Tag Archives: World Vision

What do Facebook reviews tell us (if anything) about NGOs?

Facebook has an estimated 1.35 billion active monthly users. Put another way, 19.5% of the world’s population uses Facebook. At no other time in recorded history have this many people, or this percentage of the global population, engaged in any such literacy practice, with the possible exception of SMS text messaging. Continue reading What do Facebook reviews tell us (if anything) about NGOs?

Downton Abbey goes to Africa

Ed Carr and his colleagues recently wrote “a serious history” of celebrities, activism and humanitarianism. It is seriously good. Then, Telegraph reporter Jake Wallis Simons (two-thirds of a great law firm name), wrote a profile piece on Elizabeth McGovern (aka Lady Cora of Downton Abbey). It is perhaps the single greatest piece of journalism about celebrity, humanitarianism and Africa you will ever read. It is already receiving rave reviews from those such as Ed, who calls it,”the most insane, boggling thing I have ever read on celebrity aid in Africa.”

What follows are some highlights (Spoiler alerts). This piece requires and deserves multiple readings.

  • Sierra Leone is “in every conceivable sense a long way from Downton”. And we begin!
  • McGovern was engaged to Sean Penn at the age of 23. She hates Woody Allen.
  • She is in a band, called ‘Sadie and the Hotheads’. Apparently, the band is sponsored by World Vision!?! “World Vision has paid her band £28,000 to fund the recording of their latest album and a UK tour, in return for which they have agreed to promote the charity.” And down the rabbit hole we go!


  • When the flight stopped en route to Sierra Leone, it refuelled in Dakar, Senegal. McGovern thought they were in Darfur, Sudan. Miss it by that much!
  • Simons claims that “World Vision is the biggest charity you’ve never heard of”. So, by that logic, you’ve probably never heard of ANY charities.
  • McGovern didn’t realise World Vision was a Christian organisation. According to Simons, “charity representatives failed to make their Christianity clear to her”. But, she chose not to pull out because “on balance, it is an organisation that does a lot of good for many people”. (And, paid her band  £28,000. See above).
  • McGovern is suitably impressed with Freetown. ‘”Their food must be so healthy,” says McGovern. “You don’t see all those crap chains and stuff. But I guess that will change as the country gets more modern. It’s like a holiday. I feel a bit guilty.”‘
  • Brad Pitt. They stay in the same hotel as Brad Pitt. McGovern starred alongside Pitt in The Favour (1994). (The film received reviews such as this: “I remember seeing this when first released, and I remember not liking it, but I no longer remember the film at all”). She casually remarks that she slept with Pitt once (on-camera) and that he doesn’t have sex appeal. Are you not entertained?


  • World Vision paid for McGovern’s trip. McGovern was under the impression that World Vision doesn’t spend money on promotion. Wilson, World Vision’s PR representative for the trip corrects her. The trip wasn’t cheap. McGovern was told otherwise when pitched too. Wilson suggests that she shouldn’t say that in interviews and should instead focus on the organisation’s long-term aid.
  • Lets talk about gender and sex: “I get the impression that in Africa people have sex far more freely than we do back home”, says McGovern. Wait for it… “I wonder if World Vision would take on the problem of women wearing the burka?” Wait for it… “And that clitoris thing is awful”. Bingo.
  • Lets talk about World Vision and proselytising: Simons asks the World Vision driver of 10 years if the organisation ever tries to convert people. His response is one for the ages:

“Christianity is our goal,” he says. “In some Muslim areas they are suspicious of us. So we put our effort into setting up clinics, permanent schools, and establish a society. Gradually they see we are good people. Then we pay professional pastors to preach to them. That is our final goal.”

  • McGovern meets the girl she has been sponsoring for 1.5 years. Simons calls McGovern’s sponsorship “no great act of philanthropy”, references the fact that both the girl and McGovern are stuck in a “feedback loop of public relations”. A moment of wisdom.
  • The girl’s parents are told by the World Vision representative Wilson that McGovern is a TV star, so people listen to her.
  • McGovern gives the girl a skipping rope, bubble mixture and a bouncy ball. McGovern and her daughter (did I mention her 15-year old daughter came along?) are given fresh coconuts, matching smocks and two live chickens. Fair trade?
  • Then, suddenly, on the final day, McGovern comes out from her room. Simons describes her as looking white as a sheet. (Is there a pun buried in there somewhere?). McGovern dropped her iPhone in the toilet. It never recovered.

Get a cup of tea. Take some time to reorientate. Sit down. Take a deep breathe. In through your nose…Out through your mouth. Ok. Better? Now for your thoughts.

So what if 90% of money donated goes to the program?

Barnardo’s UK makes an active point of describing how low their overheads are.

Whether it’s spending money on groceries, mobile phones or charities, we all want bang for our buck. Telling the public that a large percentage of their donations goes to the program is an easy way for an NGO to look like they’re doing the right thing. However, in 2009, a joint press release from 8 charity-watchdog organisations stated that in trying to determine whether a charity is worth supporting, focusing on a low overhead ratio is meaningless. So why do so many NGO’s still talk about it when communicating to the public?

My guess is that it comes down to the perennial struggle between doing good development work and raising funds to support that work. Often, the former is a lot more complicated than the latter. And unfortunately, when it comes to conveying that information to the public from a quick glance at a website, or a short grab on TV, the complexities of it all often get lost.

The myth that organisations with low overheads are ones worth supporting has been actively propagated by the marketing departments of many large NGOs. Well, now there is a 20 page resource that well and truly blows this myth out of the water. Over at Good Intentions are Not Enough, Saundra Schimmelpfennig has written an excellent little eBook that will not only take just 10 to 20 minutes to read, but details exactly why stating that an organisation has low overheads is bad publicity, and also bad practice.

