World Vision – It Really Is All About the Children

Andrew Stephens-Rennie asked some pretty hard questions of World Vision in his post of April 3. And in a more recent post he invited dialogue on those questions.

Andrew said that “We should always be asking questions when we’re giving to NGOs” – and that’s fair enough. Questions are always welcome.  But the wording of Andrew’s questions seemed to imply that he already had answers in mind. Unfortunately there was no balance, no perspective from World Vision in his answers.  So in fact, some of the answers within the questions did “muddy the waters” quite a bit.

And really, the implication that engaging with a mining company to achieve development outcomes is equivalent to “killing children” is a bit extreme. Don’t you think? 

I work on corporate engagement for World Vision Canada, so I know these issues deeply, and not “just below the surface.” I have visited communities in which mining is taking place and have heard the concerns raised by communities. Let me offer some answers – so at least Empire Remixed readers are not left hanging – as well as ask some questions of my own.

Mining is our collective responsibility

All of us in Canada use mining products every day — our phones, our computers, our bicycles or cars, pipes in our housing, even our medicines. We use the products of mining nearly every moment of our lives.  So we can’t just avoid or condemn the companies that mine these products – we have to think about our own role in mining.

For World Vision, mining is increasingly a factor in our work in communities around the world.  Mining could impact these communities for good (jobs, tax revenue for social and education programs, business opportunities), but can also do significant harm. In too many cases communities near mines don’t benefit nearly as much as you and I do from the mining.

Therefore, when World Vision addresses mining, we really do have at top of mind the children and families in the communities where we work.  For us, the test of development of a community or country is the improvement in health, education and protection of its most vulnerable children.

In a mining context, it is critical to ensure that mining resources are contributing to the sustainable development of the local community. In other words, it really is “all about the children.”

World Vision Canada has been exploring the opportunities and impacts of mining in development countries for about 10 years, and more extensively in the past three years. We are exploring a variety of engagements with mining contexts and mining companies, all with a view to how to sustainably improve child well-being.

For further thought:

  • Is mining all bad, all the time?
  • If mining has a place in our world, how do we ensure it is done responsibly?  What are the various roles of consumers (you and I), governments, NGOs, mining companies, and local host communities to ensure it is done well?

Community development in a mining context – the case of Quiruvilca, Peru

The particular project in Peru, referenced by Andrew, is a World Vision community-empowerment and economic development project, focused on long-term child well-being.  It also happens to be funded partly by Barrick Gold and partly by the Government of Canada.

The project has been criticized primarily because of its funding sources. Most of the critics, however, knew nothing about the project itself, how it was structured, not to mention its goals for helping the local community and children.  It is not, as some have argued, a traditional CSR project (building a health clinic); it is not about training for mining personnel; it is not about developing CSR programs for a mining company. World Vision has no restrictions on speaking out about the company, nor about the mining industry.

Most of critics are not involved with the community; nor have they been present to observe how the community is benefitting. But World Vision has been working and present in the community for years and knows the issues and challenges facing local residents.

In fact, the project was developed based on World Vision listening to the voices of the local community itself about their aspirations and needs. It is about helping the local people and local organizations plan together for their long-term social and economic well-being.  We have worked to ensure everyone is heard, to support them to plan their future, and to ensure that the local mining companies are sitting at the table to listen and respond.  As a result, the community is taking ownership of their own development rather than expecting support from mining companies or even from World Vision.

The community planning process is also participatory.  In fact, the community has now been able to access millions of dollars of additional resources from royalties already being paid by the company to the national government which it could not before.  Through these resources, they have been able to build and strengthen small businesses, to access markets, and to include women and youth in building their economic future.  Barrick is engaged in these processes to help them follow the lead of the community.

Is all perfect in Quiruvilca? Of course not.  In any setting, just like in our communities here in Canada, there are those who have different opinions, different interests, and different assumptions.  This is part of the human condition, in Peru as in Canada.  What World Vision believes we can do, as a child-focused development organization with a long presence in the community, is to support the creation of local forums where those views can be heard.  We support the community in its skills and knowledge development so the community itself can begin to take ownership of those differences and build their future together.

Questions for further thought:

  • What responsibility do critics have to get their facts right, to ask questions of those they are criticizing?
  • Who should best support local communities’ empowerment for their own development in the face of mining?  And in which ways?  The national government (eg. Peru), mining companies, local civil society, international NGOs?  When and why?  Who should fund this activity?  Why and when?

