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A-to-Z Guide of the World's "Without Borders" Groups

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by Julie Schwietert Nov 18, 2010
For almost every profession, it seems, there’s a “without borders” group.

Initially, my goal wasn’t to devise an A-to-Z guide of the world’s “without borders” groups.

I just wanted to give some online print to a few “without borders” groups that aren’t as well known as Doctors without Borders, such as Bees without Borders and Geeks without Borders.

As I started researching, though, I discovered that if it’s a profession, there’s probably a “without borders” group for it. Everyone from A–alpaca breeders– to almost Z– wrestlers– has a “without borders group.” X and Z need to represent, though. How about X-Ray Techs without Borders and Zoologists without Borders?

Here’s a good sampling of the world’s “without borders” groups, what they do, and how you can get involved:

Accountants without Borders

Not entirely humanitarian in its aims, Accountants without Borders seems to be using the SEO juice of the “without borders” lingo to advance its goals as an “online recruitment agency for auditors, accountants and other finance professionals interested in working internationally…, [who either have experience working] in emerging economies or the desire and suitable character attributes for doing so.”

That being said AwB does state (in the next to the last of 25 FAQs) that it can connect volunteers to legitimate charitable organizations; it also offers discounted rates to charities for other services.

If you’re an accountant who would like to join the organization, you can complete the online application form.

Acupuncturists without Borders

Now this is more like it. The mission of Acupuncturists without Borders is “to foster the creation of stable, peaceful global communities through its community-based acupuncture services and training which interrupt the cycles of unresolved trauma.”

To that end, the group’s members offer their services in places around the world where entire communities have been affected by shared trauma; Haiti is a recent example. Not only has the organization provided relief through acupuncture to survivors of the January earthquake; it has also begun providing training so that Haitians can perform basic acupuncture techniques themselves.

AwB has also provided acupuncture after other massive disasters, including Hurricane Katrina and California wildfires; it also facilitates a project especially to treat US service members returning from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In addition to service, AwB membership offers the opportunity to participate in “World Healing Exchange Programs”; one such program is an upcoming trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, where trip participants will learn about indigenous healing techniques and provide acupuncture in community clinics.

Membership is subscription based; more information can be found on the members’ section of the site.

Alpacas without Borders

Alpacas without Borders is… different and admittedly niche; group membership is constricted to alpaca breeders who align themselves with the organization’s mission to “promot[e] genetic diversity within the North American alpaca population.”

Apparently, at least 26 states have alpaca breeders who are members of Alpacas without Borders–from Arizona to West Virginia. If you happen to be an alpaca breeder who’s fired up about the possibility of being an “ambassador” for the American alpaca and genetic diversity, then click on over for membership information.

Architects without Borders

Careful doing a Google search on this group; “Architects without Borders” pulls up the bizarre and the spammy. Try “Architecture Sans Frontieres” for the legit site, which has an English-language version.

Somewhat unlike many “without Borders” groups, Architects without Borders is an international network constituted of non-profit groups and “participative organizations” rather than individual members. Member organizations adhere to the principles of a “common charter,” which include objectives that articulate “access to adequate and dignified habitat as a fundamental human right.”

Artists without Borders

Headquartered in Japan, Artists without Borders invites established and emerging artists in all creative genres to apply their skills toward the purpose of providing “psychological relief to the victims of war in the form of art and/or entertainment.” The organization has led projects in the Caucasus and East Timor.

If you’re an artist interested in joining this organization, send an email to

Astronomers without Borders

Elsewhere, I’ve professed my love of scientists of all types; I believe they’re harnessing the power of technology for the common good in some creative, commendable ways. Astronomers without Borders is one really good example. Through its “Online Observing Program,” both pro and amateur astronomers can literally be borderless as an astrophysicist from Italy’s Virtual Telescope Project leads stargazing… by Internet.

This is just one of many programs and services offered by Astronomers without Borders, whose aim isn’t to haul telescopes out to traumatized people, but to find ways to share the sky with as many people as possible and across geographical, social, and political borders. “One people, one sky,” is the group’s motto.

