Stop giving money to World Vision!

Please stop giving money to World Vision. They are misleading you and they are misleading the people who they are trying to help. At the ripe old age of 32 not much blows my mind anymore, but this revelation did.

World Vision do not sponsor children. Yep, you heard that correctly. World Vision do not sponsor children. Although this might seem ridiculous, allow me to man-splain.

Misleading the donor – No sponsorship
The bedrock of World Vision is child sponsorship. The concept is simple and it makes sense. A donor pays a monthly amount of money, which pays directly for the child’s education and other important necessities like uniforms and healthcare.

So when you ‘sponsor’ a child through World Vision, do their school fees get paid? Do they get uniforms? Do they get health care?

The answer is a clear NO. The kid writes you letters, you send them cards, but none of the money you donate benefits that child directly. This might seems absurd, but it’s true. World Vision don’t publicise this clearly, but when you dig a little, they admit it outright. World vision do not sponsor children

We believe true community development is not about providing money or even services. It lies in helping people discover their God-given potential as human beings, and working together to realize that potential.” 

So instead of sponsoring a child, they instead run community projects involving water, education and development.

So why is that so bad?

First it is misleading. Child sponsorship sells and World Vision know it. They are raising money through selling the attractive vision of the donor transforming the life of the individual child they are connected to, but they are not delivering what they sell. They are downright dishonest.

Nickandkids.JPG

Some of these children benefit from real sponsorship. Their schooling is paid for

Second, the community development work that World Vision do under the veil of child sponsorship, is unlikely to be effective. Here in Northern Uganda, rich World Vision workers drive expensive trucks, deliver trainings at fancy hotels and write reports espousing the great work they have done. There is little accountability, and no meaningful way to measure the outcome of their work. It is possible that many World Vision programs worldwide do close to zero good. The idea of focusing holistically on a community in order to bring sustainable transformation sounds and feels amazing, but it just doesn’t work.

And this comment just made me angry

“The goal of sponsorship in a community is to help break the cycle of poverty so children and families can step into the future with well-founded hope. When these goals are met, World Vision can move on to serve children with great need in other communities.”

 

The idea that an NGO can walk in, meet some development goals, fix the communities problems, celebrate and then move on to the next disadvantaged community is ridiculous. The deep seated socioeconomic issues In Northern Ugandan communities can’t be fixed by any NGO, even those far more effective than world vision. Of course we can make a difference and help people’s lives become better, but you can’t ‘fix’ a community in a few years. If you visit communities here that World Vision has been working with for years, you won’t find any objective difference between them and the next village over

Individual child sponsorship on the other hand works.

One study of children properly sponsored by the NGO Compassion, showed that “sponsored children realize 1.38 more years of schooling than their unsponsored siblings and 1.79 more years of schooling than their unsponsored peers”. Sponsored children were also more likely to get jobs. Other studies have shown similar positive results.

When 16 economists were surveyed, child sponsorship ranked 4th on their list of most effective interventions. I am not claiming that child sponsorship is necessarily the best way to spend money, but real sponsorship is effective, and transforms children’s lives.

Misleading the children – Exploit the most vulnerable
World Vision are piloting an ‘exciting, innovative new system’. Instead of the sponsor choosing the child, the child chooses the sponsor! They select the “most disadvantaged kids” in the community, put them in front of a photo board of smiling rich white people, and they select their sponsor. It seems like a great idea. Disrupting the system, turning the tide, shifting the power balance from the rich to the poor and all that.

Except that the process is a farcical and twisted public relations exercise. After the child chooses their ‘sponsor’, they do not benefit directly. It is not fair to pair a rich white Westener, with a poor Ugandan, when the poor Ugandan doesn’t get anything meaningful from the relationship, except a few letters. The poorest children are therefore exploited to raise money for a program which doesn’t directly benefit them. This makes me sick inside.

So World vision doesn’t sponsor children. Both the donor and the children are misled, and the money instead goes to unproven, money sink ‘community development’ programs

 So what could World Vision do to change my mind?

  1. Get rid of the word sponsorship. Change your marketing. Start promoting your community programs, because that’s what you are doing, not sponsoring children.
  2. Allow external organisations to do meaningful research on your community programs and prove to me that they are doing more than zero good.
  3. Perhaps just go back to actually sponsoring kids. Nothing wrong with that!

And that’s why you should not give money to World Vision right now. There are so, so many other great ways to give and make a huge impact  so why give your money to a dishonest, ineffective organisation?

I would love any questions or feedback about this, and if you agree with me I’d encourage you to share this and get the message out there.

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12 Responses to Stop giving money to World Vision!

  1. calebmorgan says:

    Thanks Nick.

