09 February 2011

100K Discussions about World Vision

Update 1: A post on the discussion/debate on Humanosphere provides a nice summary.

World Vision (WV) announced that for the 15th year they are going to be distributing the unused gear from the Super Bowl loser (aka the Steelers).  The announcement has stirred some discussions surrounding the choice to distribute clothing.  Noting the buzz, WV has responded by saying:

Hey Readers – We’ve noted the disappointment that some of you have expressed at World Vision’s distribution of clothing the NFL donated following the Super Bowl. I’m hopeful that I can answer some of the possible misunderstandings about our shirt distributions, especially as they compare (or more accurately, don’t compare) to the efforts of groups like 1 Million Shirts (particularly as it was first starting out). As many of you know, World Vision’s work has a comprehensive scope. We do long-term development in communities where we build relationships, often for up to 15 years. Our distributions of supplies, including, sometimes, new clothing and new shoes, are not standalone projects in isolation. Rather, these supplies are tools as part of larger development strategies and are distributed under the following circumstances: · After we have established an understanding of the culture to ensure that we only send clothes and other supplies that are appropriate religiously and culturally. · After we have established an understanding of the local economy. In fact, we deliberately distribute the Super Bowl gear to several different communities in at least four different countries to ensure that we don’t flood their local markets with more supplies than the market can handle and that our distributions don’t have an adverse affect on local suppliers. · After we learn what the community members want. Because we have longstanding relationships with the communities where we serve, they are able to tell us what supplies they need and want. And because we work in more than a thousand communities in about 100 countries, we aren’t pressured to provide unwanted supplies. What is unwanted in one community is often very valuable in another. And because we’ve done this work for many years, we know the types of supplies – things like pharmaceuticals, school supplies and clothing – that are generally useful and unavailable or difficult to access in developing communities. We know that some critics simply do not like supply distributions as part of relief and development work, and we may not end up seeing eye to eye on this issue. But it is important to understand that World Vision does its supply distribution work with a great deal of study, input from our community partners where we work, and as part of a larger development strategy. Respectfully, Amy Parodi, World Vision communications
What do you think?  Is it overreacting to say that what WV is doing wrong? Or is WV falling into the same traps that many do when they make GIK donations to Africa?  Is it possible for donations of any kind to have zero impact on local businesses?  What if WV, rather than donate the clothes, sold them to local business people to then sell to their community?  What if the NFL decided to sell the shirts here in the US for a reduced price and donated the money made to WV?  What if merchants did not print the merchandise until after the game?  Are we that impatient?

Is there a better way?  My gut tells me that there is, but I do not want to claim that I understand how the entire process works from order to distribution.  Because of that, I am unwilling to rail against WV for this program.

What do you think? Care to tackle any of my questions?