Response to GIK discussion

This post was written in response to 100,000 reasons to love the Super Bowl

Dear Readers:

Well, after spending the past three days talking with World Vision staff in international programs, corporate engagement and gifts-in-kind operations, I can tell you that your criticisms and comments have sparked some good internal discussion within the organization.

I would like to provide some additional specifics based on what I’ve learned to add to the conversation about why World Vision disagrees with the carte blanche assessment that all GIK is bad aid and has no plans to abandon its use, as some suggest it should.

At the same time, I’ll also let you know that, among our staff, there is a great deal of agreement with some of the criticisms that have been posted here and elsewhere in the blogosphere.  In my conversations, I’ve heard overwhelming agreement that product distribution done poorly and in isolation from other development work is, in fact, bad aid.  To be sure, no one at World Vision believes that a tee shirt, in and of itself, is going to improve living conditions and opportunities in developing communities. In addition, World Vision doesn’t claim that GIK work alone is sustainable.  In fact, no aid tactic, in and of itself, is sustainable.  But if used as a tool in good development work, GIK can facilitate good, sustainable development.

To be sure, as much as World Vision’s staff work to minimize the potential drawbacks of GIK and strengthen its benefits, there’s clear consensus that World Vision must keep improving the way it works.  Right now, your criticisms have sparked discussions about improving internal processes and structures to further empower field offices to communicate their needs.

At the same time, it may be helpful to share with you what I’ve learned about the safeguards, standards and best practices that World Vision does employ to make sure that it’s doing the best GIK work possible.

1) Targeted donations – we don’t just take anything

First of all, World Vision works to target its donor partners so that we only procure supplies that are helpful in the communities where we work.  World Vision works with companies that provide medicines and medical supplies, school supplies, toys and clothing based on targeted lists of strategy driven products our field offices proactively request.

These are products that have facilitated development in many different areas.  While some specific products (e.g. winter clothes in Central America or Spanish books in French-speaking countries) may not be appropriate in all contexts, these broad types of product have proven to help us do sustainable development work.  With these lists in mind, our staff pursue relationships with corporations that can provide these products.  We don’t develop relationships with companies that can’t help us procure the supplies our field staff ask for.  We never accept low-quality product in general and we don’t accept used clothing, linens, bedding, shoes or books (and only on rare occasions do we accept any other used product).

2) We don’t “dump” product without analysis– in fact, we can’t begin to meet the targeted requests we receive from the field

Some of you have expressed legitimate concerns about whether or not the product we distribute puts local vendors out of work or hinders their opportunities to work.

As a safeguard against that impact, our field staff look at their local economies and the local availability of items and then provide us with lists of items they want us to procure, as well as supplies they no longer need.  Each year, we alter what materials we send to any given country based on that field-based research.  I’ve been given many examples of communities that needed particular supplies for several years, but, over time, as the communities became more self-sustaining, no longer needed those products.  In some cases, their requests for products changed as their communities developed and they were able to produce or access products locally.

Another key point is that, the quantity of product we distribute is too small to have any measurable impact on local economies.  As an example, over the past three years, we’ve received about 375,000 articles of clothing from sporting events like the Super Bowl.  Those 375,000 articles of clothing have been shipped to multiple communities each, within 31 different countries.  That means that, over three years, on average, only about 12,000 articles of clothing were sent to each country and divided among multiple communities, which often number more than 30,000 people each.  The scale simply isn’t significant enough to flood a market.

In addition, World Vision’s experience has been that we cannot meet the demand that we receive from the field.  As an example, we can only meet about 5 percent of the proactive requests for clothing that we receive from our field offices around the world.

World Vision’s GIK staff tell me that communities often communicate how they’re using the product they request as tools to reach the next step in their communities’ development. Saving money on clothing or school supplies, for example, helps families use the precious cash they do have to develop their small businesses or pay for their children’s medical care.

3) Partnerships that allow us to share our work with the American public – yes, we need to do that too.

I’ll be honest with you, the NFL is a interesting example in this larger debate about GIK. While the supplies we receive fit our lists of needs (children’s and adult clothing), it also offers us a unique opportunity.  This relationship offers us a chance to communicate about our work with millions of people who would never know about it if we limited our interaction to some of the more technical and niche companies with which we do valuable work.