Possibly the easiest way to dispel this myth is by using the example that she does in her opening paragraphs. Imagine walking into a fast food chain and insisting that you will only pay for whatever costs make up the hamburger. You will only pay them a few cents for the cost of the bun, the hamburger patty, the tomato sauce and the pickles. What kind of a product do you think they would be able to produce then? Would such a business survive?

Similarly, NGOs need to be able to spend money on a variety of things if they are going to be viable organisations. They need to pay for qualified and professional staff, offices, office supplies, communications, innovation and yes, even marketing to get more funds.

Saundra goes on to tell us that not only are overheads necessary, but an organisation that claims that it has low overheads is likely to be doing this in a rather devious way – by simply fiddling with its accounting practices. An excellent and rather topical example of this is through the use of “Gifts In Kind”, where organisations take donated items such as clothing and pass them onto the recipients in their programs. As Saundra quite rightly points out, this is an example of the “tail wagging the dog”, where a type of program is chosen simply because the overheads are low, and not because it is actually needed or helpful.

As discussion continues around World Vision USA’s continued insistence on sending unwanted NFL T-shirts to African nations, Saundra states that “the mass donation of clothing has contributed to the destruction of local garment industries and high rates of unemployment”. Here is one pressing statistic that shows how destructive this practice is:

Used-clothing imports are found to have a negative impact on apparel production in Africa, explaining roughly 40% of the decline in production and 50% of the decline in employment over the period 1981-2000.

If, as Saundra states, the need to keep overheads low is pushing organisations such as World Vision USA to do bad development work, then the priority for those who care about good development is clear. We must actively dispel the myth of low overheads as an indicator of good development work. Once this irrelevant pressure is removed, we can instead start focusing on doing good development work.

So, what can donors and NGOs do to further dispel this myth? Here, at whydev, we love action points, so here we go again:

1) Download and read “Lies, White Lies, and Accounting Practices: Why nonprofit overhead doesn’t mean what you think it means” by Saundra Schimmelpfennig. Saundra has even made the price of the eBook determinable by the reader – which means you can pay nothing for it if you like (though I strongly suggest you throw even a few dollars in to compensate her for her time).

2) Get informed about which NGOs propagate this myth. This can be as easy as Googling key words such as “percent of money donated oxfam”, and then simply replacing “oxfam” with the name of another NGO. As a general rule, if an NGO is actively promoting a high percentage of money donated going to the program, you need to be sceptical about whether or not they are worth supporting. There are also a whole host of initiatives that Saundra mentions in her eBook, that aim to improve transparency, and bodies that you can complain to about NGOs that are creating this false standard.

3) Work to inform people about how meaningless this indicator is. Using low overheads as an indicator of good development work is tempting, but misinformed. This probably means that through a simple example, such as the fast food joint, we can get people thinking about how meaningless it really is. Whether it’s a dinner time conversation, or an aid forum, there is always an appropriate time to dispel such a harmful myth.

4) Instead of propagating a myth that is easy to market, NGOs should spend energy educating the public on what good development is. This sounds so ridiculously obvious when it is spelt out, but it’s often ignored rather than heeded. It’s far too tempting when people ask about percentages and overheads to simply answer with a number that they are expecting to hear. However, this only makes programs that are more meaningful increasingly difficult to run in the future, for fear of increasing overheads. In communicating with the public, NGOs shouldn’t use figures such as “for every $1 donated, $0.85 of your donated dollar goes directly to field programs that serve beneficiaries on the ground,” as has been done here.

In a class called “Ethics in Physiotherapy”, I recall learning about an old hypothetical that is highly relevant here. A patient comes to see you with chronic back pain that has lasted more than 2 years. You know that massage and other hands-on treatments are unlikely to do anything to fix this person’s problems, but rather, you need to start them on a combination of education and exercise. However, since the person has been told before that massage will fix it, they are insistent that you try that method on them. There’s also this old problem of the placebo effect – that if you do perform massage, their symptoms may be alleviated because their mind is so set on this being the correct treatment. Do you give them what they want, because you know that it may relieve them of symptoms, and therefore set up good return business? Or, do you spend the time educating them on which treatment actually has scientific evidence for solving their underlying problems?

Similarly, do NGO’s keep propagating this myth about low overheads, simply because that is now what the public wants to hear? Or do we spend our marketing dollars dispelling this myth once and for all?


You can download a copy of Saundra Schimmelpfennig’s eBook Lies, White Lies, and Accounting Practices via her site Good Intentions are Not Enough here.

You can follow this author on Twitter here.

The problem of donating to disaster relief efforts (and how NGOs can start to solve it)

Two years ago today, Haiti was struck by an earthquake leading to the deaths of tens of thousands of people and affecting an estimated three million people.

Unfortunately, it is far from the only natural disaster or crisis to strike within recent years. We’ve seen the outpouring of donations to disaster relief efforts in such places as Thailand and Japan (although the response has not always been consistent, as previously discussed in this whydev post on the Pakistan floods). The numbers are staggering: within ten days of the Haiti earthquake two years ago, $742 million had been committed to relief and a further $920 million pledged. The total eventually ballooned to over $3.5 billion.

The compassion and concern that people feel for strangers across the world is touching and even inspiring. Who could argue against such an outpouring of generosity?

A GOOD infographic shows the entities that had given $1 million or more to Haiti one week after the earthquake. The orange represents donations from individuals.

Well, I can, and I’m not the first. All too often, the well-intended donations to disaster relief, motivated by emotion, are not as helpful as some would have you believe. Here’s why.

