by Sasha Alyson
Gifts-in-Kind (GIK) are a big activity for many international charities and NGOs. Corporations donate surplus or unwanted goods, and the charity distributes them in developing countries. The corporation gets a tax write-off, the charities can report lower overhead, but these donations undermine the economy where things — often called SWEDOW, for “Stuff We Don’t Want” — are dumped. We take a closer look in our World Vision t-shirt story.
On one occasion, World Vision proudly announced that it was processing a giant shipment of Super Bowl paraphernalia for precisely such distribution. Even long-time supporters were dismayed, and said so on the World Vision blog. We found it revealing to see such complete opposition to what remains a widespread NGO practice, and the many reasons given for opposing it. (Perhaps put off by the bad press, the NFL now sends unwanted shirts to different charities, but World Vision continues shipping out SWEDOW from other companies, including Toms Shoes, and software from Microsoft.)
Below we’ve reproduced World Vision’s original statement, and the comments that followed. We have left off some extraneous material, but we have not deleted any comments, except for one which was just trying to sell their own t-shirts.
100,000 reasons to love the Super Bowl
Posted on February 7, 2011 by Lindsey Talerico-Hedren in Partnerships
Maybe you were one of the 151 million people to watch the Green Bay Packers victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in yesterday’s Super Bowl XLV. If you’re not a sports fan, surely you still enjoyed the cheeseburger sliders, nachos, great commercials, and good time with friends and family.
Certainly, there is nothing quite like American football that can split a nation by team, and then bring us back together for one unforgettable championship game. But that’s not the only reason to love the power of the Super Bowl. Any production that bids 30-second ads at around $3 million each is worth tuning into — if not for the spectacular cinematography, then at least for a hardy laugh or two.
And while the Super Bowl is the Holy Grail of American sporting events, it’s also a source of hope and help to thousands of people around the world — which is one reason why World Vision loves it.
For the past 15 years, the National Football League has donated to World Vision its pre-printed championship merchandise bearing the name of the team that does not win the title. This means that right now, thousands of articles of merchandise, including t-shirts, sweatshirts, and ball caps, are being sorted by the NFL and retailers to be sent to World Vision.
Here’s how it works: The NFL pre-prints about 300 shirts and hats for both Super Bowl contenders for after the game. At the same time, retailers like Sports Authority, Dick’s, and Modell’s place their merchandise orders in advance according to the market location of their stores and the potential winning teams. Basically, a retailer in Green Bay, Wisconsin, would order the pre-printed Super Bowl Champion Packers gear the same way a retailer in Pittsburgh would buy pre-printed Super Bowl Champion Steelers gear. But a retailer in Florida might not order either contender’s pre-printed merchandise, because their market doesn’t have much of an interest in buying Super Bowl Champion gear for either team.
Once the gear is pre-printed, it is shipped from the printing center to the retailers’ distribution centers, where it is counted and distributed to individual stores. Once at the stores, staff members hold the gear until the winning team is determined, at which time shelves are stocked and gear is sold. This is where World Vision comes in.
At this point, all unused gear for the team that does not win is repackaged, shipped back to the retailer distribution centers, counted again, and donated to World Vision. As gear begins to arrive at World Vision’s international distribution center in Pittsburgh, as it will in the next couple of weeks, it is counted one more time and sorted by size, gender, and destination — meaning that a t-shirt might go to a country with a warm climate, like Nicaragua, and a sweatshirt to a country with a cold climate, like Mongolia.
World Vision identifies countries and communities in need overseas who will benefit from the gear. This year’s unused Super Bowl merchandise will make its way to Zambia, Armenia, Nicaragua, and Romania in the months to come. On average, this equates to about 100 pallets annually — $2 million worth of product — or about 100,000 articles of clothing that, instead of being destroyed, will help children and adults in need.
That’s 100,000 reasons to love the Super Bowl even more.
Submitted by saundra.s (not verified) on Mon, 02/07/2011 – 17:49 Permalink
I’m really disappointed that an international and well known organization such as World Vision would do such a questionable project. As all these posts from aid workers about 1millionshirts demonstrates, this is really not good development practice http://goodintents.org/aid-debates/1-million-shirts-campaign. By doing this project not only are you following questionable practices but you’re encouraging others to as well.
Submitted by keller.brett (not verified) on Mon, 02/07/2011 – 18:32 Permalink
I’m with Saundra S on this one — while it might seem like a good idea at first, this is just a bad idea. It might be good publicity, but it’s bad aid, bad development, etc. WorldVision can and should do better! http://goodintents.org/aid-debates/1-million-shirts-campaign
Submitted by Katherine Lucey (not verified) on Tue, 02/08/2011 – 06:08 Permalink
Although it seems generous at first glance to send t-shirts to people deemed ‘needy’, it is actually a ‘bad aid’ practice that causes more harm than good. This excellent PBS video provides insight to devastating consequences of the donated clothing industry to the very people Worldvision is attempting to help.
Please watch: “T-Shirt Travels” http://j.mp/eOTXly
Submitted by Amy Kate (not verified) on Tue, 02/08/2011 – 07:25 Permalink
Very disappointed in World Vision after reading about this.
