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World Vision USA Responds With Smokescreens

February 17, 2011

William Easterly and the other fine folks over at Aid Watch (tagline: Just Asking that Aid Benefit the Poor) bundled up a number of the various questions that were raised over World Vision’s #100kshirts program and sent them on to World Vision for some clarification. Today, a response was received.

To say it’s a load of double speak, avoidance, and PR smoke screens is more than an understatement. The key issues remain unaddressed:

1) How, in this particular instance, is sending Super Bowl t-shirts sustainable and the best use of the available resources at World Vision’s disposal? World Vision states that they will not evaluate the ‘initiative’ because it is not a program but a donation… a donation that they’ve stated time and again is part of a larger program. As they state in the very same response: “World Vision’s assessments of the need for supplies and of the impact a supply donation may have on the local economy are done by individual national offices as part of a strategic programmatic response.” How can it be part of a “programmatic response” and not part of a program?

2) With these t-shirts as an example of a larger, systematic reliance on gift-in-kind (GiK) donations (making up as much as 23% of their donations), why does World Vision continue to rely on a system that has been proven to not be the best method? It’s not to say that the method is inherently bad (WV has made this point time and again) but that it is an inefficient use of resources, difficult to utilize into sustainable programs, and, in cases like these t-shirts, damaging to local communities by sabotaging economies, creating dependency, using developing countries as a dumping ground for worn-out Western products, etc… Also, how do GiKs fulfill their mandate of social justice as predicated on their Christian mission (as I’ve posted on)?

It seems World Vision is set on dismissing all criticisms or at least ignoring them and hoping they go away. This is not the critical engagement that one would hope for from such an influential organization. This sequence of posts that I’ve written on the issue feels like the repetition of a broken record; there’s a problem here and no one is doing anything to address it. Here’s a great summary from an ex-employee of World Vision:

I do not believe World Vision being highlighted on national television for a shoddy project is redemptive. It’s damaging to our already mis-informed society when a respectable organization highlights this as being a worthwhile project to help poor people. Cheap and inauthentic answers don’t inspire to people to call for justice.

  • World Vision, when you push products like TOM’s shoes [another initiative with the same idea as the t-shirts] you lose credibility a prophetic voice against consumption.
  • When you touts hand outs, you lose credibility as an expert in development.
  • When you defend bad practices, you call into question those who speak with the same voice.
One Comment leave one →
  1. February 17, 2011 12:18

    Great post. World Vision has become part of the institutional status-quo that refuses to discuss a possible paradigm shift. My snark for the day will be to refer to them as “World Lack-of-Vision”.

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