Often, donations take too long to be processed to be of any use on the ground.

I can’t say it better than this excerpt from the Disease Control Priorities report on the GiveWell blog (in a post entitled “The case against disaster relief,” which is certainly worth a read):

The immediate lifesaving response time is much shorter than humanitarian organisations recognise. In a matter of weeks, if not days, the concerns of both the population and authorities shift from search and rescue and trauma care to the rehabilitation of infrastructure (temporary restoration of basic services and reconstruction). In Banda Aceh, Indonesia, after the December 2004 tsunami, victims were eager to return to normalcy while external medical relief workers were still arriving in large numbers.

So, if I donate my $20 to the Red Cross’ tsunami relief a few days after the tsunami occurred, and it takes a few weeks for the Red Cross to process this donation, my donation has arrived too late to meet the pressing need.

Disaster relief agencies can receive too much money to put to use.

Is your $20 really needed?

It’s a problem many other non-profits who are burned out from writing grant proposals would love to have, but it’s a problem nonetheless, and it raises questions of accountability to donors. If Red Cross is swimming in donations and cannot responsibly spend my $20 in Thailand, is it okay if it spends my money elsewhere.

In the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the Red Cross was not the only relief agency facing this problem, but some other charities would not publicly admit to being over-saturated with donations, for fear of propagating a belief that they would not need donations in the future, as discussed in this Times article.

This thinking gets us into a grey zone where transparency and accountability are not at the forefront of NGOs’ actions, and that leaves me feeling uneasy.

In-kind donations (such as blankets, clothing, etc.) can be unnecessary or even logistically harmful to recovery efforts.

While certainly not approaching the scale of devastation seen in other places we’ve discussed, a fire in my home country of Canada razed one-third of Slave Lake,  Alberta in 2011. This necessitated the evacuation of 95% of the town’s residents, and the events that followed illustrate perfectly the bother in-kind donations can be.

Well-intentioned donors collected things for the residents of Slave Lake with such enthusiasm that there was far more stuff than was necessary, and some of it ended up in a landfill. This caused a minor PR mess for the charities, always fun for us in non-profit communications to deal with.

This is a small and relatively harmless example of in-kind donations, but you can imagine the logistic, economic and political problems that could arise when, say, receiving donated food items in Somalia.

If I’ve made my case as well as I hope I have, you’ll concede there are many difficulties with the public’s overwhelming support for disaster relief. So, the next question is: what should disaster relief agencies do about it?

That’s not an easy question to answer, but here are some ideas for ways they can communicate with the public to minimise some of the above problems, and facilitate more sustainable and effective giving. They’re certainly not a panacea, but provide a place to start.

Facilitate structured giving, rather than one-offs.

Those who budget and plan their charitable giving donate about three times as much as those who don’t, at least in Canada. In other words, donors who give habitually give more.

This represents a fantastic opportunity for disaster relief agencies; if they could make regular giving a habit among those who give one-time donations after disasters, it would pay off.

There are many different ways of doing this. The easiest, and one that is becoming more and more common, is to make it possible for donors to give monthly donations of a set amount. For NGOs, receiving 12 monthly donations of $10 is usually better than receiving a one-time donation of $120, as it allows them to better plan their operations and ensures that when there is a disaster, there are already donations they can use. Explaining this to donors would be helpful.

Another is to make charitable giving a part of established events or traditions. World Vision’s gift catalogue takes advantage of people’s habit of buying gifts during the holiday season by encouraging donations to “purchase” a goat or other gifts for those in developing countries. Another example is Meal Exchange’s Halloween Trick or Eat campaign, where volunteers visit households in Canada to ask for donations to food banks. In both cases, the organisations take advantage of existing traditions to make giving to them part of the tradition.

A step further is for organisations to create their own regular events or traditions to facilitate donations. Movember stands out as the best example of this, as it has raised millions of dollars for men’s health initiatives while claiming November as the month for men to channel their inner P.I. Magnum/Ned Flanders/other moustachioed alter egos. Similarly, United Way does annual workplace campaigns to raise funds. In both cases, the organisations have made giving to them an annual event, and part of donors’ habits.

When necessary, decline donations.

Yes, you read that right. When relief agencies receive more donations than they need for a specific disaster, they should stop taking them. After the 2011 earthquake in Japan, the Japanese Red Cross clearly and admirably stated it did not need donations. (This went unheeded by the American Red Cross, which in the four days after the earthquake raised $34 million in the name of Japan’s earthquake victims.)

Similarly, less than a week after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)-France stopped accepting donations for tsunami relief. When they received 110 million Euros after this announcement, they asked donors’ permission to use these funds for other emergencies and forgotten crises. To the 1% of donors who did not grant their permission for their donations to be diverted to other crises, MSF-France refunded their money.

Sadly, MSF-France’s decision was viewed with dismay from other NGOs, many of whom either denounced it outright or demanded that it be explained very carefully, so the public would not misunderstand. When the gravy train of emotional giving begins, it’s not always popular to say it should stop. (See David Rieff’s excellent article for more on this particular case and what he calls “the humanitarian circus.”)

The public often perceive NGOs as wasting donations, spending too much on overheads, and being inefficient. There is no better way to perpetuate this attitude than by accepting donations for causes where donations aren’t needed. Disaster relief agencies need to be more responsible with donations, and at times that will mean declining them.

I recognise this is not an exhaustive list of solutions, and they aren’t easy solutions. Nevertheless, they provide a place to start improving our humanitarian aid, ultimately for the better of both NGOs working in disaster relief and the people they’re trying to help. Because disasters are emotional events and people are more generous when reacting emotionally, it is easy to capitalise on a disaster to solicit donations. But that doesn’t make it the best thing to do.