The fact that we can meet other needs as well as programmatic needs doesn’t negate the usefulness of the product.  When children need clean clothes to protect their health or allow them to go to school, the fact that the shirt has a Steelers logo on it isn’t particularly relevant.

While I’d love to say that we don’t need exposure or funding to do our development work, it simply isn’t true. Certainly, it would be bad aid to accept useless product only to gain exposure or funding.  But when we can do both, it’s only common sense that we would do so.

At the same time, I have also heard criticism that focuses on how much NGOs talk about GIK.  The upshot of the criticism is that we talk about it as being a bigger, more powerful tool than it really is.  While, with most of this response, I’m summarizing and conveying what I’ve learned from staff in other departments – people who know much more about this issue than I do.  However, as a communicator, I will tell you that I’m taking that specific criticism to heart.

It is easy to talk about GIK.  It’s easy to understand it.  It’s much more difficult to talk about the deeper issues that drive poverty – and difficult for the average person to understand those issues. I know that within my team, we already have started discussions around whether we need to adjust our strategies: work harder to help the public understand things that they generally tune out and back off a bit from stories that people want to hear, but that don’t always represent the whole of our work.

As with any debate, I know that there will be ranges of perspectives held going into this discussion.

Certainly, there is a existing spectrum of opinion ranging from

1) those who absolutely oppose the use of GIK to

2) those who support a nuanced conditional strategic use of product in appropriate contexts to

3) those who believe that any product sent with good intentions is helpful.

World Vision holds the second viewpoint and is committed to continual improvement of that work.

@morealtitude is right in his description of World Vision’s leadership in the relief and development community:
“You are signatory to the Red Cross Code of Conduct and the INGO Accountability Charter. You have been a part of the creation of the Sphere Project, and involved in programs such as the Humanitarian Accountability Project (HAP), the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Practice (ALNAP), People in Aid (PIA) and the Emergency Capacity Building Project (ECB).”

This commitment to best practices and continuous learning is also true in the GIK part of our global work. @Good_Intents posted that “Nonprofits and aid workers come under tremendous pressure to accept these questionable donations. This is one of the reasons the Interagency Gifts-In-Kind Standards Project of AERDO (the Association of Evangelical Relief and Development Organizations) was created and subsequently included in InterAction’s PVO (Private Voluntary Organization) Standards. These are standards that non-profits who are members of InterAction – which World Vision is – agree to follow.” In fact, World Vision led AERDO’s standards project, and also shepherded the process of InterAction’s adoption of the standards.

Rather than writing off GIK as 100 percent “bad aid,” World Vision is choosing to work on improving the GIK system to ensure that it continues to facilitate good aid.

I’m sure this post won’t satisfy everyone, but I’m hopeful that it at least communicates that World Vision is thinking about the criticisms that have been leveled and that we are willing to both dialogue about it and consider adjustments to our programming as a result.

I don’t have room in this post to address every criticism that has been leveled against us, but I can tell you, having participated in some of the internal discussions on this issue, World Vision’s staff are not dismissing these criticisms. There are healthy and exciting debates going on internally and I’m optimistic that, informed by insights from within and outside of World Vision, we can continue to improve our work – both within GIK and outside of it. I’ll keep updating this group as the internal dialogue continues.

In the meantime, please do keep commenting. The constructive criticism that has come out during this discussion has created valuable dialogue within World Vision. Keep talking to us – both privately and publicly. And allow us to communicate how our work is changing as a result of your feedback.

Thanks,

Amy, WV Communications

Read our latest updates to this discussion GIK and development programming, The financial costs and benefits of sending a shirt overseas, and Basic overview of World Vision’s strategy and structure and our U.S. GIK operations.

Read more on the World Vision Blog about: Gifts-in-kind humanitarian aid

Comments

Easy claims to make, but can you back them up with documentation? Especially since other non-profits of similar size and mission - Oxfam, Save the Children, American Red Cross, Plan USA - claim very little as gifts-in-kind on their financial statements. So how is it that World Vision needs even more than the quarter of a billion dollars worth of gifts-in-kind each year to run their programs?

To be believed, you will need to back up your claims with documentation including: needs assessments, a market analysis of what is available in the local markets and the impact on the market of donated goods (staff requests do not equal a market analysis), an independent evaluation of both the NFL donations (after 15 years you should have done at least one evaluation) and an independent evaluation of your entire gifts-in-kind portfolio. You should also share the math behind how World Vision determined that the NFL shirts had a Fair Market Value - on the date of donation - of approximately $20 each.