    A decade ago I worked for World Vision as one of the people that harasses you on the streets and tries to get you to sponsor a child.

    I felt somewhat convicted by how we would market it as child sponsorship (because we knew that was good for marketing) while actually working at a community level rather than an individual level. However, I told myself that (a) I would try to be open and clear when explaining what people’s money would go towards, (b) insofar as people didn’t get this info, it would be because they didn’t really care to investigate further but just wanted to give their money to the cute kid in the picture, and it’s good marketing for these people – and we were doing good work, so good marketing raising lots of $ is a good thing and an efficient use of advertising resources, and (c) supporting community programmes is a more effective approach than helping individual kids. In fact, we were quite smug about not actually directly helping the individual sponsored child, unlike others like Tearfund.

    We explained the community-based approach with a couple of main reasons: Firstly, we wouldn’t want a kid to miss out because they didn’t happen to have been chosen as one of the sponsored kids. I still have sympathy for this, but i’m sure there are ways to avoid it even in an individual support model. Also, I think when I would say this, I would be assuming that in a community-based approach, every individual kid in the community would get the kinds of help that sponsored kids get in an individual support approach (eg reduced education costs and better healthcare – but through running a school or clinic rather than paying for fees to existing services). But now that I think about it more closely, that’s probably not right.

    The second reason was that “of course” it is more effective to set up development programmes at a community level rather than meeting direct needs for individuals. The logic is partly about economies of scale and systemic[local systems only] planning. But I think it’s also partly motivated by assumptions about dependency and victim-blaming (the idea that poor people can’t be trusted to do wise things with money). I have since learned that a lot of development programmes like this have little, if any, research evidence suggesting that they are effective, whereas direct money transfer approaches – which we would scoff at as simplistic and ineffective – often do have better evidence behind them. (And, as you note in this blog, direct child sponsorship on the Compassion/TearFund approach does too. The Christianity Today article actually mentions both WV and Compassion as examples of child sponsorship, but the research is about Compassion.) We would constantly say that our approach was more effective than supporting individual kids, but we were speaking out of ideology rather than evidence. And I now see that the ideology is largely insulting and patronising – the international equivalent of “don’t give money; give tightly controlled payment cards with strings attached”. It’s also basically magical thinking: the naive hope that WV can set up a bunch of programmes, operate them for 15-20 years, gradually hand them over to the local people and eventually leave them to run the programmes without continuing the flow of $, and expect the programmes to be able to solve all the problems for the people in the community so we don’t have to meet their individual needs.

    I don’t know what the best way is for people like me to give money to the global poor. Do you?

    • I work for Unified for Uganda, registered as a non profit in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, and operating in the Northern Uganda district of Gulu. We provide direct child education sponsorship to destitute children. Our main sponsors are High School students in the Cincinnati area and so we struggle with funds. We can’t even afford to put our beneficiaries in the best schools in the country or provide full sponsorship especially after secondary school! So to hear that large organisations like these are not doing what they promise is sad indeed! Yes, direct sponsorship leaves out many children in the short term, but in the long run, the same kids we give meaningful education to will help make the larger impact we want to see. It takes time, but it works! I would rather build one solid life at a time, than try to move masses with no real impact.
      I urge everyone who has been donating to child sponsorship not to give up now. Please find an organisation that actually does child sponsorship and provides you actual progress reports on your sponsored child like Unified for Uganda. We may be small, but we do our work right!

  2. ntlaing says:

    Apwoyo matek Beatrice! Nyingi nen calo tye Acholi onyo kaka Lwo ma pat? That’s a fantastic response and a really good message. Great encouragement to find organisations that do it well and best wishes with Unified Uganda!

  3. Pete Hill says:

    Agree, agree agree.

  4. Valérie says:

    You raise some very valid points ie misleading, and querying the effectiveness.
    I think it’s problematic to single out children for sponsorship within a community or family. Why not finance community projects/infrastructure that benefit the whole?
    It’s always been the difficulty of who manages any funds – that requires considerable knowledge plus.
    This is in line with the many problems of philanthropy and the ‘industry’ of donations and volunteering, and where the benefits fall. I don’t think there are easy answers. The problem always lies in the administration.

    • ntlaing says:

      Thanks so much for the wise comments Valerie! I love the idea of financing community projects and infrastructure, but unfortunately in practise it unfortunately rarely achieves very much. Usuallty once the project ends, things go back how they were before the project. I’m definitely not saying Child Sponsorship is amazing or the ‘best way’, but at least there are tangible, measurable, enduring benefits down the line. Unfortunately even in community projects, one community benefits while the one next door doesn’t. You are right that administration is very, very important and there aren’t easy answers. I believe though that there are some better approaches though, which I share a little bit here https://ugandapanda.com/2017/06/16/ngo-part-4-give-your-money-well/

      • Tonny Jawoko says:

        Even when you try to hide behind supporting communities and social infrastructure, (1)where are those infastructures (2) is your impact a true reflection of the millions of dollars raised through donations?

