How to Combine Doing Good, Traveling, and Having Fun [Q&A]

The Bamboo Project is pioneering the sustainable volunteer-travel industry.

Oct 8, 2015


Steve Williams and Mark Foster-Murray

Steve Williams and Mark Foster-Murray are the crazy co-founders of The Bamboo Project

Mark Foster-Murray and Steve Williams are, for lack of a better term, a riot. Energetic, vivacious, and quite frankly, hilarious, the two bring life and humor to their international volunteering organization, The Bamboo Project. The Bamboo Project offers volunteer-travel opportunities throughout Asia, including the Philippines, Thailand, India, Nepal and Laos. The organization’s focus on sustainable community change, transparency, and good old fashioned fun make it a true gem in the voluntourism world. Their website alone (soon to undergo a huge upgrade) will bring a smile to your face - if not for the breathtaking photos of volunteers, then for hilariously-titled blog entries such as, “Visiting Sihanoukville: Is Snooky worth a looky?

1. What is your organization’s mission?

Since inception, our main aim was to provide a ‘win-win’ scenario for both the communities we visit and the people who travel with us. The locations and communities we visit must benefit positively from the experience of tourism, and our travelers and volunteers must also have the most amazing culturally rich experience of their lives, and most of all - fun. A very simple and honest ‘win-win.’

The Bamboo Project is not just a travel/volunteer company - it’s a collection of ideas, people, volunteers, adventure travelers, local NGOs, tour guides and international partners that all share a common goal: to provide enriching, meaningful, exciting and, most of all, ‘happy’ tours and projects. It’s a simple, honest approach to group adventure travel that incorporates sustainable volunteer projects.

2. What makes you guys different from the rest?

We started Bamboo as we both felt that although ‘voluntourism’ does have a lot of negative press (and some of it deservedly so), it doesnt mean that there still isn’t a legitimate need for its existence. As long as the tours/projects are organized correctly, are open and transparent, then we see no reason why supporting under-privileged schools, elephant villages, a small independent NGO in the Northern hill tribes of Chiang Rai, the cat and dog population on Koh Samui, the marine life around Koh Tao, and a locally founded NGO that offers free education and healthcare to 15,000 people in Siem Reap, can ever be a ‘negative’ experience for either party. Again, ‘win-win’!

Bamboo staff at elephant village project

A Bamboo staff member enjoys a typical day in the office 

3. Offices or open work spaces?

We found that open workspaces are the best place for our team to create ‘The Bamboo Effect’. This has been fairly easy since our team shares the same vision of a ‘Work Hard, Play Hard’ volunteer adventure travel company. With maps and ideas plastering the wall, staff schedules and calendars being discussed daily, and table tennis matches during meetings, our offices nurture our ideology and create a happy place so that it overspills into the work we do throughout the world.

4. What three words describe your organization?

Fresh, Happy, Honest

5. What inspires you?

Fortunately, in the game of volunteer and travel, we are reminded daily of how inspirational people can be. The children who have next to nothing and survive on less, yet still beam a smile when our teachers enter the room. The local NGO workers who simply want to help their own people at the sacrifice of their own time and money. Our team who work their ‘asses’ off 24/7 because they believe in what they do and show us that together we can be the change. We are humbled to be a part of something that is truly the definition of inspirational.

6. What is the best part about your job?

We have the best job on the planet. Fact! The 18-hour days, constant travel, social sacrifices are insignificant to our job satisfaction - we love it all. However, if we had to say just one, we would probably have to veer towards the development of The Bamboo Project. Every morning, we grab a coffee, sit on the sofa and throw ideas at each other like giddy children on the eve of Christmas: nonprofit restaurants that will train those who have no access to education into a career and out of poverty, a Bamboo Festival where we invite world leaders of sustainable development and local NGOs to share ideas on how we can work together more efficiently, total world domination where you will find a Bamboo Project initiative in every continent. Oh the ideas…..we only wish there were more hours in the day.

Bamboo volunteers exploring

The Bamboo Project combines volunteering, adventure travel, and cultural immersion activities

7. Does your team eat lunch together?

Reading between the lines here, we’re kinda thinking the questions should be “is there a separation between you guys and your team?” The answer to that question is none at all. Yep, we certainly do eat lunch together and as mealtimes in Asia are a hugely social event - it’s something that’s done regardless of if we’re even hungry! You may even find one of us cooking lunch for everybody in the office!

8. Facebook or twitter?

Both! Our Facebook is updated daily with the latest from our projects and tours. It’s also a great place to share ideas, read reviews from past volunteers, ask any questions, meet the team or who you could be travelling with. You can also follow us on Twitter and Instagram for a behind-the-scenes look.

9. What do you want Goodnet users to know about your organization?

We would urge your readers to do the research when looking to volunteer abroad. Find out where the money goes, who the volunteer company works with, why they go to the places they go, and speak to people who have been on the program for their feedback.

We want you to feel confident in the information that you are given by the plethora of organizations that are in the market. Ask the right questions and make sure you get the right answers. We love getting the tricky questions that challenge our fundamental policies and pursue an open and transparent policy. It’s only this way can we keep our heads held up high and be truly proud of the work we create.

10. How can people get involved?

The first step would be to head to our website (soon to undergo a massive upgrade) and figure out either the WHERE or the WHAT. You simply have to have a chat with one of our guys who have years of experience on all that we do. Our passion and dedication comes through in leaps and bounds once you send the email, or request a Skype chat or even post a shameless selfie on Facebook. We love to hear from anybody looking to get involved with our volunteering or tours or both  and we’ll find the right experiences to suit.