A couple days ago @aidhack alerted the “twittersphere” of the fact that World Vision USA was sending it’s habitual 100,000 misprinted NFL Superbowl Loser T-shirts to 4 countries where the organization works. This year it’s not Haiti that gets the loser t-shirts, it’s Armenia, Zambia, Nicaragua and Romania. (And seriously, with all that Superbowl cash, you’d think they could come up with a decent freaking design on those shirts, wouldn’t you? The ugliness of the shirts just makes this all that much worse).
Righteous indignation was felt. Eyes rolled. #facepalms and #headdesks and #heavysighs exploded.
Much drama and many tweets ensued, leading to several people commenting on World Vision’s website to criticize them for this vivid example of bad aid.
Amy from World Vision commented back,
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… [and so on and so on]
Everyone (possibly scarred from Jason Sadler’s “Hat-o-rade” video and thrilled at this more mature type of engagement) applauded Amy for engaging in the discussion and addressing the questions. But her response did not satisfy. The drama continued. @bill_westerly suggested that they burn 90,000 of the shirts and sell the remaining ones to hipsters in New York City who would get a kick out of having an ironic limited edition ‘loser’ t-shirt and purchase them at extreme prices and the money could be donated.
@saundra_s wrote a kick-ass post going into great detail on why World Vision will continue doing gift in kind programs till the cows come home…. GIK is like, a quarter of their total revenue, meaning it keeps their overhead waaayyyyy down. And the government provides incentives for corporations to make exactly this type of donation – win win for the INGO and the corporation.
Saundra collected several posts on her website, noting that although the #1millionshirts episode sparked some 60 blogposts, This example of a giant, old, influential organization that knows better doing classic bad aid only got about 6 posts. What’s up? She speculates, with much wisdom, that the reason there are so few backlashy posts aimed at World Vision is because people are scared to criticize them heavily due to their influence in the INGO sector. (Actually maybe bloggers were reducing their attention proportionally? 60 posts for 1,000,000 shirts, 6 posts for 100,000 shirts….jk). Here’s Saundra’s Radio Silence post and her list of posts related to the 100,000 shirts debacle.
One of those posts is by Ida Horner. It’s called World Vision USA and those 100,000 Tshirts. Ida mentions another World Vision project that sounds like a real winner:
“If you live here in the UK you may recall a programme in which 8 Millionaires were sent to SW Uganda to share their business skills with a village under the supervision of World Vision. The WV country representative took these millionaires to task over simply giving things to the community as opposed to working with them to come up with long term solutions!”
And that raises for me a clear thing here. I would bet you that the country director who took those 8 millionaires to task for their handouts was doing some #heavysighing, #facepalming and #headdesking when the fund-raising team informed him that those 8 millionaires would be arriving to his office on a big PR trip. And I would bet you that the program staff who have to manage the distribution of those 100,000 loser t-shirts are equally as annoyed with their marketing and fundraising teams for continuing to get that 100,000 loser t-shirts donation. (I certainly would be).
People forget that the gap between program and fundraising teams is huge and very contentious. I bet some people are secretly cracking up (over secretly consumed alcohol) at all the blogger heat World Vision USA’s marketing and PR teams are probably under for those 100,000 loser shirts. And secretly dreading the shaming they will face at the next INGO meeting with their program peers.
Check these posts if you don’t know what I’m talking about:
The Great Divide – (and continual tension between marketing/fundraising and program implementers)
This is for my Corporates. Lesson 7: A hand out is a hand out is a hand out (about, yes, you guessed it, it’s about hand outs)
This is for my Corporates. Lesson 6: Win-win or Forced Marriage (about those giant gifts that those corporate fundraisers get that the program people want nothing to do with)
The thing is, people will take most anything if it’s free, and they will always take free t-shirts. But it doesn’t mean that it’s the best way that money and effort should be spent. Or that it does much towards ending poverty.