AwB’s website is also one of the most inviting and user-friendly I’ve seen among “without Borders” groups. You can connect with Facebook, grab the RSS feed for the organization’s blog, or follow them on Twitter, all from the organization’s landing page.

Bands without Borders

Bands without Borders’ goal is to “incite bands and fans to help children in need.”

Garage bands and headliners can sign up for BwB and work with the organization to coordinate benefit shows and provide awareness materials at shows.

Fans and other volunteers can share their services to help produce promotional materials; sign-ups are on a separate page from the band registration.

Bankers without Borders

Bankers without Borders is an offshoot project of the Grameen Foundation. The group’s mission is straightforward:

“To help microfinance institutions, the Grameen Foundation itself, and our technology partners move people out of poverty. How? By utilizing private-sector resources—people who can contribute a few hours a week or a few months of their lives—to make a difference helping the poorest of the poor.”

Though Bankers without Borders does set up opportunities for members to volunteer abroad in non-acute situations (like its current opportunity to conduct a “landscape analysis” in the Middle East and North Africa), one of the benefits of this organization is that it also organizes virtual assignments that are location-independent.

This organization seems like a solid way for professionals in the finance and technology communities (name notwithstanding, it’s notjust for bankers to contribute their skills in the microfinance sector, while building their professional network and gaining valuable ground level experience.

For information about becoming a member, visit the BwB “Volunteer” page.

Basketball without Borders

The US’ National Basketball Association’s Basketball without Borders website is pretty cluttered, not making it easy for visitors to find information, but I guess that’s ok because unless you’re a pro NBA baller, you’re not likely to join this group.

The NBA formed BwB in 2001 to take basketball outside the US through summer camps, the purpose of which is to “promote friendship, goodwill and education through sport.” This year’s camps were in Singapore, Senegal, and Spain.

Bees without Borders

I met Bees without Borders founder Andrew Cote a few weeks ago at the Union Square Greenmarket; when he’s not abroad teaching people apiary skills so they can source and sell their own honey, he’s peddling his hives’ bounty in New York City. Andrew–a fourth generation beekeeper and former Fulbright Fellow–has led beekeeping workshops in Iraq, the Niger Delta, and southern India.

Bees without Borders is guided by four goals:

Respond to every single request for assistance received, at the very least with useful information;
Maintain a global network of beekeepers and linguists to help beekeepers make their craft more profitable;
Help beekeepers understand and create new products and markets from their unused or underused resources;
Use every dollar wisely. All funds are used pragmatically and for the betterment of beekeepers.

Even if you’re not a beekeeper, you can support Bees without Borders. Hosting a honey tasting sounds like a pretty sweet way to help.

Braille without Borders

The mission of Braille without Borders is to empower people who are blind or otherwise visually impaired to establish schools for other people who are blind or have visual impairments, especially in countries where children with eye diseases or disabilities have limited or no access to education. Branches of the organization exist in China, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the US.

The website is a bit clunky and cluttered, so if this organization is of interest to you, you’ll need to have some patience while navigating for information about joining.

Builders without Borders

Builders without Borders sounds pretty generalist, as if anyone with construction skills could join; however, the members of this group share some fundamental philosophical and professional values about how construction should be done and what materials should be used. Specifically, members are “ecological builders who advocate the use of straw, earth and other local, affordable materials in construction.”

Builders without Borders members organize and promote hands-on teaching workshops to pass along these building skills, as well as develop educational material and collaborate with partner organizations on actual construction projects.

To learn more about the organization or to join, visit their site.

Chemists without Borders

Chemists without Borders is a group modeled on the traditional “without Borders” template, which is to say that members respond to both acute and long-term crises by sharing their trade-specific skills and expertise in resource-poor areas. The organization’s five core goals are “providing affordable medicines and vaccines to those who need them most, supplying clean water in developing countries, facilitating sustainable energy technologies, supporting green chemistry education, and providing emergency disaster relief.”

If you’re a chemist, you can join by filling out the membership form online; current volunteer opportunities are listed here.

