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World Vision responds to blogger questions

Editor’s Note 10:45 am 2/18/2011: Thanks to all the commentators, you really wrote a new post for us today. We have emailed World Vision follow up questions, especially taking them up on their offer to provide examples below. They said they will respond by middle of next week as they get their national offices to respond.

In an email to the communications  department at World Vision, we collected and forwarded a few of the questions posed by aid bloggers in their posts (now up to 50, and counting) about the controversy over the 100,000 misprinted NFL T-shirts World Vision distributes as gifts-in-kind aid every year. On Wednesday evening we received World Vision’s response, which we are publishing here in full:

1. Can WV show that they rigorously assess the needs of the communities they work in for gifts-in-kind (GIK)?


World Vision’s assessments of the need for supplies and of the impact a supply donation may have on the local economy are done by individual national offices as part of a strategic programmatic response.  As a result, when we set our strategy for GIK procurement each year, we ask each national office send us requests for resources they need and to do so after assessing the need for supplies and their ability to procure supplies locally.

The rigor of those assessments varies based on the national office providing the information.  Each World Vision office is an independent entity, with its own board and charter.  World Vision has deliberately worked within its international partnership to increasingly empower national offices regarding the assessment, design and implementation of its programs.

If it’s helpful, I can try to get you copies of some example assessments from some national offices so that you can get a sense of what those assessments look like.

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

Depending on how you calculate the “size” of a non-profit (annual revenue, number of countries of operation, staff size, etc), World Vision doesn’t use a much larger share of GIK than other non-profits.

In fact, there are really no other organizations with a comparable size to World Vision, U.S. with the same operational mandate.

3. How did WV calculate the ‘fair market value’ for these shirts?

World Vision hasn’t valued this year’s donation of NFL-related clothing because we have not received the products yet. Unfortunately, the numbers listed in the blog post and a press release shouldn’t have been released – they were rough estimates that weren’t related to each other and don’t reflect how World Vision will value the clothing.

In general, World Vision calculates “fair market value” for any of its donated supplies based on standards set by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB).  As a side note, the FASB recently established a new definition for valuing supply donations and as a result, there is a great deal more clarity in the way that all non-profits value supply donations.  While not all NGOs have yet implemented the new FASB standards, World Vision has.

This process is based on current standards required to value all forms of GIK donations.  While there may be a discussion about what the value of a particular item should be, the objective standards we follow are essential to guide our valuation approach.  It may worth discussing whether the current standards need to be improved; but for now, those are the standards with which we need to comply.

4. Has WV tried to evaluate the results of this program? Can WV point to any evidence that the 15-year distribution of Super Bowl T-shirts has “facilitate[d] good, sustainable development”?

The short answer is “no” because the Super Bowl clothing isn’t a program. It’s a donation. We evaluate the results of our programs.  Some programs are successful. Others less so.  But their success is based on the quality of the program’s assessment, design and implementation, not solely on the use of one tool or another.

Many of the programs where we use GIK have been enormously successful in facilitating good, sustainable development.  Our evidence for that would be individual program evaluations from a variety of national offices, but we can provide some examples if those are helpful.

In Summary:
For World Vision, GIK is a resource in a robust tool kit.  We endeavor to use it in situations where it’s appropriate and in ways that are skilled, but like any tool, it’s not inherently helpful or hurtful.  A hammer can do a great deal of damage if you use it poorly, but it can also be a necessary piece of equipment when you’re trying to build something.

Our perspective on this greater debate is that the resource (GIK) can be used in ways that are very helpful.  It can also be used in ways that are destructive.  The answer isn’t to toss the tool.  The answer is to make the tool work better and to become more skilled at when and how to use it. World Vision continually seeks ways to make our work more effective in all areas, including how GIK is integrated into a full development strategy and the constructive elements of this ongoing conversation are a part of that continual effort to improve.

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  1. ewaffle wrote:

    At least one result of the current discussion on World Vision Superbowl loser T-shirts is becoming clear. If it is done next year there won’t be any self-congratulatory press releases issued beforehand.

