World Vision in Fragile States: A Commitment to Show the Love of Jesus in the Toughest Places

By Edgar Sandoval Sr.

I’m often asked two related questions: “Why does World Vision put itself and its staff at risk by working in some of the world’s most dangerous places” and “How do you reduce the obvious risks of working in these contexts”?

For over 70 years, World Vision has worked in what the OECD terms “fragile states” — places where high risk exposure is combined with an insufficient capacity on the part of the governing body or system to respond to the risks. Think of countries such as Sudan and Somalia as examples. These are places where it’s the most difficult to send and distribute financial resources, food, and other aid. And yet they’re home to tens of millions of children and families who are in the greatest need of help and the tangible love and hope of Christ that we can demonstrate. These are people who are precious to Jesus — and precious to us.

As president and CEO of World Vision U.S., I am proud to be part of an organization committed to serving in fragile states to bring hope and healing to the most vulnerable by following the teachings and example of Jesus.

Serving in 40 of the world’s 60 fragile states, as we do, brings heightened risks. Insecurity and crime are often more prevalent due to armed opposition groups and militias. The rule of law is often weaker due to nonfunctioning law enforcement and judiciary systems. And terrorists and their networks infect dysfunctional states and influence people who have few choices due to poverty. World Vision strongly condemns any act of violence or terrorism, and any support for such activities. We’ve been vulnerable to violence ourselves: In the last two decades alone, our national director and his 10-year-old daughter in Mauritania were ambushed and shot, a local youth advocate in the DRC was brutally murdered, and six of our staff in Pakistan were ruthlessly slaughtered.

Partnership with local organizations is one of the most effective ways to work in these often dangerous settings. Building local ownership for programming not only honors the dignity of those we serve, it increases resilience and makes the gains more sustainable. But we take great care in establishing these partnerships, exercising due diligence before entering into them and then continuously monitoring the partnership to ensure we are not working with people or organizations sanctioned by the U.S. government (Blocked Parties). We are careful and thorough in screening against the sanctions lists enforced by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. However, in the fluctuating contexts in which we work, information is not always clear. On one occasion, we discovered that a local partner was on the OFAC list; once we became aware of this, we immediately ceased payments to the partner, notified the funder, and voluntarily disclosed the error to the U.S. government. In order to preserve our ability to work in that local context, we applied for and received an OFAC license to pay the local partner for work already completed, and after the last payment, stopped working with them completely. In addition, we confirmed that all funds had been used as intended for urgent humanitarian work.

Although we are confident in the strength of our systems and processes, we can never become complacent. Therefore, we have made the following enhancements to our partnership selection process and Blocked Party screening processes:

  • Even more rigorous oversight of local partnerships to ensure all financial aid is being used as intended
  • Updated policies, staff training, and screening processes to continue our long history of strong financial accountability and program effectiveness
  • Revised internal escalation processes to clarify when a senior-level review is required
  • Expanded anonymous hotlines in the places we serve

In addition to these enhancements, we will continue to:

  • Maintain strong relationships with community leaders and governments to ensure all funds are spent appropriately and that we work only with reputable local partners
  • At an international level, hold regular meetings with peer organizations to discuss our common fragile-context risks and solutions

It is not easy to operate in these challenging places, yet this is where the Lord has called us, and is calling us — indeed, this is where He is. In Matthew 25:35, Jesus says, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” The most vulnerable of Jesus’ precious children live in these places, and so does He. Individual Christians want people in these fragile places to know we love them and care about their futures, but our churches are often unable to extend a helping hand due to the political or cultural context. So, in answer to God’s call to serve our neighbors, World Vision is there with the love of Christ, offering support without discrimination.

We remain committed to our vision of life in all its fullness for vulnerable children around the world. We pray that one day, no state will be fragile, and no individuals dangerous. Until then, World Vision will keep following Jesus into the tough places — and serving the people He loves.

World Vision has improved the well-being of more than 200 million children around the world

World Vision has improved the well-being of more than 200 million children around the world