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World Vision flips the sponsorship script by having children choose their own sponsors

The humanitarian aid organization World Vision has a new model for child sponsorship that's changing the way communities in need connect with people who want to help.

Traditionally, a child sponsor will commit to a monthly donation to sponsor a specific child, which they choose from a sea of children's faces and names. World Vision then funnels money to that child's community to "tackle the root causes of poverty and create sustainable change," including healthcare, economic opportunity, education, and clean water.


But recently, World Vision turned the tables on that traditional model. Instead of sponsors selecting a child, children can now choose their own sponsor from a sea of adult faces and names. That small flip makes a big difference. Through a child's eyes, seeing that so many people want to sponsor them is encouraging, and being able to make the choice themselves is empowering.

Chosen | World Vision USAwww.youtube.com

Angelique Rothermel, Executive Director of Creative Strategy at World Vision, says that Chosen doesn't change the way they do sponsorship in the field, but rather is a new way for people to enter into a sponsorship relationship. The idea came out of self-reflection in the organization.

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"The heart of what we do is child empowerment," she told Upworthy. "What would it look like if we empowered a child to choose their sponsor? Because we know that child sponsorship opens up choices for that child that continue throughout their life."

World Vision tested the idea at a sponsorship event in Chicago and the response was overwhelming. "It really resonated with people," said Rothermel. Reports from the field also indicate children are excited to be able to make that choice.

"Imagine a child walking into a room filled with photos people waiting to love them, to support them, and to pray for them," said Rothermel. "It's just such a beautiful way to affirm that child's worth. And it's certainly our hope that they feel that."

The power to choose in a child's hands: Yinka and Mary's story | World Vision USAwww.youtube.com

It's not only a different experience for the individual children to choose their sponsors, but for their communities as well. In the traditional sponsor-choosing-a-child model, one child at a time would receive the news that someone had chosen to sponsor them. With Chosen, hundreds of children in a community who are registered for sponsorship gather all at once with their families in what World Vision calls a "community celebration" to choose their sponsors.

"It really is a different start to the relationship and a boost to that community together. And since and integrated, holistic, sustainable community model is really the foundation of how we do our work, it's just a wonderful way to start transformation in that community."

Experts disagree about the best ways to tackle global poverty, and the child sponsorship model is not without some controversy in the humanitarian aid world. Mark Weber, one of the filmmakers who created the documentary Poverty, Inc. offers a detailed discussion of potential problems with such programs on the film's website.

However, the most wide-ranging study on the model, conducted by researchers at the University of San Francisco and published in 2013, found that child sponsorship had a clearly positive impact in the long run.

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"As a development economist I am used to seeing very modest outcomes from aid programs, but we were amazed at the size of impacts on kids," Dr. Bruce Wydick, professor of Economics and one of the authors of the study, told the BBC "The results showed that the sponsored children stayed in school longer than their non-sponsored peers, were more like to have white collar jobs and were more likely to be leaders in their communities and churches."

World Vision says that they've been doing child sponsorship for most of their nearly 70 year history, and they've seen it work.

"Child sponsorship is a fundamental way that we empower people out of poverty," says Rothemel. "Through our community-based model, for every one child sponsored, four other children benefit." Right now, close to 770,000 children are sponsored through World Vision.

Learn more about Chosen and how to become a child sponsor on the World Vision website.

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