And this doesn't even begin to hit on the issues with World Vision's marketing campaigns around GIK. Why keep perpetuating the Whites in Shining Armor image.

Thank you, Amy, for continuing to dialogue with folks over the internet and for sharing that these discussions are being used by World Vision to generate good internal discussions and debates. I am encouraged and not surprised by such news. I also appreciate your offer for us to continue public and private suggestions on ways to improve. In that spirit, may I offer responses to your 3 main points:

1. I am pleased to hear World Vision is selective in the donations they receive. May I encourage you to go one step further? Only take donations of clothing that can be certified to have been made without any child labor and that have been made using workers paid fair and sustainable living wages. This will position WV with other organizations trying their best to address some of the root causes of poverty that we all care so deeply about. Giving donated clothing to poor people who may be poor in part because decent jobs for adults have disappeared from their economy due to the use of child labor and/or because companies move operations to chase where ever the lowest labor costs exist, seems to be counterproductive to what WV is about.

2. I agree with Saundra's comments. It would be great to have WV provide evidence as to why their operations require significantly more GIK than some of their peers in the same international development space. Those of us with years of expertise in this area have first-hand knowledge of organizations where what works best from a marketing/fundraising/public perception angle has driven poor program implementation and caused more damage than good. WV has the resources and authority to do good research in this area and to share those results with the public. However, as you carefully state in point 3, talking about the deeper issues that drive poverty can be difficult. Most of the public doesn't care to learn what really causes poverty or how to adequately address it. It becomes easier to alleviate our guilt than seriously consider lifestyle (and power dynamic) changes. I hope WV can be an organization that helps lead this discussion in America. But, in order to lead the discussion, you need to lead by example - or give the public access to the cutting-edge research you've used to determine your choice of actions. And, the research must focus on how poor people move out of poverty not on how certain techniques improve WV's market share, fund-raising goals, or overhead efficiency standards.

3. I understand WV needs partnerships and that more (and bigger) partnerships broaden your exposure. However, I also believe that the NFL (and other corporations) needs thoughtful partners. WV is one of the largest, most respected nonprofits in the world. You have an incredible voice by which to speak. Using that voice to challenge and educate the NFL (and your other partners and the public) is not only useful to poor people over the long-term but may help to substantially shift the understanding of poverty's causes and effects among corporations in the U.S. If you think you "need" these companies more than they need you, you risk losing the prophetic voice to challenge these companies towards actions and operations that have the potential to change global poverty (and America's unhealthy reliance on over-consumption and instant gratification) on a massive scale.

I understand these issues are complex and there are a lot more things that can be said to support or challenge my suggestions given adequate time to respond. Let me conclude by stating that I believe World Vision is well intentioned. I know the organization has many creative and smart employees who daily grapple with these complex issues in their work. I am sure there are folks within the organization who can come up with alternative approaches that, as Bryant Myers might say, are more holistic and educational than how things were portrayed in the original article (100,000 reasons to love the Super Bowl). I pray that these comments are received in the hopeful and interested spirit in which they are sent.

Bill only simple barbarian. Only got simple questions.

How much WV spend on receevin und storin und shippin und storin und tariffs und staffin und compooters und truckin und distributin all der 375,000 clothings GIK. Let call dat $ number A.

You giffed out 375,000 clothings. Bill cannot himmagine dat real value to really poor person moar dan $1-5 item. BUT I be charitable (hur hur) und say value to poor person US dollar $10/item! Der abacus uff Bill say: 375,000 x $10 = $3.75 millions. Let call dat $3.75m number B.

Here der big questions so listen good or I hit you wid axe. Jus kidding.

1. Is der number A or der number B bigger one? How much big is der difference?

2. $3.75 millions (number dat too big anyways) is der tiny tiny mouse droppings money for elephant WV. You sez to givin der clothings ter help der poor people save dere money for udder tings. Dis is axcellent. Roll of der drum pleaze: Why not you just giff dem money instead?

Tank you listenin sorry not writin goot.

Amy, thank you for responding to our concerns. But as a leading organization on poverty alleviation you should be working at ways to end poverty and perpetuate it.

Textile producers in African are already in competition with cheap imports from China, subsidized cotton from America, do you really want to join this queue?