Submitted by TMS Ruge (not verified) on Tue, 02/08/2011 – 07:58 Permalink
This is a total shame! It is one thing for Jason Sadler to do it, but you guys, seriously should know better! I am completely disappointed in you guys!
Submitted by Rianne ten Veen (not verified) on Tue, 02/08/2011 – 11:35 Permalink
& poor Africans are supposed to be grateful for these rejects? If it’s not good enough at home it’s not good enough for others either. Wish for your brother/ sister what you wish for yourself is what Prophet Jesus PBUH taught. In peace.
Submitted by rgailey33 (not verified) on Tue, 02/08/2011 – 13:50 Permalink
This would be much more redemptive had the NFL (or World Vision) hired (at decent wages) the people in these countries where the clothes will be dumped to produce the originals for both teams. That way, jobs, which is really what poor people in these countries need, would be enhanced rather than destroyed.
Submitted by World Vision USA (not verified) on Tue, 02/08/2011 – 14:37 Permalink
Hey Readers –
We’ve noted the disappointment that some of you have expressed at World Vision’s distribution of clothing the NFL donated following the Super Bowl. 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. Rather, these supplies are tools as part of larger development strategies and are distributed under the following circumstances:
· After we have established an understanding of the culture to ensure that we only send clothes and other supplies that are appropriate religiously and culturally.
· After we have established an understanding of the local economy. In fact, we deliberately distribute the Super Bowl gear to several different communities in at least four different countries to ensure that we don’t flood their local markets with more supplies than the market can handle and that our distributions don’t have an adverse affect on local suppliers.
· After we learn what the community members want. Because we have longstanding relationships with the communities where we serve, they are able to tell us what supplies they need and want. And because we work in more than a thousand communities in about 100 countries, we aren’t pressured to provide unwanted supplies. What is unwanted in one community is often very valuable in another. And because we’ve done this work for many years, we know the types of supplies – things like pharmaceuticals, school supplies and clothing – that are generally useful and unavailable or difficult to access in developing communities.
We know that some critics simply do not like supply distributions as part of relief and development work, and we may not end up seeing eye to eye on this issue. But it is important to understand that World Vision does its supply distribution work with a great deal of study, input from our community partners where we work, and as part of a larger development strategy.
Amy, World Vision communications
Submitted by Eric Ritskes (not verified) on Tue, 02/08/2011 – 16:28 Permalink
While this may be part of a larger development strategy that may (or may not) be valuable, locally informed and sustainable, this part of the strategy has proven time and again to be detrimental to local communities and not the best use of resources. Efforts like this from an agency that gets so much press, as World Vision does, only entrench damaging aid practices which, instead of working to eliminate poverty, etc…, in turn entrench poverty, etc…
Submitted by keller.brett (not verified) on Tue, 02/08/2011 – 17:27 Permalink
I wanted to say thanks to Amy Parodi for responding here and engaging with your critics. While I can (more closely) understand the rationale behind directly providing school supplies or pharmaceuticals, even in those cases it would make more sense to use the same funds to buy locally produced items to stimulate the local economy. How many shirts/items are being distributed in each country, and by what criteria do you decide if that is “flooding” the market or not? It seems like even a seemingly small distribution could be harmful to local manufacturers or distributors.
The bigger question is one of lost opportunity. How much are you spending on the coordination of this project, sorting the items, and shipping 100 pallets of clothes? I imagine it’s quite a lot! Couldn’t you better use that in any number of ways to stimulate local industries?
You don’t have to stand by this. It’s a bad aid practice, and a lot of people will respect you more (and be more likely to give you money) if you say it was a bad idea and you won’t do it in the future. If you disagree with the consensus that it’s a bad practice, I think you should more fully explain the research or analysis you did that shows that this is not harmful (ie, more than just a response here in the comments section). Based on your response, it doesn’t sound like your analysis was very rigorous, but if that’s correct you can assuage the criticism by showing us the data. Again, thanks for engaging,
Submitted by sethmazow (not verified) on Tue, 02/08/2011 – 18:01 Permalink
Very disappointing, Amy. The Good Intentions article Brett referenced (http://goodintents.org/uncategorized/world-vision-the-new-100000-shirts) is spot on.
Certain supplies are probably well utilized (ie pharmaceuticals). But shirts? Come on…
And claiming $2 million in program costs for this is total crap. Ask you in-country employees what they would spend $2 million on, and they won’t tell you shirts.
Very unprofessional of World Vision. It’s one thing for the 1 million shirts guy to go down this road, but World Vision ought to know better. Unless WV is knowingly engaging in this practice simply to boost Charity Navigator ratings and get some media hits, which is even worse.
Submitted by keller.brett (not verified) on Tue, 02/08/2011 – 18:41 Permalink
Seth, to be fair, I don’t think they meant $2 million in program costs – the post says $2 million worth of product. I’m sure it costs a lot to sort, ship, and distribute the 100k shirts, but hopefully not $2 million! Still, just think that if the shirts really were worth $2 million, the NFL could sell them for that amount (to gloating Packers fans maybe?) and donate the proceeds to World Vision. Then WV could take that money, along with all the staff time and expenses they’d say not shipping and distributing them, and implement some programs that are proven to help. It only makes sense in light of what’s been written about the incentives to use donated goods by Saundra. World Vision can and should do better!