Clowns without Borders

I profiled this group in an article last year; here are the highlights:

Clowns Without Borders was founded in Spain in 1993 by Tortell Poltrona, a professional clown who had been invited to perform at a refugee camp in Croatia. While clowning before an audience of more than 700 children, Poltrona had his “Aha!” moment: he realized that laughter could be just as powerful and necessary a force as medical and food aid.

Today, Clowns Without Borders has branches in nine countries, including Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, the US, and its members have performed in refugee camps in Europe, South and Central America, and Africa.

Even if you’re not interested in joining, check out recent and upcoming projects (CwB comes to Colombia this month!).

Designers without Borders

Founded in Uganda in 2001, Designers without Borders describes itself as a “consortium of designers and design educators working to assist institutions of the developing world with their communication needs.” Volunteers “provide instruction, consultation, and varieties of development advice and assistance in both community and educational environments.”

You can join as a professional or volunteer, or if you’re not interested in getting involved directly but like what DwB does, you can buy a t-shirt or ball cap, the proceeds of which support the organization’s work.

Dogs without Borders

Plenty of dogs are available for adoption in the US, and Dogs without Borders actively seeks foster families for those pets. It also facilitates international adoptions with the assistance of volunteer travelers.

Like most “without Borders” groups, Dogs without Borders accepts donations and invites volunteers to apply to help out.

Engineers without Borders

In the eight years since it was founded, Engineers without Borders has grown to more than 12,000 members from 250 chapters, working on 350 projects in over 45 countries. Clean water, power, sanitation and education are the organization’s priorities.

There are many ways to get involved- from hands-on volunteering to mentoring- and the organization’s members come together to celebrate their work and share ideas in an annual conference.

Entrepreneurs without Borders

Entrepreneurs without Borders is a young group, having been founded just two years ago. It’s also young in terms of its members; the organization was started at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, for the purpose of helping “entrepreneurial-minded collegiate students to establish long-term relationships with disenfranchised people in other countries and work with them to solve problems they are facing.”

Current projects are in Croatia and Peru, with plans to expand to Scotland, Kenya, and India.

Though membership is limited to current students at UI, you can learn more about the organization’s work and explore the idea of starting a spin-off chapter.

Ergonomists without Borders

Reading the mission of Ergonomists without Borders is pretty boring, but seeing how their work makes a difference on the ground is pretty interesting because it puts the importance of ergonomics into visual relief, especially in the area of manual labor. Check out the Ergo Exposure photo slideshow to see what I’m talking about.

If you want to get involved directly, review the organization’s current needs.

Executives without Borders

Executives without Borders was founded with the goal of accelerating the accomplishment of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. EwB has only been around but 2007, but has made significant advances toward its mission of helping fill gaps in developing countries, which have historically outsourced business development and infrastructure projects to expensive consulting firms.

The website is pretty complete, with information about current and completed projects, as well as clear instructions for executives who want to get involved.

Farmers without Borders

If I were a farmer, I’d totally get behind this organization because you don’t get a more honest vision than this:

The vision for Farmers Without Borders is that it will be a decentralized organization focused on goals that are practical and needed. Our vision is also to be very inclusive, welcoming participation from all people – regardless of where they live. The Constitution requires a majority of the Board to be farmers in order to protect the vision that FWB will be driven by farmers.

But the organization isn’t all warm and fuzzy; it’s rooted in pragmatism and it clearly states that members have no intention of duplicating the “dozens of organizations with goals similar to FWB and literally hundreds of development projects underway to support farmers in the developing world, improve sustainable production techniques or provide farmer-focused humanitarian relief.”

To that end, the core projects of FwB is to pair successful farming operations with struggling ones so that practices and ideas and resources can be shared.

I also like that the website has a reading list, so members and visitors can quickly and easily find resources that are of direct relevance to the work of the organization.

Membership is free; if you’re interested in joining, you can fill out an application on FwB’s website.

Gays without Borders

It’s hard to learn much about this group–and whether it’s even a “group” at all–especially since the blog hasn’t been updated since earlier this year. It seems, however, that when the blog was updated regularly, it was a useful resource for grassroots gay activists and supporters, providing information about legislation and other actions related to LGBT rights around the world.

