World Vision Not at Fault   8 comments

I was strongly urged by a fellow blogger to write my own piece on the recent happenings regarding World Vision. Before I do so, I just want to point out that when you type ‘world vision’ into Google, the WV slogan of “One Child Needs Your Help” is BAM in your face. This is followed by, “Sponsor a child with World Vision. Your child sponsorship will help a child in need to experience life in all its fullness. Sponsor a child now!” Is this approach still in use? Do people still give ‘a dollar a day per sponsored child’? Good lord. I thought this was obsolete. Simply, wow.

Saundra (from Good Intentions Are Not Enough), amongst others, are fired up. I must say that Saundra is leading the pack (but she may have a heart attack if she keeps going like this). Tom from A View From The Cave is fierce as well. I hope I can create some sort of original piece to contribute to the debate. From my count, Good Intentions has listed ~20 specific blogs from 20 different bloggers (did I get that right?) regarding this fiasco, and WV has posted only two (one and two). WV has now (or continues to be) joined with the thoughtful folks from TOMs Shoes and 1 Million Shirts.

I commented on Tom’s response the WV’s T-shirt giveaway with:

Lack of time, can’t read what was posted prior so forgive me if I repeat something. Have WV recognize that they may have messed up after the ‘flood’ of responses they have received is a start. But they are in denial. As the comment stated, they cater to the communities’ ‘needs and wants’. Well, if I lived in poverty and a white person offered me a free T-shirt, would I say no because I have a few shirts at home? No! People will always say yes to free shit, period. I guess I am just anti-disaster relief [and anti-] aid/religion-based NGOs.

The ensuing conversation ended up with me admitting that Africans love free stuff, and no one can dispute that. Any (white) Westerner can show up to any random African village and hand out lollipops (copyrighted idea) or stuffed animals (I’ve actually seen this done before first-hand). I could continue about what else one could give and who would been willing to receive it, but the point is beggars can’t be choosers and impoverished rarely say ‘no’ to handouts.

What WV is doing with the leftover NFL T-shirts is giving handouts. The white folks come with their boxes upon boxes of goodies, the eagerly-waiting village or community forms queues, and the chaos begins once the boxes are opened. Garbage, or torn up boxes and package-ties are all that’s left after the smiling Africans get their photos taken so that the donors back home in their cozy houses can feel good about their hard-earned money going to a ‘good’ cause. Do people still get off on this?

I must reiterate that aid is not development. I repeat, aid is not development!  Let’s create a dialogue to illustrate how and why.

Willing Donor: “But Travis, these people need these shirts! You see what they are wearing? They look like barbarians!”

TW: “No. From my experience, and this will differ between culture and religion, the most impoverished person in Africa has at least one set of non-casual/dressing-up outfits for religious outings or ceremonies. When not holidaying, people wear normal garb, which may have holes and/or be stained. Does this mean they need brand new T-shirts with a sporting logo that probably hate? This is aid.”

WD:  Why this is aid?

TW: Aid is all about giving to others what they do not have and want.

WD: But they wanted the T-shirt.

TW: Key word there, ‘wanted’. There is a difference between need and want.

WD: Well, isn’t that development too, catering to a community’s wants?

TW: No. Pure development assists people sustainably and via education. Tell me what the African community learned from the experience of WV giving out those T-shirts?

WD: Well, they were taught how to form single-file lines….and….um…and that American football is the best!

TW: How about they learned that foreigners = free money or materials. If they wait just long enough, some random NGO or person with a bag full of cash will stroll along and create a frenzy.

WD: Oh, well…

TW: This creates dependency. Currently, we are stuck in a vicious cycle of giving and giving with no end in sight because this is what we’ve done for the last 50+ years.

It is very difficult not to be(come) a cynic in this field but I feel there is hope. I know WV was aware that their action could directly affect the local economy by their T-shirts soaking certain areas. But is it their fault for performing faulty work that makes my future career inevitably very difficult? Westerners, and more so Americans, for the most part are so troubled by their own lives and when they have a split second to focus on something else, they feel only capable to offer their assistance monetarily. It makes perfect sense. Not everyone can live abroad to physically assist those who want to help themselves, I am fully aware of this. WV is just a vehicle for those who want to give their money to feel good about themselves, especially wealthy conservative Christians. Therefore, we (the people who know best) get angry at the vehicle, and not at the ‘well-intentioned’ mob. Is this fair?

My father always told me never to come to him with a problem without a possible solution. So, on that note, I’ll leave you with this: If another NGO or WV obtains a few thousand more T-shirts and wishes to offer them to those who may want them, how about we alter their approach to do so?

First, let a local/grassroots NGO or local group of civil servants of host country nationals (HCN) arrange and be in charge of the offered material goods. This way, no foreigner gets direct credit and the community is not fully aware that it the goods are coming from a specific location/people. This skews the dependency theory a tad. This group would choose another sub-group (youth group, women’s group, community group) to actually sell the merchandise while the civil-servants or NGO supervise the sales.

Second, allow the HCNs of the selected groups to sell the goods. Not in bulk, but a little at a time, and sold for a reasonable price. This will do two things: 1) not flood the local economy and affect merchants’ sales, and 2) when there is ownership of the goods; people respect things they purchase rather than received for free. On that note, people who receive free items are more likely to sell that item, = free money (as seen with some bed-net distributions). WV’s T-shirts may have well of been free cash.

Third, the gained money from the good’s sales; a portion will be given to the sellers and the rest of the money can be put in a joint bank account. In time, this earn money could be put towards buying a milling machine or some other agreed-upon item or cause. This empowers the local peoples (by slightly altering their status quo). Possibly the supervising NGO or group would initiate ways to managed the earned funds in a way that could produce incoming sustainably.

This is a way to turn aid into development. Cheers WV for your efforts, but you have a long way to go. Maybe they could hire Owen Barder as a consultant (or rather me), or at least watch his video from the EWB Conference in Canada (ht Tom for posting this).

Edited by: Joel Elliott

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Posted February 15, 2011 by Travis Warrington in Development

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8 responses to World Vision Not at Fault

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  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention » World Vision Not at Fault Travis Warrington --

  2. Pingback: Tracking the World Vision / NFL Shirt Donation Controversy | Good Intentions Are Not Enough

  3. Travis, welcome to the fray 😉 Three notes:
    First, I’m quite well, thanks for worrying about my health. I’m not as worked up about this as I may seem, but I’m not willing to let this go when Jason got put through the ringer. It’s both hypocritical and unfair.
    Second, yours is actually post #35. They’ve picked up in the last day or two.
    Third, it makes perfect sense that World Vision is paired with TOMS shoes as they actually are paired up. See this post

    • @Saundra-
      I am honored by your comment. My reader’s physical and mental health is always of importance. I didn’t mean to add to the craziness amongst the chatter re WV, but Tom forced me, ha. And marriages make me ill, sad face.
      Keep the good times rolling.

      • No, I’m very glad you added your thoughts. The more people analyzing this the more impact our thoughts will have. For a while there it seemed like it was just me yelling into the wind. Now we’ll see what happens with 35 posts.

  4. It is actually difficult to find educated individuals on this subject issue, however you seem like you no doubt know what you are sharing! Thanks

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