Activating slacktivists: advice from a Social Media Manager

My name is Richenda and I *love* slacktivists.

I hate the title “Slacktivist” yet Mashables suggested term “Social Champion” doesn’t feel right either. To me, they are family. The World Vision family.

Working at World Vision USA and more recently World Vision Australia, I have built and engaged online communities of substantial scale. With this experience in mind, I will try to answer the questions raised by Weh in his recent blog post: Is it possible to engage slacktivists in more worthwhile causes, or should NGOs focus their energy elsewhere?

These are not easy questions to answer. 

Is it possible to engage slacktivists in more worthwhile causes?

Yes, without a doubt!

People that “like” or “follow” your organisation are choosing to publicly recommend your organisation to their network and/or choosing to receive communications from you! At World Vision, we call these people our “online family”, not slacktivists! They are new, current and prospective supporters who are happy to interact with us on a daily basis.

Mashable’s feature of The Dynamics of Cause Engagement study by Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication and Ogilvy Worldwide showing that slacktivists are more likely to take meaningful actions is no surprise to us.

Years of rigorous tracking and analysis has shown us that investment in our online family delivers consistent financial and non-financial returns. In addition to the activities listed above, we are also learning about the positive impact social media communication has on our long term relationships. This is important to us because our main product, Child Sponsorship, relies on long-term commitment to regular giving  to support complex, often misunderstood, community development.

An example of how we share content that aims to increase understanding of community development and affirm the commitment of sponsors

Not everyone in our family sponsors a child, recruits friends or rallies their local member of parliament. We know that some of our community will “like” a status once, while others contribute to content regularly and more meaningfully.

Some are silent readers, while others bring me to tears with their stories and their personal passion for social justice! (Tears from our team are not an uncommon response to these amazing stories!)

One of my favourite cross-channel advocacy examples. From WV Facebook, to a personal blog, to twitter. Love it!

Some share stories to entice friends to become involved, while others may never publicly share content but will personally click through to make a donation.

The level of commitment within the community varies from person to person, and is influenced by the content, opportunities and conversations you give them access to. Your online community will quickly discover whether the stories you tell, the opportunities you provide and the conversations you have are valuable. Which brings me too….

 Should NGOs focus their energy elsewhere?

Yes and No

Cultivating and mobilising online communities takes tremendous amount of time and resource. Any investment in this area should be well thought out, strategic and long-term. Honestly, there is no point investing in social media unless you  have a solid foundation. Before investing in building an online community, an NGO should be asking:

  • Is our website in good health? Are people using it to find out more about us or make donations?
  • Do we utilise website tracking to understand the behaviour of visitors to our site?
  • Do we have access to meaningful stories and multimedia?
  • Do we have communication that explain what we do?
  • Is our media team able to respond to difficult questions and criticism?
  • Does our organisation see a need to stay in dialogue with supporters?
  • Does our leadership understand social media and are they willing to invest in it?

If you answered “no” to any of these above questions – you should focus your energy there, instead of, or before, building a social media community. Without these fundamentals, you will find it  challenging to create effective content, understand the impact of your community and engage in authentic meaningful conversations.

If you answered “yes” to all of the above – go for it! Start by building a social media strategy that aligns with your organisation’s goals for engagement and target demographic. Your strategy should drive your tactics –  directing how you build your online family and the style or personality you use to engage them. To help you on your way, I have started a blog series to help demystify social media strategy and give you some practical advice.

Critics may tell you social media will produce no return. I think you will produce no return..if you are doing it wrong.  If you’re doing it right, your online family will take their passion or ‘slacktivism’ into the real world.  You will grow to love and respect your ‘slacktivists’ for what they really are: passionate people keen to make a difference. Trust me, I’m that annoying person on facebook that says ..


The space between: the dance of a Country Program Coordinator in the field

By Stuart Thomson

“Building is viewed as process, not only product. The process is a dance of constant negotiations. At the end, the trace of the dance is seen in the building. In this process the architect leads a complex collaboration that folds culture, place and people into a new relationship with each other, effecting transformation.” Gregory Burgess, Multiplicity of the Whole

Engaging in development work attracts a variety of metaphors. It really depends on who you are and what it is you’re doing. Development workers, together with community and partners, are the architects of community change. We build foundations, frameworks and structures out of our human successes and failures. And as development professionals and institutions we commonly engage through the medium of projects and programs. In other words there’s often a complex dance of joint interventions that aim at both saving lives whilst working to build and strengthen robust systems and structures. As co-contributors or architects for change we must therefore be continually mindful of the role we play in building a collective community future. My role and the role explored in this article is that of a Country Program Coordinator (CPC) for World Vision Australia. More specifically, the article explores the implications for my role of a three-month secondment to World Vision Kenya, as opposed to the regular fleeting monitoring visit normally undertaken by CPCs.

The motivation for engaging in development work and especially in travelling to contexts and countries far from what we are used to raises important issues. Many ask, “what am I running from?” Some may ask, as in Helen Fielding’s satirical novel about aid workers, Cause Celeb, “am I: (a) Missionary? (b) Mercenary? (c) Misfit? (d) Broken heart?” However, I asked a very simple question of myself: “Do I truly believe that this secondment will lead to any real benefit for World Vision Kenya and the communities with which we work?” Careful consideration of this question resulted in the realisation that whilst there was a large potential to do good, there was potential for the opposite. However, just like Gregory Burgess, I believe I should not see the failure in the product of this secondment before it has begun. Rather, I should see it as a constant process that requires great awareness in a time of folding culture, place and people.

