Yay World Vision!

This week we saw a damning public display of discrimination in the name of Jesus. Slow clap for World Vision. As would be expected, I have a few thoughts.

First, the events of this week are shameful. From World Vision–a spineless reversal motivated by money. From conservatives–the retraction of perhaps millions of dollars to “help” those who are poor. From liberals–using people who are poor to make political statements. Shame on all of you.

As you may already know, I think the Christians who, in the name of God, insist on bigotry and discrimination against gay people are on the wrong side of history and theology. This week’s shameful Christian outcry against a policy of non-discrimination and World Vision’s subsequent retraction is horrifying to me. In no way am I endorsing their behavior.

But I am thrilled that this all went down. I have never been a fan of World Vision. Their model is untested, with little objective empirical data to demonstrate the effectiveness of their programs. They objectify poor children and market them to support their efforts at development. The dignity, agency, autonomy, and power inherent in every human being is flattened into a pathetic picture of a helpless (black) child who can do nothing without help from the great (Western) savior. Such an image is good for raising funds, shitty for actually fixing the problem. And the events of this week demonstrate this.

If supporting a poor child is merely a marketing strategy when you  make a PR slip that commodified child can be easily replaced by another commodified child from another organization.

But I did not need this week’s events to know that World Vision, a Christian aid and development agency, exists for itself. Their longstanding practice of giving away the Super Bowl loser t-shirts is roundly criticized by anyone who knows what good aid looks like. It looks good to Charity Navigator (often a specious measurement tool) because World Vision can claim that they received a $2 million dollar gift (100,000 t-shirts with a “market value” of $20 each) and then distribute that gift relatively cheaply. But… is the gift really worth $2 million? Those shirts are useless, with no value whatsoever in the US (the NFL prohibits the sale of said t-shirts). The NFL can continue to overproduce things that are unnecessary (do we really need our Superbowl Champion t-shirts the day after the Super Bowl?) and look like really good guys by giving a $2 million donation. World Vision looks like an effective charity with low overhead, rich white men pat themselves on the back. Win-win, right? Except that no one really needs a Super Bowl loser t-shirt in Africa. Yes, World Vision has helped give us the impression that these are helpless, useless poor people with no idea how to clothe themselves. But that is just absurd.

They further lost credibility last year when they actively lobbied against food aid reform. Current policy is that food aid be grown in the US and shipped overseas on US vessels. The inherent waste and ineffectiveness of such an approach is obvious. But it is good for US farmers and shipping companies. And World Vision. So when President Obama proposed that as much as 25% of our food aid be locally sourced, World Vision stood in the way. Even though as many as 10 million more people could have been fed by such a policy.

So now you know why I am glad. I hope they lose millions more and that those millions go to more reputable organizations like Church World Service, Episcopal Relief and Development, Lutheran World Relief, and other such agencies that respect the dignity and agency of people, regardless of their economic status or sexual orientation.



Filed under justice, poverty, religion, Uncategorized

12 responses to “Yay World Vision!

  1. J.

    “Their model is untested, with no objective empirical data to demonstrate the effectiveness of their programs.”

    Which NGO, exactly, *has* tested it’s model, and also shares that data with the public?

    • I understand that the critique could be made of many (most? all?) orgs. Laura Seay has reported that Compassion has had their model tested and found some good results. I think the larger issue in my mind is the great harm that marketing and objectifying children who live in poverty comes at. The images are lasting and (I think) have lasting negative effects. On the other side we are not sure that the cost actually produces measurable benefits. This is problematic to me. I imagine with all your time in this world you would bring a helpful perspective. I am eager to hear how you would frame it.

      • J.

        In my opinion, we have to recognize that aid marketing/public persona, and aid programs are, quite simply, separate worlds. It’s safe to assume that, as a layperson or aid industry outsider, one has little if any access to real information about what an aid or development org actually does. And so, while I get that right now everyone wants to pounce on World Vision US for their absolutely ridiculous public behavior, it’s important to keep in mind that this kerfuffle doesn’t actually tell us anything useful about the quality or impact of World Vision’s work in the field. And the same would be true if the kerfuffle involved some other organization–CARE, maybe, or Compassion.

