Q&A with Plan UK
Plan UK pioneered child sponsorship almost 75 years ago, it has since worked hard to improve the life prospects for children in the world's poorest countries. Julian Jack, the charity's Supporter Relations manager, joined us for a sponsored Q&A in 2011.
Julian has worked at Plan UK for over 15 years. He answered your questions on child sponsorship, explaining how children are selected to participate, how money is spent and exploring broader questions like whether charity is an effective way to fight poverty.
lifeisgood21: I've sponsored a child for the last two years and this charity is great. The photos of the family you sponsor, the regular updates on what is happening in the village and with the family really give it all a personal touch. Is it possible for groups to sponsor/support a school, rather than a family?
Julian: Thanks for your support, we're really pleased to hear you're enjoying your experience of sponsoring a child with Plan.
It is possible for groups and schools to sponsor a child – in fact about 700 schools across the UK already sponsor a child with Plan. Lots of teachers feed back to us that it's a good education tool. But I'm afraid we don't link schools in the UK with schools overseas – other than through child sponsorship, of course.
strawberryicecream: I don't sponsor a child but give money via direct debit to one of the main overseas development charities. Sometimes I think it would be good to sponsor a child as it would help my children to understand the problems if we had a direct link, but I worry that sponsoring a child is exploiting a child for the purpose of raising money for the community. What pressure (if any) is put on children and families to take part, and does the money go directly to that child's community or is it pooled for all communities in that region?
Julian: Firstly, children and families are put under no pressure to take part in child sponsorship. Instead, they are empowered to discuss and choose amongst themselves who should represent their community. Usually, in a typical community we work with, over 80% of families decide they would like one or more of their children enrolled in Plan's child sponsorship scheme. Children are actively involved in this decision and local Plan staff explain exactly what this will mean for them, their family and the wider community.
Our development work aims to involve as many families in each community as possible – to ensure the community is leading and owns the change. However, not all families or children wish to take part and we would never force anyone to do so. Even if a child is not part of the sponsorship programme, he or she would still benefit from the projects that Plan is carrying out in that area. This is one of the strengths of our community-based approach.
Secondly, sponsor contributions are pooled with the contributions of other sponsors, and are spent on carefully planned and targeted long-term development projects as identified by community members. This may be digging a well to providing clean water, building schools and training teachers, making sure that there's enough food if the crops fail, or lobbying at a national level for free primary education. Children are involved in deciding, planning and carrying out these projects. After 75 years of experience we firmly believe this is the right approach to have the maximum impact on children's lives.
Finally, sponsoring a child is a fantastic way to teach your children about other communities around the world; that there are children like them, living very different lives. Many Plan sponsors have children themselves, and they often choose to sponsor a child of a similar age. A key strength of sponsorship lies in bridging the divide between people who lead different lives in different countries, but who have a great deal to share.
I hope that answers your questions but I'd encourage you to read my other answers in case I've answered other queries you had around child sponsorship.
Shallishanti: I have heard of Plan before and am aware of this way of giving. I must say I feel rather suspicious of it. To me this focus on individual children misses the larger questions about why there is such endemic poverty, by suggesting that simply giving whatever we can spare is a solution. Of course it's very valuable for the child that is sponsored, but I wonder what that does to the dynamics of the family and community they are part of. The letters and updates, I can see, are rewarding and help people feel a connection, but I'm not sure it doesn't create a feeling of dependence/gratitude when what we should be aiming for is JUSTICE. I don't feel I need a letter to feel a connection - I have intelligence and imagination for that.
Julian: The last thing we want to create is a dependence on Plan – that's why we aim only to work with a community for between 10 and 15 years. During that time we aim for the community to build the skills and foundations so they can ultimately stand on their own feet and determine their own future. We then gradually move out of the area – and refocus our efforts elsewhere. Plan sponsors see this progression. And through this approach we make sure we are tackling the root causes of poverty.
