Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"Super" gifts in kind draw criticism to World Vision

Over the last several years, World Vision has been giving away unused hats and t-shirts from the Super Bowl. Each year they particpate in this "gift in kind" type of aid get draw more criticism for it.

World Vision has an agreement with the NFL to receive the shirts and hats that declare the team who ended up losing a winner. Whenever two teams reach the championship game, products are manufactured declaring each team the winner so they can be on the field and on websites as soon as the game is over. So this year, World Vision is giving away stuff saying the Pittsburgh Steelers are Super Bowl champions.

The critics have many reasons for being against the World Vision giveaway. They say that the poor already have t-shirts and hats, so it is a waste of time giving them. Shipping costs are another concern as the money used to bring the materials overseas could be better spent elsewhere. The money could best be used creating manufacturing for the similar products at a local level.

Lets take a look at a couple of the critics. First, in an op-ed piece for the Christian Science Monitor, writer Laura Seay says it is simply "bad aid"

We know this is bad aid. We know that GIK (gifts in kind) items (like clothing) that are readily available in a country undermine local clothing markets, create dependence, and deprive poor people of work and the dignity work provides.

We know this is unnecessary aid. There aren't any places in the world where t-shirts are not available at a market price determined by the local economy and affordable to local consumers.

Both the NFL and World Vision get to claim benefits (the NFL for taxes, World Vision for its bottom line), look good in the public relations arena, and don't owe anyone an explanation of whether the t-shirts actually do anyone any good.

There is an opportunity cost associated with shipping 100,000 t-shirts to communities that don't need them and that have other serious development needs.

What makes this so frustrating, of course, is that World Vision knows all these things. Every one of them. I've heard from friends who work there this week. Some are defensive about the issue, others are pounding their heads against their cubicle/Land Rover walls. World Vision isn't 1 Million Shirts' Jason, who was trying international development work for the first time and showed a willingness to learn from his mistakes.

Saundra Schimmelpfennig says in her blog Good Intentions Are Not Enough that this practice contradicts some agreements World Vision made in the past.

While on the surface this may appear to be a silly debate over t-shirts, in reality this is a debate over the professionalism of the aid industry. World Vision is a major player in the aid world. They work in 96 countries on 5 continents. They have played a major role in the creation of many industry standards and are signatories to many others including:

* Red Cross Code of Conduct and the INGO Accountability Charter.
* the Sphere Project
* Humanitarian Accountability Project (HAP),
* the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Practice (ALNAP),
* People in Aid (PIA)
* the Emergency Capacity Building Project (ECB)
* Association of Evangelical Relief and Development Organizations (AERDO) Standards
* InterAction Private Voluntary Organization (PVO) Standards

This fight is not just about 100,000 shirts. It’s about whether a leader in the aid industry, and the aid industry as a whole, is going to follow the standards they’ve set for themselves. And in following standards, no just meeting the letter of the standard, but the spirit of the standard. In the endless competition for donor dollars and positive PR , a reality of the aid world, is the improved administration ratio and free advertising so important that we ignore our own professional standards?

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