It may be worth keeping an eye on this blog to see if it gets updated.

Geeks without Borders

What I love about Geeks without Borders is that in its quest to close the digital divide, the organization offers so many ways for both geeks and non-geeks or semi-geeks to support their work. For example, GwB is currently collecting scientific calculators and some other equipment for an Indian reservation in North Carolina.

To learn more about the organization and see whether you can get involved click Who We Are on the group’s website.

Geoscientists without Borders

This group has probably been busy this year, what with earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, and tsunamis and landslides in a number of other countries. The purpose of Geoscientists without Borders is to “affect positive change in communities facing environmental hardship and natural hazards” by connecting universities and industries with communities in need.

Individual geoscientists can apply for grants by submitting proposals about projects that will apply their skills in the field.

Homeopaths without Borders

I’ll be honest– I don’t understand what homeopathy is, even after reading the Wikipedia entry for it. The mission of Homeopaths without Borders doesn’t help much either, but I guess that’s okay since the organization is for homeopaths (and hopefully they know what their profession is).

HwB’s mission is to “provide humanitarian aid, homeopathic treatment and education by serving as partners with communities in need.”

The “get involved” link on the site isn’t working as of this writing, so check the homepage for more information.

Inventors without Borders

I love that the Inventors without Borders’ homepage features inventor William Kamkwamba, an inventor in Malawi who hooked up his home and community with electricity by building a windmill from refuse. (If you’ve never heard of Kamkwamba, check out his TED lecture, which you can find in this article).

Kamkwamba’s presence hints at IwB’s larger purpose, which is to foster young innovators to serve their own communities by hosting workshops, conferences, classes, and clubs.

To learn more or get involved, visit IwB’s website.

Knitters without Borders

Its French name is more fun–Tricoteuses Sans Frontières– than the English “Knitters without Borders,” but in any language, this organization founded by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee exists to bring knitters and non-knitters together to raise money for another “without Borders” group– Doctors without Borders.

Knitted prizes are occasionally given away to people who take up Pearl-McPhee’s challenge:

For one week…
1. Each and every time you think about buying something… ask yourself if it is a need (food, water, shelter, medicine or safety) or a want. Be honest. Yarn is not (sob) necessary. Lattes are not necessary. A seventh pair of shoes? Fabulous pair of new jeans? Eating out? Could you skip a haircut? Search yourself and ask, do I need this, or would the money be better spent on someone whose life hangs in the balance?

2. At the end of the week (or sooner…if you don’t need that much time to think about it) Donate the amount of money that you didn’t need to MSF. There should be no reason why every single person who reads this blog can’t find at least a dollar.
If you can afford to knit… you can afford to donate.

Sound interesting? Read more on the Knitters without Borders homepage.

Lawyers without Borders

The 10-year old Lawyers without Borders exists “to protect the integrity of legal process, serve the underserved, and promote the culture of pro bono service in the legal profession- all with a neutral orientation.”

Member lawyers provide technical and legal assistance both virtually and in the field, as well as conduct “neutral observation of trials, conflict scenarios and detention facilities.”

LwB provides internships to undergrad and current law students, and keeps members apprised of volunteer opportunities. Judges can also register to volunteer through the LwB site.

Librarians without Borders

“Libraries have a fundamental role as defenders of intellectual freedom and providers of equal access to information,” says this organization, which is made up of “socially-minded librarians” who are committed to help “address [the] vast information resource inequity existing between different regions of the world” by building sustainable libraries and supporting librarians.

Those “different regions of the world” include overlooked communities in the US and Canada; a recent LwB project involved working with the Kettle Point First Nation Reservation in Canada.

Membership is free to Canadians; non-Canadians can support the organization in other ways, including donations.

MBAs without Borders

MBAs without Borders offers an alternative to the postgrad leisure gap year by matching “experienced MBA graduates with volunteer assignments overseas in emerging markets.” Assignments range from two weeks to 15 months, just enough time to dabble or enough to make some serious career decisions.