The money you donate is pooled with other donations to fund projects in the country where your sponsored child lives, and in turn to transform the world around them. These projects are all built within a child-rights framework. As well as the community-based projects for example, building schools and health centres, we also support communities to develop the skills and access the information they need to demand greater accountability and transparency from government at local and national levels. We also work with decision-makers and duty bearers so that they recognize and respond to young people's concerns, encouraging greater inclusion, and ultimately justice.
The letters and reports that children write to child sponsors can play a crucial role in this process. Through being involved in sponsorship, and through the interaction with Plan staff, children and their families are able to voice their needs, concerns and ideas. Such children often have very little contact with people from outside their own villages and corresponding with sponsors can give a valuable window to the outside world, as is the case with sponsors. This two-way exchange can also help the personal and social development of children, developing their confidence and self-expression. It also puts a focus on the children, and can lead to greater parental support and understanding. It increases community awareness and understanding of issues affecting children, especially girls, who account for over 50% of sponsored children, and who may be far less visible in other contexts.
For many people in the UK, child sponsorship helps 'put a human face on development', making development issues real by relating them to individual people and local situations. Plan child sponsorship is built on the concept of mutual exchange, and is not one-way or passive. It encourages engagement, interaction and dialogue. Whilst not all sponsors engage in a wider agenda, a global community can support and strengthen community, rights-based development: sponsors at best not only fund and learn, but encourage, advocate, lobby and educate.
It's through this total approach that we aim to achieve justice.
Indith: While the idea of contributing directly to a child's life and being able to see the difference it makes is appealing, my initial thoughts are to wonder how much of what I give gets lost in red tape and paperwork and wages before it reaches the child.
Julian: Please be assured that we too are keen to minimise administration and run things as efficiently as we can - transparency and accountability are fundamental to us.
As you will see from my responses above, your sponsorship contributions do not go directly to the child you sponsor. They are used to transform the world around them. We've learnt over the past 75 years that this is the best way to have a lasting impact on children's lives.
Here's where the money goes: At least 80p in every pound we spend is spent on supporting and delivering our development work to improve the lives of children and communities in the world's poorest countries. Up to 20p in every pound is spent on fundraising and administration in the UK. Such spending is essential to the long-term viability of our work and to raising even more funds, but we try to keep it as low as possible. Overall, at least 80% of the funds Plan UK receives is spent on supporting and delivering our development work
We're accountable to the children and communities we work with, and to the sponsors and donors who make that work possible. It is important to us that our finances are clear and honest, so we use internal and external auditors to monitor our finances and day-to-day management.
You can view our accounts on our website.
It's worth pointing out that we use around 70,000 local volunteers worldwide in the processes surrounding child sponsorship. They help collect, translate and distribute letters and information. This in turn can help to build the skills, involvement and capacity of individuals and communities.
Twoifbysea: I have concerns about the child; there is enough exploitation in the world, how can we ensure the child isn't put in a difficult position? And what of the parents? A child in an orphanage on the other hand...but still, I'd rather my money went to the orphanage itself.
Julian: Sponsorship helps anchor Plan in communities. The range of people involved in sponsorship processes throughout the community means that we are in touch with individual girls and boys and their families, not just village leaders and committees. Not only does this build Plan's knowledge and understanding, but these direct links between staff and families also support our child protection endeavours – for example, if a child drops out of school, we know and investigate the reasons why.
Through being involved in sponsorship, and through the interaction with Plan staff, children and their families are able to voice their needs, concerns and ideas. This helps the personal and social development of children. It puts a focus on the children, and leads to greater parental support and understanding as well as increasing community awareness and understanding of issues affecting children.
