White Saviourism around the World

The voices that demand that Black lives matter were loud in the last couple of months. Since the direful murder of George Floyd, many Black people got a voice for the first time. Moreover, a lot of White people started to reflect on their own behaviour, which was intentionally or unintentionally racist. Undeniably, we live in a society where structural racism is happening, not only in the US but also in Europe. This is a huge issue that needs to be addressed quickly because it concerns us all.

You may ask yourself what the Black Lives Matter movement has to do with our nonprofit organization. The answer is: A lot. Unfortunately, racism can also be found in a lot of volunteering and nonprofit work.

In this blog post, we want to bring the issue of White saviourism a little closer to you. Additionally, we will explain how we try to avoid racist behaviour in our nonprofit work. Nevertheless, it is essential to mention that we also make mistakes. Thus, there is always a room for improvement. But, we can promise you this: We are continually reflecting on our motives and open to any suggestions on improving our work even more!

What is White Saviourism?

White saviourism refers to a White person who provides help to non-White people in a self-serving manner. The problem is that the White person usually feels the need to save people from the Global South. For instance, a quite common thought is: “If I don’t help, then who will.” Thus, the White person helps with selfish reasons, such as learning something new, getting the feeling of accomplishment and pride for helping others. Exactly these thoughts and action will create the “feeling-good” deed in him or herself.

However, this saviour mindset can be indeed harmful to the local community for the following reasons. The White person thinks he/she knows best what is right for them. This phenomenon is known under the above-average effect. Because of this, the White saviour  does not listen to others and does not understand what the group needs.  On top of that, the White saviour does not know the local community and environment very well. So, due to the lack of the necessary background knowledge from that local community, he/she will make incorrect conclusions when wanting to help.

Typical Behaviour of White Saviourism 

In the following paragraphs, you will learn some types of White saviours’ behaviours and how we, at LittleBigDreams, e.V, try to avoid them.

1)Lack of appropriate knowledge and comprehension

Problem: White helpers often get to a place with good intent but lack the appropriate knowledge and competence. However, the locals do not need this kind of support since they have the necessary skills themselves. Instead, they usually just need the material and money to pay workers from their own community. So how is this problem tackled in LittleBigDreams e.V.?

First, we talk to Teresa (the orphanage’s head) every day to find out what is needed most. Duc, one of our founding members, was born and raised in Vietnam, but came to Germany to study architecture. Thus, he plays a crucial role in our construction projects. Together with him and Teresa, we discuss how our building projects should look, what materials will be used, and how much it will cost. As a second step, our team in Europe tries to fundraise the money that Teresa needs to pay for the materials and the local workers. In every decision, Teresa´s opinion is the most important and valued one.

2)Leaving orphanages too early

Problem: Uneducated White people are volunteering in orphanages and are leaving them after a short time. Therefore, there is a continuous disruption between the children’s attachments to the newcomers.

At Teresa’s orphanage in Kon Tum, only locals are working. Additionally, we decided to accept White volunteers ONLY after thorough investigation in their motives, checking their qualifications, and their time availability. At the moment, there are no volunteers in Teresa’s orphanage, and everyone who is working on-site is a local.


Problem: White Saviors often use paternalism. Paternalism: Doing things to or for others rather than empowering and building local capacity. This phenomenon turns the White person into a hero rather than empowering others to become the heroes of their own stories.

We always try to put Teresa and her husband, Thin, in the centre of our work. Without them and their hard work, LittleBigDreams e.V. would not have existed in the first place. They built and led the orphanage without any external help, and they continue to work 24/7 at the orphanage site. They are the heroes of the story, and we try to emphasize that in everything we do!
Besides, we try to make the external financial help unnecessary in the long run. Therefore, we mostly invest in sustainable projects. For instance, the small
bakery, the garden’s cultivation, and the animals will hopefully make Teresa’s orphanage financially independent permanently.

4)Taking pictures of children without permission
Problem: White saviours often take pictures together with the children and locals at the orphanage, thereby putting themselves in the centre. Moreover, the child/local often do not agree on publishing these pictures. Even worse, sometimes the child/local is pictured in a vulnerable position. Nevertheless, the picture is posted because in the mind of the White savior laws that exist in the western world do not apply in the Global South.

We decided not to post pictures of us together with the children and/or locals. LittleBigDreams is not about the team in Europe, but about all the heroes on-site! However, Teresa still gave us the authorization for all underaged children to take pictures and put them online, everyone of full age signed an agreement for that themselves. Of course, we never take photos that portray somebody in an uncomfortable or vulnerable situation. Additionally, we decided that we will not post any close-up pictures of children on Instagram to provide more privacy.

These are only some examples of typical behaviours of White saviours.

To Sum Up …

As mentioned before, we also made mistakes, learned, and changed our behaviour. And we will probably continue making mistakes in the future, but we are determined to continue doing the work.

We can achieve a lot, but it is our duty to deal with this topic and know about our privileges. Likewise, you have the responsibility to check your privileges and to reflect on your behaviour.

Listen, learn, and do the work!