  5. Tonny Jawoko says:

    I have always concurred with this position. World vision is one of the oldest NGOs in Uganda (over 30 years) but it’s really hard to make sense of any visible contribution or impact on the ground. Going by the staff life styles, their administrative budget could be commanding as much as 80% of all donor funds and that explains the obscene salaries among other staff benefits. Because the organisation is a cash cow, top jobs are a preserve of the highly connected individuals.

    The NGO called invisible children operated in Northern Uganda for approximately 5 years but their programs implementation was to the dot and extremely impactfull.
    Compassion international is doing a commendable job in western Uganda by sponsoring education. I went to the University with many students who benefited and continue to benefit from this program. And that’s the kind of visible impact we are crying out loud for.

    If donors don’t wake up and start carrying out physical audits and trail their donations to the dot, donor funds will continue serving interest of individuals who are out there to make a kill of such “free monies” at the expense of the children they purport to help and the communities they claim to support.

    The shameless use of God’s name and photos of these vulnerable children to raise donations that actually in the end doesn’t truly reach them is an extortionate and fraudulent act that must be stopped at any cost.

    I will not advocate for anyone to stop donating.after all, giving is an issue of the heart. But make an effort to ensure your donation does what it’s meant to do.

    Thanks.

    • ntlaing says:

      Wow thanks so much Tonny for this incredible comment. Your great insight is a tribute both to your and also a great testament to the support you received early on from Compassion. I love the point about the obscene staff salaries and benefits it’s so true! An interesting point is that most Western Organisations (like World Vision) don’t actually count their Ugandan Administration as part of their administration cost, only their Western administration! Is it OK if I post this comment on my facebook feed to share it with more people? (it’s fine if you don’t want!).

  6. Jason Evans says:

    Dear Nick,
    There’s a great discussion to be had about the most effective way to use child sponsorship funding.
    World Vision understands the need to be accountable (https://www.wvi.org/accountability) – to the children, to the sponsor, to the Government, and voluntarily in our annual reporting. We evaluate our child sponsorship programming thoroughly – for instance, see this eight-country report which included Uganda (https://v.gd/caGQvB). We also invite external researchers to investigate our approach and act on their findings, as with this four-year, nine-country study (https://v.gd/178qoX) by four prestigious Universities.
    You don’t have to “dig” far into any of our publications to find our description of our process and the reasons for it. From our Vision (“… for every child …”) to our child sponsorship description, https://www.wvi.org/child-sponsorship, we are clear that we are tackling the root causes which keep communities and children poor. This two-minute video (https://v.gd/QKJG3l) sums up the approach. Pooled sponsor money creates benefits for the whole community – including every sponsored child. A community-based approach means that, for every sponsored child (three million worldwide, last year), four more also benefit.
    Spreading the benefits stops sponsored children from suffering the resentment of their unsponsored neighbours. Parents and communities work together to improve the well-being of their children so all are cared for, protected, in good health and receiving an education. We typically stay in a community for 15 years. Here in Uganda, 99% of our staff are locally hired, and most work every day in the local community. They are remunerated fairly, but wouldn’t recognise your description of them as ‘rich’. We are governed by a voluntary Board, all Ugandan. See the kind of work we do in our own annual report (https://v.gd/ZaF5Jv). Our in-country overhead rate is low for the sector, at 8% – and that’s externally audited.
    The relationship which World Vision child sponsors form with their sponsored child is real, and the pooled approach to funding meets the highest standards of community development. We are committed to making improvements; our new approach (“Chosen”) of allowing children a say in the selection process maximises the agency and dignity of the sponsored child.
    Finally, we take allegations of fraud, corruption and other abuse very seriously. If you, or anyone, have evidence or a genuine reason to suspect misuse of money or abuse of beneficiaries in any of our projects, I invite you to contact me. Or you can do it anonymously on our Integrity and Protection (“whistleblower”) hotline, https://v.gd/NlzZ7d.
    Jason Evans, National Director, World Vision Uganda

  7. R T Lewis says:

    I was pleased to see a response from World Vision. I for one had been crystal clear that our giving over many years had a community development focus. Also a friend was for some years a world vision journalist, globe trotting yes – but with familiar look of people who have seen very terrible things; and certainly not rich when he retired from the work. I remember well 25 years ago in seminary a liberal christian turning up his nose at World Vision Sponsorship (then I think more individual child focussed) as merely helping individuals and doing nothing about causes or community. Thus it is often in the great questions – the consensus swings one way and the other. I

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