Plan does not support orphanages. Instead we support local communities to look after children in exceptionally difficult circumstances themselves. Many children living in institutions, or orphanages, have at least one parent, but are separated from their families as a result of poverty, conflict, disease and other social and physical causes. Evidence shows that these children have dramatically reduced opportunities in life and that their ability to develop to their full potential is severely undermined. Supporting just the orphanage doesn't tackle the root causes of the problems that put children there. The effects of institutionalisation on children can last a lifetime. Instead we work with children and their families and often their extended families so that they can grow up within their own community. At the heart of all our work is child protection and child rights. We place a huge emphasis on this throughout our work and our communications.
Lotstodo: I think it is more of an emotional attachment and more personal than just donating money to charity and is more of a commitment and I often wonder what would happen to the child if the sponsorship ceased. Would they have to leave school and give up being educated?
Julian: You're right - the sponsorship link provides the opportunity for more personal connection through a two-way exchange of notes and letters, drawings and photos. A sponsored child, or a family member or volunteer on their behalf, is asked to send a communication at the start of the sponsorship. Sponsors are encouraged to reply, and if they do so, they will continue to receive responses to their letters, photos and postcards. Letters can be a great way of encouraging children and showing support for the challenges they face. Much of the logging and delivering of letters, at both Plan UK and the community level, is done by local volunteers.
A successful two-way exchange of information, notes, letters and drawings can have a lasting, positive, inspirational and educational impact on both the sponsored child and the sponsor, and promotes cultural exchange and understanding. Children have shown increased confidence in reading and writing and generally higher self-esteem, and have been encouraged with their schooling. The direct links between children and sponsors have also been shown to give hope when communities are affected by disasters.
This link is the unique aspect of child sponsorship, and provides the donor with real insight, tangibility and direct accountability.
Children are not forced to drop out of school if your sponsorship comes to a close; that's one of the strengths of a community-based approach. Whilst we hope our sponsors will continue giving for a number of years, we completely appreciate that people's circumstances do change. As a Plan sponsor your donations do not directly go to the boy or girl you sponsor, rather they are used to support community projects and transform the world around them. If you were unable to continue your sponsorship, this would not directly impact on your sponsored child's development. They would continue to benefit from the Plan projects in their local area, just as children who are not enrolled in the sponsorship scheme do. If the child wished to still participate as a sponsored child, we would then try and match them with another sponsor as soon as possible.
TheThingUpstairs: What is the money spent on and how much is spent on advertising etc?
Julian: Child sponsorship provides flexible and long-term funding for Plan's child-centred community development work in 50 countries. Donations are pooled and used to fund projects in the country where the sponsored child lives. Examples of these projects may be digging a well to provide clean water, building schools and training teachers, making sure that there's enough food if the crops fail, or lobbying at national level for free primary school education.
Last year, our work reached over 27 million children and their families in 66,886 communities around the world. On our website you can read more about our programmes and the impact our projects have had.
Please see my answer to Indith for a breakdown of how each pound is spent.
AAAvegetable: I like the idea of a personal connection but the cynical side of me questions how effective sponsorship is. Plan UK does not say "Oh AAAvegetable has just signed-up, let's go and find another child who is not yet receiving our help but now can". I don't suppose that matters, you are still helping, but the bottom line is that the personal connection is more of a marketing ploy than a real connection.
Julian: Let me reassure you, the link between a Plan sponsor and their sponsored child is unique. Sponsoring a child with Plan creates a unique connection between one individual or family in the UK and one child and their family in one of the developing countries in which we work. We never 'share' children, it is always one sponsored child matched to one sponsor.
Most sponsors give by monthly direct debit - £15 per month – and that's the most efficient way for us to handle these payments. But these payments are not then transferred directly to the child and their family. With 75 years experience, we know that this is not the best way to bring about long lasting change. So child sponsorship contributions are pooled and used to fund community-based projects in the country where your sponsored child lives, and thereby transform the world around them.