Have you also considered that most clothing that is donated to African countries ends up at local markets?

I don't agree with the reason that you are doing this because your staff have put in a request. Your staff are highly qualified and should go out and do some research on the impact of donated clothing on local markets!

To follow up on my previous question of how did World Vision determine the Fair Market Value (FMV) of the shirts were $20. Here's a quote from World Visions Chief Financial Officer (CFO) regarding the financial assessment of 2010 and outlook for 2011. http://www.worldvision.org/resources.nsf/Main/annual-review-2010-resources/$FILE/AR_2010LetterFromCFO.pdf

In it he states "A change in valuation methodology for pharmaceutical products donated to World Vision lowered revenue for the year by about $140 million. This change reflects new accounting
rules clarifying how to determine fair market value for donated goods, and applies to all U.S.
organizations receiving gifts-in-kind. Certain donated pharmaceuticals, which World Vision had
previously valued by reference to U.S. wholesale prices, are now being referenced to wholesale
prices in countries representing principal markets for those products (which tend to be lower
than U.S. prices)."

So if pharmaceuticals must be valued according to the local markets, surely the shirts should be as well. As many people have pointed out, the NFL licensing agreement prohibits the distribution of these shirts in the US, so the local FMV for them is actually $0. And as Bill Westerly points out the value of these shirts on the local market is likely between $1 and $5

Hello Amy,

Thank you for giving such a comprehensive response to the controversy over the NFL t-shirts donation.
Being from Africa and having grown up in a community where I was close to many poor families, I wrote a blog in to defend your position in favor of GIK (not as a final solution to poverty but as a mean to alleviate the misery of the needy).

I think that many of the critics forgot an crucial parameter of the discussion: what would the recipient have to say about all this? would they ask for such donations to stop? No, I don't think so...and I base my comments on real facts and real opinions, not on theories.

Some critics have stated that during trips to Africa, they have not met any Africans in need of a shirt...I explain in my blog that I am not sure where in Africa they went but whether in the villages or in the cities the need is very high indeed.

Feel free to visit my blog where I posted my opinion as someone who is close to the topic: http://exportusconstruction.blogspot.com/2011/02/big-fuss-about-world-vi...

Thank you for your response

Hadji Beye
Performance Consultants

<blockquote>I don’t have room in this post to address every criticism that has been leveled against us ...</blockquote>

WorldVision must have the first ever blogging platform that sets a hard upper word limit to its posts. Anyway, mine doesn't, so you are very welcome to expand there if you do want more space to address all concerns.

Hello Ms. Amy,

I'm sure by now World Vision has seen that this response did not adequately answer the numerous questions being raised about this and other WV GIK projects. In fact, at least 29 blog posts have been written about this controversy. More than half were written after this post. Here's the link http://goodintents.org/aid-debates/world-vision-nfl-controversy

These posts have been written by aid workers, economists, business people, the diaspora, and people living in the country about to receive the T-shirts. Out of all 29 posts, only two are in favor of the project. Here are the concerns that are yet to be addressed by World Vision, from the post Prove me wrong: why World Vision should change, but won't. http://www.bdkeller.com/2011/02/prove-me-wrong-why-world-vision-should-c...

1. Can WV actually show that they rigorously assess the needs of the communities they work in for gift-in-kind (GIK)? especially beyond just “our staff requested them”?

2. Why does WV use a much larger share of GIK than other similarly sized nonprofits.

3. Has WV tried to really evaluate the results of this program? (If not, that’s ridiculous after 15 years.)

4. How did WV calculate the ‘fair market value’ for these shirts? (This one has an impact on how honestly WV is marketing itself and its efficiency.)

5. Does WV know / care where the shirts come from and how their production impacts people?

6. Rather than apparently depending on big partners like the NFL to help spread the word about WV is doing and, yes, drive more potential donors to WV’s website (not in itself a bad thing) shouldn’t they be doing more to help partners like the NFL — and the public they can reach — realize that t-shirts aren’t a solution to global poverty? After all, wouldn’t it be much more productive to include the NFL in a discussion of how to reform the global clothing and merchandise industries to be less exploitative?

7. WV must have spent a lot of money shipping these things… isn’t there something better they could do with all that money?

