Interview with The President of World Vision

World Vision
World Vision President Rich Stearns observes children at a watering hole near the Boset area development program in Ethiopia.

In light of our recent focus on The Volusion Foundation we thought it would be informative to allow World Vision to do a guest post to explain a little bit more about their worldwide efforts.

World Vision Director of Executive Communications, Dean Owen, sat down with World Vision President, Rich Stearns to get the perspective from the top. Below is the transcript from the interview:

Dean: Why was World Vision founded?
Rich: In 1950, World Vision founder, Bob Pierce, a pastor and documentary filmmaker, was deeply touched by the plight of Korean War orphans.  His heart had been broken, as he would later pray, by the things that must also break the heart of God.

The vision of one man nearly 60 years ago has now grown into the largest Christian humanitarian organization in the world, with 40,000 staff working in nearly 100 countries.  Our global budget last fiscal year was $2.6 billion, including nearly $400 million in donated products from U.S.-based companies.

Dean: How can another business owner get involved?
Rich:
World Vision receives products, services and monetary donations from all kinds of businesses. Companies can get involved in many different ways. Some donate goods and services such as pharmaceuticals, books, toothpaste, school supplies, toys, clothing and even services such as shipping or consulting.  Some companies provide cash gifts to support specific projects here in the US or internationally.  Others may launch an employee giving campaign or partner with us in a cause-related marketing effort to link their brand or product with World Vision’s work. With their many assets and capabilities, businesses are a great source of untapped resources for charities.

In addition to our headquarters near Seattle, World Vision has offices in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, Dallas and the Twin Cities – and, of course, 99 other countries around the globe. Internationally World Vision often works with global corporations that have sales offices, factories, or back office operations in developing nations.

In addition to product and cash donations, we also have the opportunity to work with talented executives on loan to our staff. World Vision also can help integrate a company’s corporate social responsibility work both at home and abroad.

For more information on such opportunities, please contact my colleague David Owens, VP for Corporate Development, at davowens@worldvision.org

World Vision
An Ethiopian man utilizes “camel power” to bring his cart of wood to the market.

Dean: What sets World Vision apart from other charitable organizations?
Rich: I am biased but I think that World Vision is extraordinary in many ways.

The first and perhaps most profound difference is our approach to tackling poverty at its root causes.  Many charities will do one good thing only. They’ll feed the hungry, provide health care, drill wells, build houses or run microfinance programs.  But World Vision has learned that none of these things on their own will ‘cure’ poverty.  If you have a new house but no food; if you have health care but no clean water; if you have clean water but no economic opportunity, you stay mired in your poverty.  World Vision believes that poverty is complex and that simplistic solutions don’t work. For change to be sustainable it has to address all of these issues simultaneously.  We do things the hard way – but the only way that works in the long run.

Let me mention just a couple more distinctives. In emergency situations such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes, World Vision’s ‘Global Rapid Response Team,’ enables us to be on-the-ground with relief teams within hours of a disaster virtually anywhere in the world, with supplies airlifted from one of the many warehouses stocked with emergency supplies.  We are often the first ones in and the last to leave.

We’re also a faith based organization, motivated by our Christian faith to respond to the world’s poor with compassion and determination.

Finally, our overhead rates are low, given our size; more than 84 cents of every dollar of donations are provided to the field.

Dean: What changes are you most proud to have caused?
Rich: I guess I would cite two things in particular.

The first is that World Vision decided to ‘take on’ the AIDS pandemic at a time when most Americans wanted nothing to do with AIDS and research showed that people wouldn’t donate to help those affected by HIV/AIDS.  Even though we were warned that we would fail, and perhaps alienate our loyal donor base, we decided to do it anyways – because it was right.  Almost ten years later we have helped turn public opinion (and Congress) on this issue and have helped millions of people in Africa as a result.

The second is more mundane.  We’ve been able to triple revenues over ten years while becoming more efficient and lowering our overheads by about one third.  This was the result of implementing best business practices brought from the corporate world.

World Vision
World Vision President Rich Stearns joins a man and young boy to collect water near the Boset area development program in Ethiopia.

Dean: Where has World Vision had the biggest impact?

Rich: That’s a hard one to answer. I’ve been privileged to visit our work in more than 40 countries on virtually every continent.  I’ve seen peoples’ lives transformed by our work high up in the Andes in Peru, in mud huts with AIDS orphans in Uganda, and in the slums of Chennai, India. In addition, World Vision has empowered entrepreneurs through micro-finance loans, and I’ve seen the joy and pride in the eyes of many who have launched successful businesses. Finally, I’ve been in villages where wells are dug for the first time, bringing local residents a regular source of clean water for the first time.

Seeing the results of World Vision’s work, as Volusion CEO Kevin Sproles has recently in Ethiopia, truly is a life-changing experience.  In some ways our greatest impact has been in bringing the needs of the world’s poorest to the attention of individuals and churches in one of the richest nations on earth.

If we can create a movement of like minded people to eliminate extreme poverty from our world just as Dr. King led a movement to end racism and discrimination, we might just be able to change the world in even more profound ways.  As my friend Bono has said –‘It’s not about charity, it’s about justice.’

*Photos courtesy of Jon Warren/World Vision

We would like to thank our partners at World Vision for this exclusive interview transcript!

3 Responses to “Interview with The President of World Vision”

  1. Vena Ulysse

    Dear Mr. Owens,

    I am an Haitian American educator. I would like to participate in any project you have that has to do with helping haitian children read and write. How can I help?

    Reply
  2. Interview with the President of World Vision «

    […] 27, 2009 · Leave a Comment From Volusion (blog): World Vision Director of Executive Communications, Dean Owen, sat down with World Vision […]

    Reply

Leave a Reply