    Posted February 17, 2011 at 1:12 am | Permalink
  2. zee wrote:

    To summarize WV responses:

    1. No, and here’s some internal governance blather irrelevant to anyone outside WV, so you don’t notice we didn’t really answer.

    2. Because we inflate our revenues so much with GIK, there are no other INGOs of comparable size. Ha ha! We are too clever for you by half.

    3. When challenged, we do not stand behind numbers we have put in a press release and touted all over the media in the last month. Oopsies. Still, though it would be easy, and probably go a long way to clearing this up, I’m not going to tell you how we valued last year’s superbowl merch.

    4. No. We have no idea whether we’re wasting your money re-shipping crap from the US to countries around the world. We’ve never examined the opportunity costs of working this way.

    Posted February 17, 2011 at 1:25 am | Permalink
  3. joe wrote:

    They keep telling us that they’re into ‘good’ GIK, isn’t it incumbent on them to show a need? Just saying ‘oh well, it isn’t a program’ seems to be a bit of a cop-out.

    Posted February 17, 2011 at 2:22 am | Permalink
  4. Yes, let’s see some of those examples, both of the needs assessments from national offices and assessments of programs using GIK!

    Posted February 17, 2011 at 5:35 am | Permalink
  5. Maureen wrote:

    This answer was predictable BS.

    I’m still surprised that there hasn’t been a serious discussion of the role of cost share requirements in USG cooperative agreements in encouraging the use of GIK. With 20% or more cost share required for some agreements, NGOs are under enormous pressure to finagle ways to meet that requirement, and GIK is one of the easiest way to do so.

    While the purpose of cost share is to increase the NGO’s investment and thus accountability for results and to increase NGO’s commitment to finding diverse funding, I don’t believe it has any desired positive effect. Most organizations struggle to find ways to meet cost share requirements, and in many cases program managers have to stretch to define things as cost share. GIK is a god-send in cases like that, for the NGO.

    In effect, cost share requirements split the focus of program management, so that they are spending time and effort finding ways to meet those requirements instead of focusing on program quality, and do so with, at best, questionable effects with regards to accountability and private-sector buy in.

    Posted February 17, 2011 at 8:17 am | Permalink
  6. Anon for this wrote:

    Dear World Vision,

    This might have been a good issue to get your best PR people on, which you clearly have not done. As far as I can tell, your answers are:

    1) You don’t know if a good needs assessment was gone because it was done by country offices and you don’t know if they are any good, and really the country offices don’t belong to you anyway.

    2) World Vision is no worse than anyone else and also you’re a special butterfly who can’t be quantified.

    3) You didn’t actually calculate fair market value for the shirts and your press release was all lies. Oops.

    4) This isn’t a program, it’s a donation. Who knows, maybe it’s part of a good program. But you can’t be sure.

    I am serious, you need to fire your PR firm and find a new one ASAP.

    Posted February 17, 2011 at 10:17 am | Permalink
  7. Claire wrote:

    How are t-shirts used in World Vision programmes in ways that are helpful? GIK in general can sometimes be helpful, I get, but how are imported t-shirts sufficiently helpful to development to justify the costs?

    Posted February 17, 2011 at 10:21 am | Permalink
  8. joe wrote:

    And another thing – they said

    Many of the programs where we use GIK have been enormously successful in facilitating good..

    OK, so let’s see the evaluations of all your in-kind program, ignoring the Superbowl issue for a moment as you’ve already stated it isn’t going to be evaluated.

    How are you making the evaluation? What are you comparing? How are you assessing the ‘value’ to the recipient of the in-kind parts of programmes compared to using new products?

    Show us the checklist you’re using in your evaluation procedure. Show us a completed evaluation of a program.

    My guess is that you can’t or won’t – either because it would show how woeful your GIK programmes actually are; how pointless your evaluations are; or maybe that you’re not actually doing any evaluation at all.