Submitted by rgailey33 (not verified) on Tue, 02/08/2011 – 22:16 Permalink
I also want to thank Amy for responding. However, two important aspects are missing from her response. First, no mention is made of how this move (highlighted as a “good” thing by WV on their website) actually encourages/supports the NFL and our American society to continue to overconsume beyond our means. The NFL might stop making 100,000 extras if the public (including large, reputable nonprofits) shamed them for doing so rather than praising them and giving them a tax write-off. Second, this move by World Vision is similar to a much larger problem within the international development field – that is the “dumping” of excess U.S. agricultural products in developing countries that provides cash for programs to international non-profits to do “good work.” My understanding is that organizations like CARE actually stopped taking excess US grains to re-sell because it is bad development practice. However, the government didn’t miss a beat because organizations like WV picked up the slack and added more to their program growth. Until we in the U.S. (and particularly international nonprofits) understand how our overconsumption patterns and distorted markets (particularly as it relates to ag. subsidies) impact global poverty on a large scale, we will continue to do more harm than good, even with the best of intentions.
Submitted by damccurry (not verified) on Wed, 02/09/2011 – 09:35 Permalink
I am not an aid worker but I do live in a developing country in Africa. There are TONS of people selling clothes including t-shirts all over the place. I assume that most of these clothing vendors are making enough to live on and not getting rich.
So, if you send t-shirts to my country aren’t you undercutting the local vendors? If you are giving them out for free, who is going to purchase them from the vendors? How do you prevent them from waiting for a free t-shirt the next time they need clothes instead of buying them and supporting the meager local economy?
Also, how does endorsing the NFL’s (or whoever makes the shirts) practice of printing thousands of unwearable shirts every year jive with aid & development work or the teachings of Christianity?
I’m fumbling for why giving out 100,000 t-shirts to poor people is a good idea. Please show me the error of my ways.
Submitted by Tom Murphy (not verified) on Wed, 02/09/2011 – 18:44 Permalink
The trackback from my post on this does not seem to have worked, but I wanted to point it out because it has brought out some interesting comments not amongst those here, including those who defend/support WV’s program.
Submitted by whydev.org (not verified) on Thu, 02/10/2011 – 18:49 Permalink
I agree with many of the criticisms posted here and just wanted to add a comment about the message being sent to the communities who are receiving these t-shirts. Unwanted, losers, failures, discarded. Besides the poor development practice this donation represents, is the subtext of this message also harmful. You do not but your father a cup bearing the message “World #2 Dad”, let alone, “World’s #32 Dad”. Development practice needs to be founded on messages, particularly in education and of children, of self-confidence, of potential, of aspirations. Not of a team that failed to make it to the pinnacle of their sport. And, we need to be very mindful of the messages our actions are sending. Indeed, this is a responsibility organisations such as World Vision have to the communities it works with.
Submitted by World Vision USA (not verified) on Fri, 02/11/2011 – 18:15 Permalink
Dear readers, Touching base on the GIK, Super Bowl issue – we are listening to your comments: http://blog.worldvision.org/partnerships/response-to-gik-discussion -Amy, WV communications
Submitted by David Youngberg (not verified) on Sun, 02/13/2011 – 21:46 Permalink
Do me a favor: take that money you would spend to ship those shirts and use it to ship developing countries something they would actually need (e.g. food, medicine); don’t sabotage local businesses for a tax write-off that everyone else has to pay for.
Submitted by bali golf club (not verified) on Mon, 10/17/2011 – 21:00 Permalink
THAT ENDS THE WORLD VISION BLOG
Now it’s KarmaColonialism.org that’s talking again. Please follow us if you’d like to hear of other stories like this. Together, we can stop it.
[twitter-follow screen_name=’k_colonialism’ show_screen_name=’yes’ show_count=’yes’]
Notes and Sources
The World Vision blog was posted at: http://blog.worldvision.org/partnerships/100000-reasons-to-love-the-super-bowl/ That is now a dead link, but if you’d like to confirm that we copied everything correctly, the page can be viewed at the Internet Archive: https://archive.org/web/.
For a more in-depth look at SWEDOW, we recommend “Haiti Doesn’t Need Your Old T-Shirt,” by Charles Kenny, in Foreign Policy, where you can read about ideas like “Knickers 4 Africa, a (thankfully now defunct) British NGO set up a couple of years ago to send panties south of the Sahara.”
Top photo and two others showing the t-shirts are from the World Vision blog, cited above.
What you can do
Write to the corporations and and organizations that generate SWEDOW — such as the NFL and Toms Shoes. They generally do this for two reasons: Tax benefits and public image. If they conclude that their image is suffering, rather than gaining, they’ll rethink what’s best.
If you’ve donated to charities such as World Vision or Save the Children, which give away large amounts of SWEDOW, write and tell them that you’re a supporter, but you think this does harm. If you haven’t donated to them, your voice won’t carry much weight but you can easily send them a copy of your letter to the company that generates the stuff.