Does child sponsorship really make a difference?

Kate Sharma reports on specially-commissioned research by Christian charity, Compassion, which looks at the impact of sponsorship programmes in the developing world

For millions of households in the developed world, sponsorship represents a practical and personal way to make a difference in the lives of the poor. Roughly $3.2 billion is spent on sponsorship programmes every year, and more than 9.14 million children are enrolled in programmes throughout the developing world. But, until recently, no one has conducted any empirical, independent research into the impact on the lives of children. That is, until now.

When Evans, a 35-year-old teacher from Kenya’s Lake Victoria region, became a father for the first time, he knew exactly what to call his son. Many were surprised to see him shun tradition, as he decided not to give his baby boy a family name, but to call him Albert. The child was named after Kristen Albert, a young woman from the US, who faithfully sponsored Evans for more than ten years. She is a young woman who Evans credits for transforming his life. Before he knew Kristen, a young Evans would watch his mother leave early each morning in search of food for their family of seven. Her desperate attempts weren’t always fruitful, and many an evening this family went to bed with empty stomachs. “I remember that food was scarce,” Evans says. “People fought for food.”


In 1987, with Kristen’s support, Evans was registered into the Anglican Church of Kenya Maseno Child Development Centre, run in partnership with Compassion. Through his sponsorship at the Project, Evans received regular meals, an education, regular medical check-ups and an introduction to Christ. Evans was even able to purchase a goat with money that Kristen sent for his birthday. When the goat gave birth, the family sold the offspring to purchase a cow and, when the time came for Evans to leave the Project, the family sold the cow to pay for his university education. Nearly 30 years on, this string of events has led Evans to where he is today: a school teacher, who can provide a healthy, happy and poverty-free future for his family.

Stories of personal transformation, like that ofEvans, are commonly quoted by child sponsorship organisations, but when Dr Bruce Wydick, a Professor
of Economics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, noticed that no independent research into child sponsorship had been carried out, he decided to take a closer look. “We were surprised to see that no one had ever done research to determine if international child sponsorship really works,” said Dr Wydick, “so we conducted a study of Compassion International’s programme in six countries we believed to be representative of its work around the globe.” The research focused on six nations, where Compassion provided its child sponsorship programme between 1980 and 1992. A total of 1,800 formerly-sponsored children were interviewed, along with more than 8,000 of their peers who did not benefit from the programme.

The results, published in the April 2013 issue of the prestigious Journal of Political Economy, demonstrate ‘large and statistically significant positive impacts from child sponsorship on years of completed schooling, primary, secondary and tertiary school completion, and on the probability and quality of adult employment.’


Findings from the two-year research project show that former Compassion-sponsored children were more likely to: stay in school longer; finish secondary
education; complete a university education; have salaried employment, and secure white-collar employment than their non-sponsored peers. Perhaps one of the most striking elements of the research is the light it sheds on Compassion’s approach to development. “Poverty is about more than just a lack of food and shelter,” says Ian Hamilton, Compassion UK’s CEO. “Poverty denies children choices, and prevents them from fulfilling their potential. This is why,
through its church-based projects, Compassion seeks to meet the needs of the whole child, including their spiritual growth, education, relational development and health.”

This holistic approach is one that Dr Wydick credits for the success of Compassion’s programmes. “Economists have focused traditionally on releasing
external constraints. But some of the most important constraints the poor may face are internal constraints,” says Dr Wydick.

“I think what the Compassion programme does, almost uniquely among the organisations I’ve worked with, is work on these issues of aspiration development for individuals, and help to build self-esteem and spiritual relationship with God. These are things that may be just as important – maybe more important – in shaping life outcomes.”

Evans, and the millions of others who have benefited from Compassion’s child sponsorship programme over the years, would certainly agree. “I am
grateful to God; first, for allowing me to be alive, to have the strength to work hard,” says Evans. And, should he and his wife be blessed with a daughter, Evans knows exactly what to call her. “I will name her Kristen,” he says with a smile.

To view full details of the research, visit

Compassion has been working in partnership with churches across the globe to deliver its one-to-one child sponsorship programme for more than 60 years. Currently, more than 1.4 million children attend Compassion’s church-based projects in 26 countries. To sponsor a child, visit

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