        As for the negative effects of marketing, particularly marketing images, well:

        1) It seems that the aid industry cannot win on this one. Whether for marketing or for accountability purposes, there is legitimate need to include images of our work, including pictures of actual beneficiaries/recipients/survivors as part of explanation and documentation of what we do. Yet no matter how we do it, there’s a cacophony of lay voices telling us we’re terrible people for having done it *this* way. I give up.

        2) I think that most of the time the real issue is with how images are used, more than what images actually show (blogged about that here: http://aidspeak.wordpress.com/2013/06/24/what-does-that-make-us/)

        3) I think it’s very hard to draw a straight cause-and-effect line between questionable aid marketing and bad things happening to poor people. The issue with bad aid marketing is that it educates ordinary citizens to envision solutions in the wrong ways, and as a consequence, support orgs that do it wrong or poorly. Bad marketing begets more bad or ineffective aid. (blogged about that here: http://talesfromethehood.wordpress.com/2010/08/12/caricature/)

      • Thank you for this. So helpful.

  2. Pingback: a bit more about my World Vision post on The Monkey Cage | haba na haba

  3. Livilla

    Amen. World Vision=bleached bones prattling on about ‘teh children’ and acting with malice and grotesque viciousness to appeal to the rest of the modern-day Pharisees who dole out dollars while voting to enrich the 1% and piously poking their fingers in their brothers’ eyes while ignoring the beams thrusting out of their own. Shame on World Vision. They are neither charitable nor are they Christian in anything but their brand “label”.

  4. Pingback: Sunday Specials: World Vision Waffle and Some Voices of Wisdom | 3 Therapists Walk into a Blog

  5. Before I arrived in my current position, the church had been participating in World Vision’s 30-hour famine. So, I did it again this year. While I was doing some research, I found that the ELCA has its own ‘famine weekend’ (which, no doubt, David Creech had a hand in developing– maybe?). I was already leaning towards using this next year. Now there is no doubt in my mind that we will! Thanks for the blog.

  6. ARS

    I am sorry to read all of this. I have worked with World Vision in Bolivia for 2 years. I had direct contact with all the field offices and all the communities.

    I know nothing about the Super Bowl craziness, that is a gringo thing. I may not be able to tell you anything about the best development “model”, and I might agree with you guys in the way that some times MOST OF THE NGOs misused pictures of kids to gain support. BUT, in all respect, I have seen the change in many many lives in those two year. Kids that told me that the only reason they were not part of a gangs and they keep trying hard to be better was because there was someone out there that believe in them (a.k.a. their sponsors). Empowered women that where able to step up for their kids in front of an abusive husband because they now had the opportunity to start their own business and had the support of all WV staff there. And, one of my favorites, how an amazing youth group from the States came down here thanks to 30 Hours Famine and changed the life of families here, and they also had their lives changed by the work they saw.

    Ti might not be the best organization or the best model. But I will assure you that they are trying and that counts for me. I believe World Vision, as an organization was born in God´s heart. I am sure it´s mission was born in God´s heart. Sadly, some times people leading the organization walks away from God´s heart and well… we all walk away from God´s heart, It is our daily struggle, isn´t it? It is just that our struggles are not in the news or in someone´s blog.

    All this to say, that “Shame on all of you” it is the statement that makes us just like them. People struggling to do good and ends up doing wrong.

  7. Excelente, esto me servirá de mucho, la verdad que es bueno conseguir paginas como esta, ahora mismo comenzaré un proyecto que tiene mucho que ver.

  8. Louise Lazare

    We have three sponsored children through World Vision. Some of their language may be too much but I am grateful for the opportunity they give me to offer help to people I would otherwise be unable to reach. I am glad for their work.

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