Primate’s Fund director challenges World Vision’s style of aid, ads in Journal

Published November 1, 1999

The director of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund says he wants to open debate on whether World Vision advertisements have any place in the pages of the Anglican Journal.

Andrew Ignatieff, hired to head the Primate’s Fund earlier this year, believes they do not. He has several objections to the full-page ad that ran in the Journal in October.

Mr. Ignatieff is offended by the picture of a perspiring boy, his hands folded in a supplicant pose. He also opposes in principle the idea of child sponsorship as a form of development assistance. And he doesn’t like the idea that World Vision is competing with the Primate’s Fund for dollars in an Anglican Church publication.

The president of World Vision Canada was taken aback when he was told in a telephone interview of Mr. Ignatieff’s comments. Dave Toycen, an Anglican himself, defended World Vision’s child-sponsorship approach and said the agency has no intention of competing with the Primate’s Fund for dollars. Mr. Toycen said he doesn’t believe donating to one or the other agency is an either-or proposition but that the total resources can be expanded if people using different approaches work together.

Mr. Ignatieff takes a different view.

“We work in international development, basing our work on long-term partnership relationships with church-based organizations and other non-governmental organizations in developing countries,” Mr. Ignatieff said. “We are not doing anything for them. They are doing it themselves. We’re helping get them the resources they need to carry out their programs. We believe in dealing not with the symptoms but with the root causes of poverty and social injustice.”

The advertised image used by World Vision, he said, presents a child in a position of supplication to the reader.

“The Primate’s Fund has spent 40 years trying to develop partnerships of equality, not of supplication,” Mr. Ignatieff said.

The Primate’s Fund works on sectoral causes including environmental and women’s issues. “Child sponsorship deals with development on a case by case basis. Consequently it deals with the symptoms of economic injustice rather than the root causes.”

Mr. Ignatieff spent six years in the child sponsorship department at an aid organization (not World Vision) before the organization agreed to drop that method of development. He spent four of those years translating letters back and forth.

“I can say very clearly that child sponsorship is a very effective way of raising money and assuaging the consciences of people providing the money, but it’s not particularly effective at addressing the root issues of underdevelopment,” he said.

Mr. Toycen takes issue with the criticism.

“Child sponsorship has been criticized over the years, certainly among certain members of the church community and some of the other aid agencies as well,” he said. “But I think oftentimes, what’s happening is that people aren’t fully aware of how child sponsorship has changed.

“For example, we work with the child, with their family, with the total community. Aid goes to all the children in the community. I think there’s lots of evidence from our experience, as well as the experience of other agencies, that it’s good development work. I don’t think I’ve heard criticism, at least in recent times, about the quality of the development work itself.”

Mr. Toycen said the way child sponsorship works varies depending on which organization’s program is being considered. At World Vision, a local committee decides what the community needs and a budget is prepared to help move them “towards this future where they can fully care for their own children. And then that determines the number of children that need to be sponsored in that area.”

He said the only real difference between sponsored and unsponsored children in a community is that the sponsored children have relationships with Canadians. He sees sponsorship as a way for people to learn about the issues of poverty in a particular community.

“We have lots of experiences where people join very much on an emotional level but then as the relationship grows, it’s built more on understanding as well and I think those are important principles around child sponsorship that sometimes aren’t understood,” Mr. Toycen said.

“The most important thing in all of this is that children are helped and that we do everything we can to provide resources, empowerment, training and support for children and their families in their communities overseas. That’s certainly our motivation at World Vision for wanting to advertise in the Journal.”

Mr. Toycen said he believes World Vision offers Anglicans something they don’t get in the Primate’s Fund. He also believes some Anglicans likely support both organizations.

“I have the greatest respect for the Primate’s Fund and for the good work they do. It’s not our intention in any way to be taking money or even to be perceived as taking money away from the work of the Primate’s Fund. Our goal in all of this is to raise more resources so we can help more people, both organizations.”

Mr. Ignatieff sees it differently. He says the Primate’s Fund is an integral part of the Anglican Church and fails to understand why the Journal would accept ads from development organizations not associated with the church.

“As director, I have to fight every day to raise money to support the projects we’re funding,” Mr. Ignatieff said. “World Vision are in direct competition with us.”

After being interviewed, Mr. Toycen called Mr. Ignatieff to discuss the issue. In a later interview, Mr. Ignatieff said the two men had had “a very pleasant conversation.”

Although standing by his earlier comments, he said, “It is both our wishes to discuss our differences in person, not in the pages of the Anglican Journal. We work with World Vision on a number of coalitions and it’s not my purpose in raising this issue to have an argument with World Vision.”

But Mr. Ignatieff does want the Journal’s governing body to review the situation. He said he understands the Journal is an independent publication of the church. But he draws the analogy of a Ford Motor Company supplement, which he says would never print a centrespread ad for Volkswagen.

Journal editor David Harris said Mr. Ignatieff is welcome to reopen the debate but said the issue has been discussed before.

He also disagreed with Mr. Ignatieff’s Ford analogy. “The Journal isn’t anything like a company supplement. Editorially we can challenge church policy ? I don’t think a company supplement can do that. And in advertising, we can really only reject ads that run counter to stated church policy. To the best of my knowledge there’s no General Synod policy opposing World Vision’s approach to aid.”


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