    Can you please advise if you have any experience with this company and weather they’re a reliable volunteer company who is going to help the community and not make me a “barbie savior”

    Thanks so much,

  • Faith Abraham says:

    Although I am not white, I am American and privileged thus so. I found the article informative.

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