Engaging mining companies

World Vision engages with corporations of all kinds to advance child well-being.  We have done so for many years.  Some times this is a donor relationship; sometimes this is a collaborative relationship to join our strengths with the company; sometimes it advocating to the company to change its practices; sometimes it’s advocating for government policies which regulate company activities.  These relationships shift and change over time as well.

Mining companies pose special challenges, because they are often present in communities in which we work and (can) have enormous impacts for good or ill.  As such, World Vision gives great thought, research and due diligence analysis to any engagement, and to the type of relationship we will consider.  Sometimes we have a number of engagements going at once:  joint projects with a company, as well as advocacy to government to regulate that company (even if we and the company disagree on the position to take, as in Bill C-300).  More recently NGOs (including World Vision) and mining companies have joined together to jointly advocate for stronger transparency regulations for Canadian companies.

World Vision has engaged with Barrick Gold for over a decade and we are well aware of the reputational risks and the questions people have raised. However, the benefits that this engagement can bring to poor children, families and communities (like those in Quiruvilca) have proven to outweigh these risks. Our engagement has also allowed us to be frank and critical of aspects of Barrick’s operations.

World Vision will continue to advocate directly with the extractive sector, and to engage in a variety of ways, with companies to work towards good development outcomes.  We also will work with governments, other NGOs, civil society organizations and communities to encourage appropriate government regulations and enforcement.

Because, it really is all about the children.

Questions for further thought:

  • When should our posture towards companies (on which we rely everyday) be oppositional, and when collaborative? Who is the Zacchaeus of our day with whom we should have dinner?
  • What is the best mix of methods to improve mining activities to ensure host communities benefit?  Local community development and capacity building?  Host country regulation of companies?  Canadian regulation of Canadian companies?  Exposing and shaming companies?  Collaborating with companies?
Harry Kits

One Response to “World Vision – It Really Is All About the Children”

  1. Allison Chubb

    While I have not visited World Vision Peru, I did spend a year in Colombia and visited the project in Bucaramanga there. I absolutely believe that World Vision does important work which no one else does- or is able to do. I support World Vision financially and likely always will.

    Andrew has not disputed the importance or effectiveness of WV’s work. What he has done is called us to ask questions on a number of levels- which is an important facet of Christian stewardship. I have sat with a Tanzanian bishop who outlined the horrors wreaked by Barrick Gold in his community. But when I suggested we organize a student protest and he objected, I respected his decision as the leader of his people.

    No one is calling mining a sin. What we are doing is calling corporations to account for their actions as “persons” under the law and as ones who have great power over the most vulnerable of God’s little ones. As educated, weathly, western Christians we are responsible, at the very least, to pay attention to what we do with our money. Goodness knows that some of World Vision’s work involves cleaning up the mess that we western Christians have helped create (albeit indirectly).

    Paulo Freire taught that the oppressed will only overcome when they take the power over their own oppression. The oppressors cannot do that. Which is why WV takes an approach which brings the poor and the vulnerable into conversation about their own needs. Of course. As funders and stake-holders we are responsible, however, to be part of the conversation also.

    For example, several years ago I became directly aware of an organization which was soliciting funds for WV and at the same time engaging in some very questionable behaviour. Rather than pull my support from WV, I sent a message to a board member to make them aware and attempt to have the relationship with the fundraiser severed. This is the kind of critical engagement Andrew is encouraging.

    Barrick Gold is directly related to some atrocious human rights abuses around the world. This is a well-documented fact. World Vision cannot directly condemn the organization because of their partnership, but the rest of us can. It is true that there is no getting around partnering with corrupt corporations and that good can come of evil. But such partnership should always be done with our eyes wide open as we prayerfully discern God’s calling in the midst of it. The power entrusted to us must never be taken lightly. World Vision knows this and, I believe, does a very good job of walking the fine line between engagement with power and engagement with weakness. This is the nature of good development practice.

    But in no way is Barrick Gold the “Zacchaeus” of our day. Zacchaeus was a human, and a repentant one at that. Perhaps a more apt biblical reference for our engagement with international corporations is Jesus’ condemnation of the Sadducees, who were so in bed with Rome that they could no longer support their own people.


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