As I prepared for my trip the question at the forefront of my mind was: “During my time in Kenya, where will my touch points be”? Or as Burgess would ask: “Who will I be dancing with”? As a CPC for Kenya sitting at my desk in Melbourne, the answer was relatively obvious: I dance with my field office counterpart in Kenya. It is clear; it is defined. During shorter field visits my role is also usually relatively clear. However in contemplating a three-month field trip the lines become somewhat blurred. In Kenya, would I be responsible for the dance with the community and development partners as well?

I found some solace when answering this first question by reflecting on Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, a fundamental concept of quantum physics. It states that it is only possible to understand the position or the motion of an object, not both at the same time. Therefore, I needed to consider a second question relating to process and direction: “When I meet my partner, what kind of dance should we do?” Previous experience shows that some dances are slow and close, some are fast and further apart, some are rhythmic and others are not. To be successful however, as in Burgess’ definition of building, it is essential that both parties understand what dance they’re dancing, and are happy with its undertakings and potential results. The result otherwise may be a lot of bruised toes.

The first step therefore was for World Vision Australia and World Vision Kenya to understand and agree upon what form the extended trip would take. This took some time. During a humanitarian emergency, staff are sent to the field immediately. However for development programming the process isn’t as urgent or as smooth. Discussion papers, business cases and terms of reference were developed and lengthy meetings were held. Finally a decision in principle was reached between the two parties.

The second step was to determine the specific purpose of this trip. Generally, field trips are undertaken for two main reasons. The first is to gain experience of a context and build relationships or knowledge. The second is when a specific task is identified, requiring a specific skill set. As I had worked and lived extensively in East Africa previously, this trip could not be justified as a need to gain experience. The World Vision Kenya leadership team had identified advocacy as a specific capacity gap. This need matched my skill set.

Once these first two questions were resolved, the third and perhaps most important question I posed to myself was: “During this dance, what is the space between myself and my partners to be filled with?” As Burgess may ask, “what is the collaboration of culture, place and people that may affect transformation?” The answer to that question would ultimately result in the successes and failings of my extended trip to Kenya.

Capacity alignment, not building

In addressing capacity issues, prior knowledge of the staff and capacity at World Vision Kenya helped me identify challenges that could be addressed. After working with this field office for three years, I knew the staff had significant expertise in areas such as health, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) and HIV and AIDS. However, they sometimes faced challenges in strategically aligning this expertise. In development work there is often a false presumption that people need to be “taught things”. The ideologue preaches, the misfit teaches the next big thing. However individuals and communities in the field are often very aware of their situation and equipped with a plethora of tools to address it. What is often needed is an external voice, not to add to the burden of knowledge and tools, leading to even greater complexity, but to help clean up and simplify the complexity that is already there. This fundamental principle underpinned my visit to Kenya.

Transcending power and finding common ground

My position as a CPC and knowledge of the culture provide me with the opportunity and confidence to transcend many levels of power during field visits. At one time I may be talking candidly with a World Vision National Director and the next moment joking with a field worker. I am happy to air my views to both, unlike many of my World Vision Kenya colleagues. In Kenyan culture it is not as easy to voice your views to managers and superiors as it is in Australia, with our largely egalitarian society. And as a CPC, I come to World Vision Kenya with resources and funding; well at least access to potential funding. This opens doors to power at various levels.

CPCs can sometimes overlook the power dynamics at play and this can result in a false sense of importance, which is dangerous. It is dangerous because it is coupled with poor awareness. An example of this may be directing field staff to conduct certain activities that are not culturally appropriate or developmentally sound. This is often seen as the missionary style of development that comes with good intentions but is often misdirected. The opposite may also be true for the CPC in choosing to be culturally relative, never questioning or challenging practices in the field. I have found myself “hopping” between the two, having a lot to say and being direct on one topic and then having nothing to say on another. To find that middle ground when operating as a CPC in the field, in knowing what to say and when to say it, is a challenging and vital step in being an effective development practitioner.

The power that CPCs (indirectly) wield, together with our cultural background and baggage, often make it difficult to find common ground with our field counterparts. Breaking down the walls to find common ground and build trust is an essential component of our work. I have found that the most successful approach is just spending time with field staff to build relationships. Learning the local language, socialising, sharing food and experiences together go a long way in disarming restrictive power dynamics. By seeing the human in each other we may break through to a place where knowledge and ideas are shared openly and honestly. Close relationships, combined with greater awareness and patience, allow the CPC a unique opportunity to affect positive change.

Knowing your space

Often good intentions, combined with field need, lead the CPC to do work during an extended visit that fills a gap in capacity, but that also leaves a gap when he or she is gone. During my three months in Kenya there was pressure to step in to spaces and do work that was the responsibility of permanent field staff. This had the potential to undermine staff confidence and compromise the purposes of the secondment. Being aware of what can be done in a reasonable timeframe and facilitating change during time in the field are important. Otherwise, despite good intentions, doing work for field staff may result in more damage than good once the visit is over.

Being intentional in using the capacity and status that come with the CPC role may result in strategic activities with high potential for sustainable and positive outcomes. For example, I attended meetings with development partners such as AusAID so that they saw the full spectrum of involvement in Kenya. It may also be useful for CPCs to support field staff in reinforcing established messages. However, the CPC should be aware of creating additional expectations amongst communities or making false promises that field staff will need to deal with once the visit ends.

One insight I gained related to the tension between community needs, and organisational agenda and development thinking. The dance between longer term development thinking and the direct needs of community members and households must be clearly articulated and linked to reaching common outcomes.

