a service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
AID POLICY: Seeing where the money goes
LONDON, 4 July 2012 (IRIN) - Commuters on the London Underground may
have looked up from their newspapers recently and found themselves
looking into the dark, wistful eyes of an African or Asian child. For
just 50 pence - well under a dollar - a day, the child sponsorship
advertisements promise, you can change this child's life, and you can
do it today, right now, just by sending a text message.
Action Aid is one of Britain's longest established chid sponsorship
charities, with 40 years of experience in the field. Sponsoring a named
child is a tried and tested model for attracting donors and is
extremely popular because of the immediate connection it offers to the
Action Aid's Andrew Robinson says it was always conceived as an
approach which had accountability at its core. "It makes giving
manageable," he told IRIN. "It breaks down a global problem into a
local problem, and lets donors see that they are making a difference in
a child's life."
But once the text message is sent, the actual process of child
sponsorship has changed very little over the years. Sponsors
communicate with their allocated child the old-fashioned way, by
written letter, via the sponsoring charity, and sometimes receive
photographs or school reports, perhaps once a year. And in reality,
most child sponsorship money is used for projects in the child's
country or local area, rather than going to one individual child or
Compassion, a church based agency, is one of the few which does use the
money for the named child, to pay for a place on one of its programmes
offering education, health care and social support, and it also allows
sponsors to send gifts of money to the child's family.
For its sponsors, like Chrissy Dove who has recently been linked up
with Habitamu, a six-year-old Ethiopian boy, this is a very significant
relationship. "For years I wanted to do this, but part of me was a
little bit confused about whether it was the right thing to do. Now our
youngest child is leaving home and it felt like the right time to start
looking after another child. I have a photograph, and I will be praying
for him. Knowing that there is a child out there who I can pray for
makes a big difference."
For Dove the chain of accountability runs through her own church to
Habitamu's church in Ethiopia, giving her a feeling of personal
connection and of knowing where her money goes. This is the kind of
connection that the bigger agencies can struggle to create.
Anna Forwood is one of those who have turned their back on the big-name
NGOs. She says: "I just feel that something like Oxfam has become this
gi-normous juggernaut. When you think of how much money they now get
from the government, and they still call themselves a charity - I just
'' I just feel
that something like Oxfam has become this gi-normous juggernaut. When
you think of how much money they now get from the government, and they
still call themselves a charity - I just think, 'No'
Instead she channels her support through a much smaller organization,
the Burkina Women's Education Fund, which helps young women in Burkina
Faso to go to university. She can see a chain of accountability through
someone she knows personally, a former colleague who became involved in
the project after his retirement. "I trust him, basically. And he blogs
and sends letters with pictures of who he has been talking to, so you
see the girls and you see them as real people."
So would she like to go a step further and communicate with the
beneficiaries directly? For Forwood that would be a step too far: "I
wouldn't really want a personal connection. I have enough going on in
It is perhaps these smaller, more personal charities which have
benefited most from the new technologies. Once a personal relationship
of trust has been established with the beneficiaries, they can now
operate without any kind of permanent, in-country presence.
Mobile phone order
One tiny charity which supports two schools in Liberia recently
provided a motorbike for transport to a remote village near the Guinea
border. The order for the bike was placed by mobile phone; it was paid
for by money transfer; the agreements for its use were exchanged by
scan and email; and proof of its safe receipt came in the form of a
photograph which could be posted on the charity's Facebook page for all
its supporters to see.
The group's treasurer, Peter Nettleship, says: "'Liberia is still a
difficult place to communicate with but without the mobile phone
network - accessed by Skype to keep costs down - we could not do
anything. We're eagerly looking forward to the next steps. Wider direct
internet access, as it spreads, should make life a lot easier and
Bigger organizations are also starting to explore what can be done. The
Kenyan NGO Vetaid is currently vaccinating against East Coast Fever. By
supplying its local vets with basic smart phones, it can use a
programme called EpiCollect to map exactly how many animals have been
vaccinated, where and when and what with. Funding partners like the
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation can see exactly where their money is
One of Vetaid's founders, Nick Short, told IRIN: "At the moment this is
just for large donors, but I can see a time where the general public
might see where Oxfam, for instance, was spending their money. At the
moment they don't quite know where the money is going, and if they
could see photos of progress they would feel tied into it more."
Over at Action Aid, Andrew Robinson, as the organization's Digital
Acquisition Manager, is exploring the way he can provide child sponsors
with more of this kind of feedback.
Action Aid's core supporters are middle aged, people with children of
their own and enough disposable income to sponsor a child overseas.
They are happy to communicate by letter and, he says, don't want to ask
for more feedback if it might take money out of programme work. "But,"
he says, "I would expect that to change as the twenty-somethings of
today move into our target age group. With their experience of using
technology ever since they were little, I would expect that kind of
demand to increase.
"It's challenging for us because we work with the poorest and most
excluded children, so by definition they are the farthest from urban
centres. The big advantage of digital communication is its immediacy,
but we have children in Nepal whose villages are a day's vehicle travel
from the nearest mobile phone signal. People aren't necessarily asking
for direct contact with a sponsored child, but they are interested in
the community and the impact of their help on the community. And we
need to be able to show the difference we are making."
For more stories on humanitarian accountability, please visit our
Read report online
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United
Feedback | Terms &
Conditions | RSS feeds News
Feeds | About IRIN
UPI distributes certain third party submissions from official government news agencies, such as this article. Since UPI does not control the material included in these submissions, UPI does not guarantee the accuracy, integrity or quality of the material in such submissions, and UPI does not endorse any of the views or opinions expressed therein.