One other outstanding is what stereotypes does this create with donors about the developing world - from the post "The other problem with t-shirts: high-profile, cheap GIK perpetuate stereotypes" http://hawk-emptysky.blogspot.com/2011/02/other-problem-with-t-shirts-hi...

If you do not have the space to address these concerns, I add my invitation to Michael's. You can post on my blog - no word limit. Http://goodintents.org

Amy, thanks for answering these questions. For me, though, the issue is not whether using GIK is inherently bad or good (obviously sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't), but rather about this particular form of GIK, t-shirts, and why World Vision is using a form of GIK aid that we know undermines local textile manufacturers. (Even if you're not distributing them close to manufacturers, the presence of free goods has a prohibitive effect on the development of the local manufacturing sector.) This is not up for debate; there's plenty of research that clearly shows that handing out t-shirts specifically undermines development. (See, for example, Frazier’s study “Used-Clothing and Apparel Production in Africa” (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-0297.2008.02190.x/full) How does it make sense to undertake this kind of activity in light of World Vision's stated mission to alleviate the causes of poverty and injustice?

I think most of the detractors that you have found also subscribe to number two out of your options, 2) those who support a nuanced conditional strategic use of product in appropriate contexts, as you do. The problem, then, is that most of the detractors don't find this particular instance to be in the appropriate context or a valuable part of a larger strategy.

You do not address many of the most serious concerns that are raised by the aid community and this lack of response speaks volumes to the rigor (or lack of) of the debate within World Vision.

A. I'll take a free shirt. (lets not pretend that people in the West don't like free things.)
B GIK makes WV's (and any NGOs) annual budget appear much larger than it actually is since the donated goods (if in possession of the NGO)are counted (according to FMV) towards revenue/income. The is the same reason NGOs try to get food commodities as GIK so that they can inflate their revenue and appear larger than they actually are. what's so wrong with that.
C. WV gik tshirts are not ruining foreign textile markets, American over-consumption and dumping of clothes at the goodwill (which gets exported in huge quantities)has already done that.
D.I think most commentators here need to be aware that they might be writing from very high ivory towers. There also appears to be an awful lot of experts on FMV... last time i checked most t-shirts at the mall sell for $20.

E. I think it is ridiculous that everyone is spending all this effort criticizing world vision rather than criticizing the nfl or an economy of consumption where we produce 100,000 shirts as victory insurance.

Roco:

If I am indeed E, I both agree and disagree with you. The NFL is very much at the heart of the consumptive behavior that is being criticized here but why so many people are focusing on World Vision's role in this is twofold:

1.) We expect better from World Vision. We know American culture and the NFL are based on consumption. The premier event of the NFL is the Super Bowl, an ode to commercials and commercialism. As for World Vision, they champion social justice which is not what this initiative promotes. We simply expect better and rightly so in my opinion.

2.) World Vision is propping up the NFL and their over production by accepting these shirts. Sure, if World Vision didn't take them others no doubt would but for the same reasons - the publicity and the aid to the the overhead. World Vision is not trying to turn the NFLs 'bad' into 'good' but perpetrating their own 'bad'.

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This idea of giving free t-shirts to less developed countries is something that strikes deeper than just free handouts. To understand how and if this idea of giving extra or unwanted items to less developed countries works or not, organzations like the World Bamk and World Vision must devote more of their efforts to improoving this form of aid. When yo look at the incentives for giving thousands of dollars of invatory away you have to ask why? The why answer is simply that it is a tax right off at the end of the year. Ultamately when you look at that, you might not like it but the end results can be very positive. What people are questioning is that this has been going on for years and no real significant growth in development directly comes from GIK's. Untill these organizations find a way for how free handouts can help to develope a community as a whole and is able to continue to grow on their own handouts like free t-shirts is like trying to fix a broken arm with a bandaid.

I was sitting on twitter trying to find something to cure my boredom - and BLAM - somebody I follow tweeted this post. Now, I am not quite as bored. Thanks for posting good material

So the other day my nephew and I were chatting about this. I'm going to pass this post along, facebooking it now. Thank you for the delightful post and the happy coincidence.

Larry King once remarked, "I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I'm going to learn, I must do it by listening." That's totally how I feel. I am grateful to have learned something new today.

hello my name is jordan may and i would like to spread the word about world vision. My mom said it would be a fantastic idea, but i have to get permision from you guys. So if you could e-mail me i would be happy to hear your answer to wheather i could or couldn't.

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