This tension is exacerbated when the field office does not have a clearly articulated and operationalised strategy. In these cases the pressure placed on the field office by the CPC and donors to start new initiatives may result in a chaotic development process. When sitting in a field office for an extended period, the CPC can be tempted to try reorganising the strategy and the field office can be tempted into seeking the CPC’s assistance to align strategy with program implementation. Therefore, it is not only important for development professionals and field staff to understand their space, it is also vital that fundraising offices and donors understand their space as well.

Timing and perspective

In development it is said that we shouldn’t start where we are at but where the community is at; that we need to meet the community not only on common ground through building relationships but at a time when the community is open and ready for change. It is important for CPCs to recognise engagement opportunities, such as during project assessment, design and evaluation phases, when field staff and the community are ready for new ideas and inputs. This was also true for my time in the World Vision Kenya office. World Vision Kenya had been going through a restructure during 2009 and into 2010 and advocacy was a relatively new area of activity for them. My trip therefore was an opportunity to do two things. First, it allowed me to engage in the structural reform processes that were taking place, and second it provided me with an opportunity to work with the Kenyan staff to integrate advocacy into the organisation’s practices and processes. To do this it was important to provide examples of what such integration might look like for projects and programs. World Vision International’s Child Health Now campaign provided a workable and focused model.

Folding culture, place and people into a new relationship 

As I discovered in Kenya, the process of folding culture, place and people together is deeply rooted in the culture and position that a CPC holds. Disarming the power dynamics that exist in relationships between CPCs and field staff is a step that must be taken whether on a short or long-term assignment. A longer assignment, however, can cloud these relationships because there can be an expectation that the CPC will fill gaps in the field office structure. But this can be avoided by establishing clear terms of reference and agreement on outcomes.  Meeting field staff where they are and offering an external perspective can be immensely powerful and mutually rewarding. However, it is the depth of insights that a longer-term assignment can produce that creates opportunities for the CPC to make a greater contribution to the direction and alignment of office strategies. This is ultimately what we hope will lead to greater transformation for the poor and vulnerable in the communities where we work.


This article originally appeared as: Stuart Thomson, 2011, The Space Between’ in Annual Program Review World Vision Australia 

After growing up in rural Victoria Stuart has travelled and worked for the past 20 years on different corners of the globe. He has worked in the villages of Central America, Africa and more recently the Asia Pacific Region. Holding degrees in Nursing, Environmental Studies and Philosophy and a Masters in Physical Geography he is currently completing postgraduate studies in Community Cultural Development at the Victorian College of the Arts. He is currently employed as a Senior Campaigns Advisor to World
Visions Child Health Now Campaign, a global advocacy campaign aimed at reducing child and maternal deaths. As an avid amateur film maker Stuart is passionate about raising the voices of the most vulnerable to the most powerful decision makers on this planet.He is happily married to his Tanzanian wife Nancy and resides in Melbourne, Australia.






1,250 reasons to love the NFL

World Vision recently announced the names those communities identified as suitable and in-need recipients for its annual Superbowl t-shirt giveaway. The lucky countries are Zambia, Armenia, Nicaragua, and Romania. For insightful analysis of this practice, there are plenty of other commentators to read first. Most notably, @saundra_s of @goodintents, who explains the financial incentives for such an arrangement and also provides links to many of the other posts written in response. In turn, World Vision’s response to this criticism (and probable nomination for this year’s #SWEDOW awards) has been underwhelming. I do not wish to rehash any of the arguments for or against. There are far more well-informed writers that you should read. Instead, I want to address a glaring omission in this debate.

The NFL has been rocked in recent weeks, by what some are calling ‘Seatgate‘.  The host of Superbowl XLV, the Dallas Cowboys’ new US$1.2 billion stadium, were being fitted with temporary seating on game day. Little did 1,250 unsuspecting fans know that the music had stopped and there were no more seats left. These 1,250 Superbowl ticket-holders were told, upon arriving at Cowboys Stadium for the game, that their seats were not ready.

Each of the temporary seats was priced at $800. According to the Associated Press:

“About 1,250 seats were declared unsafe hours before the Super Bowl, and the NFL scrambled to find new seats for about 850 fans. The remaining 400 were forced to watch from standing-room areas or on television from places with no view of the field”.

One fan has described this experience as “a nightmare“.

“A couple of people stood in the center of groups of us speaking loudly about what was going on, but anyone in the back of the area couldn’t hear them,” he said. “It became almost a riot-type atmosphere. Some people were so upset they were ready to do something. . . It started getting kind of ugly.”

The NFL moved quickly and took full responsibility for the forced displacement of the Superbowl fans. The League first offered the 400 fans, who had to watch the game on television screens in standing-room areas, $2,400 (three times the face value of their tickets) and free tickets to next year’s Superbowl. The league soon added a second option of a ticket to any future Superbowl of their choice plus airfare and hotel costs. However, this compensation is unsatisfying for some, who believe that the trauma suffered during such a harrowing experience deserves more. ‘Seatgate’ has ignited at least two lawsuits against the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys. Lead Attorney for these suits, Michael Avenatti, argues that the League is not compensating for all expenses incurred by the fans or addressing those who were delayed or relocated. On Tuesday earlier this week, the League upped the ante, announcing it would offer either $5,000 or reimbursement for documented Superbowl XLV expenses, whichever figure is higher.

It is heartening to read that those fans, who suffered tremendous difficulties, are being fairly compensated and treated with respect. The NFL is doing a wonderful job promoting the well-being of those forcibly displaced by the mismanagement of time and resources. They did not take the easy way out. The NFL could have just distributed one of 100,000 misprinted t-shirts to each of the 1,250 fans as compensation. Not such a bad idea. The fact that the t-shirts have a Steelers logo would not be particularly relevant. These fans would have been only a handful of Americans to possess such authentic and valuable memorabilia. Thankfully, “I went to the Superbowl, and all I got was this crappy t-shirt” is not a slogan these fans with be chanting any time soon. The manner in which the League responded to ‘Seatgate’ gives 1,250 reasons to love the NFL.