Mediators without Borders

With all the conflict wracking the world, a group like Mediators without Borders is needed desperately. Since 2006, members of this group have volunteered in high-conflict situations to help involved parties express, negotiate, and resolve problems caused by perceived or actual differences.

The organization offers internships and memberships through its university chapters, as well as free professional and volunteer memberships.

Medics without Borders

Many “without Borders” groups respond to acute crises; Medics without Borders takes a preventive approach, focusing on nine areas of personal and public health: preventive medicine; safe motherhood; water purification and conservation; sanitation and waste management; environmental health; EMS and ambulance services; health education and literacy; awareness of medical errors; and the use of modern technology in health care.

MwB sponsors an “Adopt a Clinic” program, and provides training and technical support to clinics and communities in Africa.

For more information, visit the organization’s website.

Monks without Borders

Though its name suggests otherwise, the membership of Monks without Borders is not limited to monks. Instead, its members are “teachers, healers, activists, advocates, and peace loving people from all around the globe [who are, among other projects] improving spiritual literacy and interfaith cooperation by establishing a museum of world religions, with an interfaith monastery and experts on site.”

Even if you don’t consider yourself a spiritual or religious leader (or even a spiritual or religious person), you can support Monks without Borders by taking the Vow of Nonviolence:

Mothers without Borders

Mothers without Borders (which also welcomes fathers–and non-parents, too) was formed in response to the global orphan crisis. A variety of projects are spearheaded by this group, including a microfinance program, feeding projects, and relief supply shipments.

Learn how you can help by visiting the organization’s website.

Naturopaths without Borders

The principles of Naturopaths without Borders are straightforward:

1. Health care is a human right for all, not a privilege for the few.
2. Everyone deserves the best health care, regardless of finances.
3. Naturopathic Medicine is well-suited for resource-poor settings.

The organization’s website is pretty basic, but if you’re a naturopath, this seems like a committed, passionate group of folks to align yourself with.

Potters without Borders

The premise of a “without Borders” group for potters seemed unclear to me at first, but the more I thought about it (and the more I poked around their not-so-user-friendly website), the more I realized this organization has a definite place in the world’s “without Borders” groups. Consider how many communities around the world depend on ceramics for building, water storage, and other aspects of daily living and local infrastructure and it all begins to make more sense.

Rabbis without Borders

Unlike the ultra-inclusive Monks without Borders, membership in Rabbis without Borders is, understandably, limited to rabbis. This group is brand new, and aims to “nurture and develop a network of rabbis with a shared vision to make Jewish wisdom available to anyone looking to enrich his or her life.”

If you’re on a rabbinical path yourself, be sure to check out Rabbis without Borders’ fellowship program.

“If I had to choose a single group from this list that I feel is doing the most important, effective work in the world, it would be Reporters without Borders.”
Reporters without Borders

If I had to choose a single group from this list that I feel is doing the most important, effective work in the world, it would be Reporters without Borders. The need for this organization is so profound, particularly in light of journalist repression and retribution in certain countries.

RwB provides so many services to journalists and the general public. There’s the World Press Freedom Index that it compiles; the funding it provides to journalists and media professionals who are in danger; the practical advice it has compiled for journalists in danger and/or in exile; and the blog it maintains to keep the general public informed about freedom of press threats.

If you care the least bit about media freedom, please visit RwF’s website.

Researchers without Borders

Researchers without Borders’ tagline might be “making the ivory tower a little less ivory.” The purpose of this group is to bring together academics from diverse institutions and fields to “direct their efforts to solve shared problems, do collaborative research and development, and build productive working relationships and collaborations.”

If you’re in university, whether as a student or a faculty member, and are eager to make your work more applied, check out Researchers without Borders.

Scientists without Borders

Last week, I wrote an article for Matador about the most ambitious technology project of the century headed up by scientists, so I wasn’t surprised to learn that Scientists without Borders is an Internet-based “collaborative community dedicated to generating, sharing, and advancing innovative science and technology-based solutions to the world’s most pressing global development challenges.”

I totally love the clean functionality of the SwB website, which sorts opportunities to help solve problems by region or by country. You can also propose a project and invite other members to work with you on seeing it through.