    Posted February 17, 2011 at 10:27 am | Permalink
  9. Quicksilversurfer wrote:

    Well, so far the verdict on the quality of the response by WV seems to be unanimous!
    May I point out some further obfuscation from their response?
    A/ from (1) “World Vision’s assessments of the need for supplies and of the impact a supply donation may have on the local economy are done by individual national offices as part of a strategic programmatic response” and from (4) “the Super Bowl clothing isn’t a program. It’s a donation”. Question: how can it be a “strategic programmatic response” without being part of a program?
    B/ “Our perspective on this greater debate is that the resource (GIK) can be used in ways that are very helpful. It can also be used in ways that are destructive…World Vision continually seeks ways to make our work more effective in all areas, including how GIK is integrated into a full development strategy”. In other words, we don’t know the first thing about the impact but we really don’t care to know even though we are claiming to look for effectiveness!
    For this response, WV should get the prize fro weaving the rope that hangs it!

    Posted February 17, 2011 at 10:52 am | Permalink
  10. Brendan Rigby wrote:

    For World Vision, GIK is a resource in a robust tool kit. We endeavor to use it in situations where it’s appropriate and in ways that are skilled, but like any tool, it’s not inherently helpful or hurtful. A hammer can do a great deal of damage if you use it poorly, but it can also be a necessary piece of equipment when you’re trying to build something’.

    Is the old adage, ‘A good carpenter never blames his tools’ appropriate here? A jackhammer can also be a useful tool to build something, but not if you are trying to build, for example, a wardrobe. And this, the answer to evaluations, I just do not understand:

    ‘The short answer is “no” because the Super Bowl clothing isn’t a program. It’s a donation’.

    A standardised needs assessment was carried out by HQ. World Vision USA has a need. The NFL had a need. A successful and mutually beneficial partnership. Now that is something you don’t see everyday in development.

    Posted February 17, 2011 at 11:30 am | Permalink
  11. 1. What Maureen said + something about US tax legislation

    2. What Erin Antcliffe said

    Posted February 17, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Permalink
  12. DRDR wrote:

    I’m sad to imagine anyone from worldvision earning any income for crafting such a ridiculous response. Can whoever wrote this please donate their wages for this week to well thought-out aid initiatives? (which certainly does not include any worldvision “project”)

    Posted February 17, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink
  13. Trazle wrote:

    I would indeed like to see the assessment which demonstrated the need for genuine mis/over-printed
    Superbowl t-shirts. But maybe I am wrong… I guess I wouldn’t mind such a t-shirt and I do currently live in a developing country (never mind that I am an American).

    I do have to admit that finding those particular t-shirts on the local market would be hard, although imitations could surely be produced in-country for about 2-5$.

    Honestly now. Field based needs and supply?

    Posted February 17, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Permalink
  14. I am a bit late but I would have another question to ask to WV: were recipients of these T-shirts aware that they were given the loser’s? Or does WV consider that Zambians do not care about what happens out of their village? Would WV accept any statement on the T-shirts they donate? Like « New York 2012 Olympics », « John Mc Cain 44th president of the US », « Kilimanjaro, highest mountain in the world »?

    You may think that these questions are futile, but in my opinion the 100kshirts affair is also a matter of disrespect.

    Posted February 17, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  15. John wrote:

    Having lived in several countries in Africa and I have seen WV GIK at work in rural communities (including medicines and school supplies) that have saved lives and made a difference in communities. It looks like these tshirts were not handled properly.

    Posted February 17, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Permalink
  16. RM wrote:

    Right. I enjoy taking a crack at the giant, orange blimp (with the pulsating cross) every bit as much as the next self-righteous economist , unemployed theologian or aspiring aid pundit. And if they’re doing large GIK dumps, then so much the easier. But –

    Last year we got all over Jason because he hadn’t gotten any input from people in the field.

    This year we’re all over WV USA because they rely on their people in the field to tell them what the field programs need.

    uh… what?