Opening the floodgates – perceived terrorist threats in the wake of the Pakistan floods


This article was co-researched and co-written with Weh Yeoh.

Less than 2 months out from the devastating floods in Pakistan and the international response can only be described as woeful and inadequate. Consider these mind-blowing facts: the number of people displaced by the flood in Pakistan is almost the same as the entire population of Australia. The area that is currently underwater is about 600 000 square kilometres – an area larger than England. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the floods as the worst natural disaster he has ever seen.

The area affected by the Pakistan floods dwarfs the area of England. Image courtesy of http://howbigreally.com/

When we compare this disaster response to that following the devastating earthquake in Haiti at the start of the year, a response that we heavily criticised in this post, we can see a huge disparity. Within 10 days of the Haiti disaster, $742 million was committed and $920 million pledged internationally. This worked out to $495 allocated per person. Within 3 weeks of the Pakistan disaster, only $230 million was committed to help a much larger population. Per person, this works out to only $15.

Why has there only been a trickle of money into the country from outside donors?

Is it because of “donor fatigue”, where preceding disasters such as Haiti’s have distracted us from Pakistan’s needs?

Do we feel that our donation is not in safe hands, because we are constantly reminded of the Taliban’s ever growing threat to commit an act of terrorism towards aid workers?

Or is it because, like British Prime Minister David Cameron, we still harbour fears that Pakistan is susceptible to being overrun by terrorists, so that perhaps money towards aid in Pakistan is likely to promote terrorism?

In short, why doesn’t the world care about Pakistan?

The post-disaster vacuum and the perceived terrorist threat

Amira, 2, a flood victim suffering from skin and stomach problems, cries at a hospital in Sukkur, in Pakistan's Sindh province. Image courtesy of the Boston Globe. Click through for more striking images.

Many commentators and media outlets have expressed concern over Islamic organisations involved in humanitarian aid, linking them to groups identified as militant or terrorist. How justified is this concern?

The fear is that in the wake of such a disaster, and the government’s torrid and wanting response, a vacuum will be created into which such groups will move and convert. And they have – at least moved, that is. According to Reuters and other outlets, relief camps are being served by Falah-e-Insaniyat, a charity with suspected ties to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and its humanitarian wing Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD). Both the LeT and JuD are blacklisted by the United Nations. But the UN blacklist, which is drawn up in total secrecy by a committee in New York at the call of the Security Council, is hardly part of a transparent process. In fact, according to a report of the Council of Europe,

“Persons placed on the list are not informed of the fact and have no possibility of being heard, nor do they have any remedy…these methods illustrate the dangerous erosion of rights and fundamental freedoms which is going on even in assemblies mandated to safeguard and further them, and discredits the international fight against terrorism”.

The inept Pakistan government has moved to shut down and ban some relief camps run by such organisations. The fear is that militant groups are attempting to win over the support of the local people. But discrediting these organisations hastily is problematic. Previously, international NGOs have co-opted with workers from the JuD in the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir. The organisation had valuable knowledge of the local terrain and were able to effectively deliver supplies. In response to the floods, the JuD, according to reports, were the first to arrive, bringing with them vital medical and food supplies.

Undeniably, winning the support of the people is also an important objective of US foreign aid and assistance. In a recent announcement of a new Global Health Initiative, Senator Hiliary Clinton remarked that, “For millions of people worldwide, the prevention, treatment or care that the United States makes possible is their main experience of us as a country and a people…Giving people a chance at a long and healthy life or helping protect their children from disease conveys as much about our values as any state visit or strategic dialogue ever could.” The perceived attitudes of both the above Islamic organisations and the US government are strikingly similar, and remarkable. Do they really believe that their respective contributions will dispose long-term positive attitudes in the recipients? In particular, will their contributions convert the recipients to the cause of either the LeT or the US government? Surely we must give those affected by such natural disasters more credit than they are currently being given. It is pathetic and condescending to think that those who are surviving a disaster on such a scale are weak and pliable. According to Imtiaz Gul, an expert on militancy, “It’s not just for a packet of food that you will convert to another sect”.

Media has been spurned on by key international political figures who are trying to direct the discourse. US Senator John Kerry and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari suggest that if the international community does not act swiftly, extremists will exploit the country’s devastating floods. In contrast, Kristalina Georgieva, the European commissioner for international cooperation, has attempted to downplay the concerns. She stated that although these religious organisations are involved in relief efforts, “I haven’t got anything from our partners that this growing problem with the disaster is being used for the purposes of breeding extremism.” Is raising concern over the influence of Islamic organisations a case of bias, prejudice or at worst, Islamophobia?

If it isn’t Islamophobia, why haven’t we asked the same questions in previous relief efforts conducted by other faith-based NGOs?

“On those occasions when faith is accepted as a legitimate issue for investigation, it is often in the context of the existence and spread of religious fundamentalism. While not seeking to deny the significance of this issue for the practice of development and emergency relief, the problem with this approach is that it suggests that faith is relevant only in the margins, where it can be clearly identified as the explicit and dominant organising force within communities. Such an approach continues to ignore the relevance of the faith of development practitioners, which, even when it is exposed, is necessarily inscribed as ‘reasonable’ when compared to the belief systems of fundamentalism” (Kennedy & Nolan, 2004, p.93).

World Vision, whose logo doesn't attempt to hide its religious background, rarely has its intentions questioned in non-Christian areas.