Soccer without Borders

The purpose of Soccer without Borders is to share this sport in communities and among youth who have traditionally been excluded from sports and extracurricular activities. Though the organization is based in Berkeley, California, it runs seven year-round programs in five countries on three continents.

If you’re a traveler and a soccer player, you can sign up to volunteer; 2011 trips focus on SwB’s projects in Nicaragua. SwB also hosts a long-term (almost a year-long) internship program in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Uganda, as well as a short-term summer internship. Lots of opportunities to get involved here, so check out the website for more information.

Sociologists without Borders

Founded in Spain in 2001, the purpose of Sociologists without Borders is to promote equal rights, dignity, deep democracy, and solidarity for all people, primarily, it seems, through academic discourse.

Though I’d like to see a more applied element to this organization’s work, action does often begin with conversation, and this group fosters cross-cultural communication.

Surfers without Borders

Like Soccer without Borders, Surfers without Borders unites athletics with activism, this time in the service of promoting environmental awareness and stewardship. The organization hosts a variety of projects and awareness activities, and you don’t have to be an official member of the organization to participate in many of them. Keep an eye on the organization’s events page for information about upcoming activities like beach clean-ups.

Teachers without Borders

The primary goal of Teachers without Borders is to provide professional development opportunities for teachers around the world. The organization hosts loads of free resources on its website, but taking the digital divide into consideration, it offers most of its services offline.

Membership is free and super easy to set up; you can register using Facebook, LinkedIn, gmail, Yahoo, WordPress, Flickr, or one of a few other accounts you probably already have. By registering through one of these platforms, you’ll also be connected instantly to others in your network who might already be a member… or invite them to become a member.

Technology without Borders

The model of Technology without Borders is pretty smart, responding exactly to existing conditions in the world, rather than some projected ideal. TwB recognizes that “[i]n most developing and post-conflict economies the supply of talented young programmers continues to grow faster than their countries own economies can support them. The result is that the most talented, having taught themselves key skills, lack an outlet for these skills, and in many cases leave their native countries seeking opportunities abroad….”

TwB tries to stem that brain drain by collaborating with groups on the ground to capacitate them through funding and tech support so that they can retain talented local technology experts.

Learn more on TwB’s website.

Theatre without Borders

Theatre without Borders is a virtual community that provides resources for dramatic artists around the world to connect online and share information and resources. It has no fund raising or grantmaking arm; instead, it simply aims to bring people together so they can collaborate independently.

More information is available on the website.

Translators without Borders

Translators without Borders provides volunteer translation services to NGOs that have a humanitarian function and which are not affiliated with any political entity. Volunteers work on translating documents for groups like Doctors without Borders, so that these organizations can direct their funds to on the ground relief.

Volunteers need not commit to massive amounts of translation; even a few pages a year is a help, says the group. Keep in mind, though, that fluency in the target language is required, particularly as the documents to be translated are often medical, legal, or technical in nature.

To find out if you’re eligible or to sign up, visit TwB’s website.

Veterinarians without Borders

Veterinarians without Borders addresses the crucial but often overlooked needs of animals in disaster situations, though it also works actively on problem prevention as well as stabilizing world food supplies.

Membership is fee based.

Water without Borders

From South Dakota to Africa, and many points in between, Water without Borders works to ensure that the world’s water supply is both adequate and safe. Read more about the founding of the organization, which is an inspiring story, and learn how you can get involved.

Wrestlers without Borders

Like Alpacas without Borders, Wrestlers without Borders is pretty niche, but it’s also really interesting. The organization welcomes member organizations who have “demonstrated a commitment to wrestlers of all ages, gender and orientation in a safe, non-elitist environment.”

The group actively supports the Gay Games; in fact, its history as an organization can be traced back to the 1990 Gay Games. This group isn’t for everybody, but I’m glad it exists.

Community Connection:

Didn’t find enough opportunities to volunteer in this article? Then check out Matador’s ultimate Volunteering Abroad resource, the Volunteering Abroad Focus Page.

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