    Posted February 17, 2011 at 8:34 pm | Permalink
  17. theconsumeristo wrote:

    For all the heat that World Vision is taking, I would like to at least commend them for making an effort to do the field research. Perhaps – just *perhaps* – they actually have done the research to see where the shirts might most be needed. The argument about inundating local markets is nothing new and I believe they, as development professionals, are very much aware of this consequence.

    But along those lines, I believe these GIK can be responsibly donated. We act as if the recipients of these shirts have large amounts of disposable income and are killing local textile markets by not spending money. But in reality, in some of these places you have families spending 50 – 70% of all income directly on food. The spending on clothing is minimal. Maybe, when responsible donated, having the t-shirts spread out across many countries and communities isn’t as bad as we make it out to be.

    Posted February 18, 2011 at 11:54 am | Permalink
  18. Tam wrote:

    Dear WV PR Dept people following these comments: don’t change a thing – you guys are brilliant and that is why you are the richest NGO.

    Seriously, don’t take these “bloggers” seriously – do you think they are anyone important or influential? No. Oh I know, I know, it’s the ‘web 2.0’ world and you have to “follow conversations”…but I bet most of these jokers are students that think they are so smart (who will soon join the work force and either knock at your door to suck your teat, or come begging at your door to help them implement their programs in the field where you have a longstanding relationship with people and partners).

    These jokers think they’re starting a revolution (pretending their lives are of consequence and their banging on here to imagine themselves the soul mates of middle eastern youth taking to the streets) but really this will mean nothing. Next year you should issue an even LOUDER AND BIGGER press release.

    You know what your donors want? Justin Bieber. They don’t care. And your beneficiaries obviously want the t-shirts or they wouldn’t take them. I actually always was amazed by how excited people got just to get a free t-shirt (by the way, not just the poor people….by the way, not just the people in poor countries!).

    This is all nonsense – so enjoy your long weekend, seriously. And use it as an opportunity to showcase some of your best work.

    Other than Bill..these people are kinda ‘nobodies’ so don’t fret.
    I can’t wait till they work for aid agencies and find themsleves knee-deep in their own bull-sht.

    Now I’m going to go and donate $1000 to WV USA just to spite these idiots that annoy me.

    Posted February 18, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Permalink
  19. Quicksilversurfer wrote:

    To Tam: “Dear WV PR Dept people following these comments: don’t change a thing – you guys are brilliant and that is why you are the richest NGO”
    Sarcasm? or complete confusion between being the “richest NGO” or “the most efficient and effective”? Please illuminate us!

    Posted February 18, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Permalink
  20. Dan Kyba wrote:

    I propose a very simple test of the validity of the WV T-shirt programme – simple because in this case the T-shirts can be readily identified.
    Check the local markets and see whether the T-shirts are up for sale.

    Posted February 21, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Permalink
  21. William Easterly wrote:

    Tam, if you think your argument is so strong, why are you making personal attacks on my co-workers? Why do you think that arguments are good or bad depending on how famous the person making the argument is? Why don’t you respond to the reasoned arguments of my colleagues with your own reasoned arguments? Just wondering, Bill

    Posted February 22, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Permalink
  22. Reuben wrote:

    I agree with you on this latest post, but nonetheless, it would give some credibility to the Institute if you make public who funds the DRI.

    This may appear as something unrelated, but I’m always wary about political views camouflaged as academic research.


    Posted February 22, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Permalink
  23. truedough wrote:

    Why oh why do I follow this trite. Even at the best of times it lacks emotional maturity. At some point I thought it was academic in nature… Delete from bookmarks, delete from all other social bookmarks. I hereby refuse to give “AidWatch” any more of my attention. And no, it is not because I disagree with the substance — it’s just that I have difficulty FINDING the substance. Is this NYU, or NY High School, people?

    Posted February 22, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

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    The Aid Watch blog is a project of New York University's Development Research Institute (DRI). This blog is principally written by William Easterly, author of "The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics" and "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good," and Professor of Economics at NYU. It is co-written by Laura Freschi and by occasional guest bloggers. Our work is based on the idea that more aid will reach the poor the more people are watching aid.

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