World Vision, the world’s largest Christian NGO, recently won a decision on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to discriminate on a faith basis in its employment procedures. Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain stated that, “World Vision is a nonprofit organization whose humanitarian relief efforts flow from a profound sense of religious mission.” So, should we question World Vision’s intentions in emergency response situations such as Pakistan? Do we fear that they will take advantage of disaster situations to “win the support of the people” to Christianity? World Vision ascribes to the International Code of Conduct for emergency relief and states that it practices Christian engagement by example – not be conversion. World Vision also “seeks to make known God’s offer of renewal and reconciliation through Jesus Christ, and to encourage people to respond”.

The fact is that World Vision’s intentions are rarely questioned in the Western world, but there seems to be a huge double standard when Islamic organisations are involved. This doesn’t help those affected by the Pakistan floods of course, who only require basic human needs such as food, water and shelter. The longer we maintain this double standard and accept suspicions of terrorism in this region, the longer these people will suffer.

If you would like to donate to relief efforts in Pakistan, you can do so via many organisations, such as Oxfam, Australian Red Cross, UNICEF, and World Vision. The authors of this post strongly encourage you to do so.

Follow whydev on Twitter here. Follow Weh Yeoh on Twitter here.


Kennedy, R. & Nowlan, K. (2004) ‘Gender, faith and development: Rethinking the boundaries of intersectionality’. Development Bulletin, 64: pp. 92-94.

Don’t Trade Lives: fighting the modern slave trade

Thought slavery was abolished in the 18th Century? Think again.

It is estimated that at least 27 million people are enslaved in the world today. Many of these are in situations of exploitation as a result of trafficking.

Human trafficking is the third largest transnational crime after the illegal sale of drugs and arms. It is a crime against an individual, their rights and human dignity.

It happens when people are recruited, transported or received through deception, threat or forced into exploitation. This can be across borders or also within a country. But it is not only about borders. It is not only about the transportation of people. It is about the exploitation of children, women, and men, day after day.

It is modern-day slavery.

Victims are held captive by threats, physical force or emotional abuse by their exploiters. Some are told they must pay off a so-called ‘debt’ to their captors. They may be trapped in these trafficking situations – for years, sometimes even for life. Major forms of human trafficking include forced labour, sex trafficking (including commercial sexual exploitation of children), bonded labour, debt bondage among migrant labourers, domestic servitude and child soldiers.

Human trafficking most often summons up images of commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls. A lesser known facet is the trafficking of men, women and children for labour exploitation. A recent report by the US State Department to monitor and combat trafficking in persons (2010) has found that ‘more people are trafficked for forced labour than for commercial sex’.  In fact, the ILO estimates that for every trafficking victim subjected to forced prostitution, nine people are forced to work.   Finally, it found that ‘people are in situations of modern slavery in most countries’ – this includes countries like Australia. Modern day slavery exists in our neighbourhood and our backyard.

Let me give you 3 numbers to highlight the extent of human trafficking in the world today:

  • $31.6 billion (source: ILO) – the size of this  illegal industry
  • 12.3 million – the number of adults and children in forced labor, bonded labor, and forced prostitution around the world. This number does not include a large proportion of cases that are never reported.
  • 1.8 per 1,000 people – the prevalence of trafficking victims in the world. This rises to 3 per 1,000 in ‘hotspots’ such as Asia.

This is the trade of human lives.

Human trafficking and slavery is a complex issue that requires a collaborative, multi-faceted response. To be effective, anti-trafficking strategies must target the three dimensions of human trafficking: supply, demand and the systems and structures that allow it to happen. This means taking action in countries of origin, transit and destination.

Individuals, governments and businesses worldwide directly and indirectly fuel this crime and have a role to play in combating it. Consequently, the Don’t Trade Lives campaign, which launched in 2008, has evolved to incorporate strategies targeting each of these segments of society.

So what we as individuals do?


Consume Ethically!

Many of the goods we use are made or grown in developing countries. Sometimes the workers producing these goods receive low pay or must work in dangerous conditions, and sometimes the workers are child labourers or people who have been trafficked.

As a consumer, you have the power: every dollar you spend can make a difference. When you shop ethically, you send a message to sellers, to manufacturers, and to other shoppers. The more we buy ethically, the more others will realise we won’t put a price on humanity.

Watch the video below and have a think about who made the shirt you are currently wearing.

Big Chocolate – Just say YES

Since World Vision Australia launched the Don’t Trade Lives campaign in 2008, it has encouraged the public to actively call on major chocolate manufacturers to stop using exploited labour in their supply chain. Tens of thousands of Australians have supported this call by sending letters and emails, making phone calls, attending events and signing petitions, and it has been heard loud and clear by the Australian Chocolate Industry. Have a look at this video to get an idea of what Don’t Trade lives is calling for.

Some companies have listened, reviewing their cocoa sourcing policies. They include Cadbury, which has made its Cadbury Dairy Milk block Fairtrade certified, and Green & Black’s which is transitioning its entire product range to the Fairtrade label.

Now it’s time to call on other industries to look into their supply chains: go to www.chainstorereaction.com.au to have your voice heard!

We all have a role to play!

In addition to engaging the Australian public, Don’t Trade Lives calls on Business and the Australian Government to ensure an end to trafficking in persons:

Don’t Trade Lives seeks to:

  • Reduce the market in Australia for products produced through slavery and trafficked labour
  • Ensure the Australian government is proactive in facilitating a comprehensive, integrated and effective anti-trafficking policy environment in the Asia-Pacific region
  • Ensure that Australian businesses have transparent, traceable and independently verifiable supply chains that are free from exploitation

Take action to combat trafficking and slavery today!

Visit: www.donttradelives.com.au