Is the connection between sponsor and sponsored child just a marketing ploy? No. Sponsoring a child is more than just about a financial donation. Sponsorship emphasises the importance of children in societies that may not always recognise the contribution they can make to their own development. It ensures they are included in the future of their village - from discussing a community's problems to helping carry out the projects. Encouraging children to voice their opinions about how their communities should develop, and making sure these opinions are respected, is an essential part of sponsorship – it gives children the right to be heard. Along with funding essential development programmes that can help change their lives, for good.
The letters and reports that children write to child sponsors can play a crucial role in the development process: Through participating in sponsorship, and through the interaction with Plan staff, children and their families are able to voice their needs, concerns and ideas. This helps the personal and social development of children, developing their confidence and self-expression. It puts a focus on the children, and can lead to greater parental support and understanding as well as increasing community awareness and understanding of issues affecting children.
For many people in the UK, child sponsorship helps 'put a human face on development', making global development issues real by relating them to individual people and local situations. Plan child sponsorship is built on the concept of mutual exchange, and is not one-way or passive. It encourages engagement, interaction and dialogue. Whilst not all sponsors will engage in a wider agenda, a global community can support and strengthen community, rights-based development: sponsors at best not only fund and learn, but encourage, advocate, lobby and educate.
Zipzap: It would be easy for Plan to muster a handful of kids that people nominally sponsor then send the sponsors the same letter and picture and put the money into a general aid fund for that village or project. I also wonder how Plan chooses the individual children and what criteria has to be satisfied for them to be selected. If individual aid is being given to a particular child then I would worry how much of the money I gave was going on the admin to link me to a child, to choose a child, to get the letters back from the child and so on. And whilst it would be great for that child to get stuff, how would that affect them in relation to their friends or siblings that didn't get sponsored?
I worry that I would start to hear about the family or friends and be sucked into sending more money than I was happy to give because of all the sad stories. At least if the money goes to a particular school or village then it benefits lots of people rather than just one.
Julian: Firstly, please be assured that the link between a Plan sponsor and their sponsored child is always unique. Sponsoring a child with Plan creates a connection between one individual or family in the UK and one child and their family in one of the developing countries in which we work. We never 'share' children, it is always one sponsored child linked to one sponsor. The exchange of correspondence between sponsors and sponsored children helps to illustrate this, as a very real, personal connection can develop. It is also possible for sponsors to visit their sponsored children, with the guidance of our Visits Team, which allows for an amazing opportunity for sponsors to see first-hand the difference their contributions are making.
In regards to choosing who should be sponsored, Plan does not make this decision. Rather the communities, families and children we work with do. We aim to involve as many families as possible in the work that we are doing in their communities. However the reality is that not all children can be sponsored or wish to be. Plan has a strong community-based approach and as part of this, we encourage discussion of who may benefit most from being a sponsored child, so that the community themselves can decide on who should be chosen to participate directly in this way. Furthermore, it is ultimately down to the child and family themselves to choose to participate if the option is there, and some families simply prefer not to enter into this commitment. Even if a child does not join the sponsorship programme, he or she would still benefit from the projects that Plan is carrying out in that area. This is one of the strengths of our community-based approach.
We take the issue of segregation in communities very seriously and work hard to ensure community cohesion. Because sponsorship contributions are pooled and used to fund grassroots community-based projects, it means that all children, be they sponsored or not sponsored, will benefit from your support. In addition, by pooling sponsorship contributions instead of giving money directly enables us to work in the most cost effective way and keep our administration costs low.
We put the emphasis on communities building the skills and foundations they need so they can ultimately stand on their own feet and determine their own future. This is also why we don't facilitate the giving of direct benefits from sponsors to their sponsored children. All sponsored families understand what participating in the sponsorship scheme will mean for them and are aware that sponsors are not able to send extra money. We appreciate that the support of our sponsors is completely voluntary and we would not wish to put you in the uncomfortable position of being asked to send anything extra.
If you or anyone else have more questions or thoughts – please do not hesitate to phone us on 0300 777 9777 or email us email@example.com.
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