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To Hell With Good Intentions

Tool Objectives: 
  1. To better understand the implications of global service-learning through a critical perspective.
  2. To identify and reflect upon one’s own motivation for engaging in global service-learning.
  3. To enable one to develop a better sense of social responsibility and community engagement.
Tool Description: 

In recent years, there has been astonishing growth in international programming that embeds service-learning or some form of community engagement.  This discussion-based activity builds on Ivan Illich’s famous 1968 speech, “To Hell with Good Intentions.” Through a facilitated discussion and reflective assignment, students are asked to collectively critique their program and their motivations for engaging in global service-learning. The faculty leader/program director may want to invite an external facilitator who can openly engage with and challenge the students in the spirit of Illich. The planned service-learning program should be focus of discussion.  Alternatively, a sample case study has been provided.

Tool Procedures: 

1.     Students should be required to read the transcript of the famous 1968 speech by Illich prior to the group meeting, as follows:

a.  Illich, I. (1968). To hell with good intentions. Conference on Inter-American Student Projects. Cuernavaca, Mexico. Available at

2.     Initiate a discussion with the students by posing various questions about the upcoming service-learning program. 

a.     What is the nature of the program and the program purpose?

b.     What type of work will be done?  Are materials are being brought with the group (and at what cost) or bought locally? 

c.     Who are the community partners and how have they been engaged in the development of this program?

d.     Are any local people being hired to work with the group, and if so, at what remuneration?

e.     How much will it cost for each student to participate in the upcoming program? Calculate the total amount it will cost for the full group. 

f.      What is the average annual income of a person in the host country?  Relate the total cost of the program to the number of annual salaries earned in the host country.

g.     What is the language spoken in the host country?  Determine how many students in the group speak the host country language.

3.     Three passages from Illich’s speech have been selected for small group discussions.  As time allows, work through the small group discussions with students. Select students to read aloud each passage. Consider the following facilitation questions for large group discussions:

a.     What do you think you could do to try to become aware of other culture’s criticisms of dominant US culture?  What can you do before and during your time abroad to learn about diverse cultures within the host country?    

b.     Why do you need to go there? What will you bring that is needed (i.e., skills, knowledge, etc.)?  Why not just send the resources?

c.     How have you been preparing yourself for this service-learning program?

After the small group discussions, move from Illich to facilitate a broader discussion of what all of this means for the upcoming service-learning program. Discuss the expressed needs of the host community, the needs and goals of the students themselves, and the broader issues of reciprocity and equity. Review the goals of the service-learning program and how the program will respond to the stated needs and goals of the host community.

Optional:  While abroad, facilitate a discussion with the students in which the topic of “helping” is revisited.  Upon return, facilitate a discussion on social responsibility and community engagement with students.  Ask what they will be doing differently now that they have participated in this particular service-learning program and how they will continue to engage in service now that they are back, whether on campus or in the local community.


Tool Evaluation: 

Based on the discussion-based activity and the reading of Ivan Illich, each student should submit a 2-3 page reflection paper prior to departure addressing one of the following questions:

  • If I believe that I should still go on this trip, what do I need to learn about myself and my own culture before I go?
  • Before I go, how will I learn about [Ethiopia] and the diverse [Ethiopian] cultures with which I will have contact?
  • What are the pitfalls of travel that Illich mentions that most worry me? How can I avoid those? 
  • How can I meet [Ethiopians] who can tell me to "go to hell" and therefore try to develop meaningful relationships with them?
Tool Time Requirement: 

At least one class session prior to departure.

Tool Author(s): 

Adapted by A. Ogden, E. Hartman and A. Lutterman-Aguillar, 2014 based on Kent Roth’s presentation on “To Hell with Good Intentions.” Available at,

Tool Handouts [.doc or .docx]: 

Site copyright 2012, University of Kentucky, Education Abroad.
Toolkit Authors: Duarte Morais, Ph.D., Anthony C. Ogden, Ph.D., & Christine Buzinde, Ph.D.
More information about the toolkit authors.

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