A gap year is a year’s break between high school and college/university aimed at promoting a mature outlook with which to absorb the benefits of higher education.

For those that have been on the receiving end of this “mature outlook”, you will know exactly how those conversations go. If you haven’t had the pleasure, just watch Matt Lacey’s hilarious parody of the Gap Yah. As you can see, the conversation usually revolves around someone “finding themselves” while truly “giving back” and “touching the lives of others”. 

There is no doubt that a Gap year can be hugely beneficial, but many have expressed their concern that volunteering for short periods of time might be doing more harm than good. Last year, JK Rowling tweeted that she would “never retweet appeals that treat poor children as opportunities to enhance Westerners' CVs” after being asked to share an appeal from a charity which offers volunteering opportunities in orphanages. 

Rowling is not alone. Many NGO’s have also raised concerns about the presence of naïve, unqualified Westerners in developing countries, contributing to the growing industry of “Voluntourism”. The documentary Volunteers Unleashed  justified this concern by showcasing young Westerners performing medical procedures far beyond their training and ability putting local lives in danger. 

So what can you do if you want to make a difference? Well, you can start by exploring the whole host of amazing volunteering opportunities you can undertake locally. Take Good for Nothing, a movement that gets people together to participate in socially positive activities. Each event supports an innovator in social, environmental and human fields, who otherwise might not be able to afford the help. People get together for 3, 24, and 48 hour events, with the aim of provoking positive change and impact.

But it’s not only the UK promoting local volunteering efforts. In a bid to improve the amount of good deeds done in their country, Columbian gym chain Step ahead arranged exercise classes where participants burned calories by doing good. The specially designed training programme incorporates exercise routines into activities like home building, farming and rubbish collection.

Coke even got in on the action in Romania with their Crazy for Good campaign. In 2014 they launched Radar for Good, an app designed to facilitate local volunteering. The app worked by scanning the local area and showing users places which desperately needed an extra pair of hands, from soup kitchens to libraries. When the user made their selection, the app used GPS technology to guide the volunteers to the destination. 

“Charity starts at home,” is a slightly cliche, but stunningly accurate depiction of how you can volunteer locally and really make a difference. So for those thinking about jetting off to “find yourself”, save the astronomic airfare and do good right where you are. 


Ella Britton is part of the JWT team working on the TAP launch. A street-art fanatic & a passionate advocate for social change, Ella brings a huge amount of energy and smarts as a dedicated contributor to our initiative.