Goal setting. What’s your reaction when you hear that phrase?

If you’ve been to any leadership conference or workshop, it will be no surprise to you that as a leader, I have been exposed to more than my fair share of personality indicators and leadership style tools.

Every single one has told me what I probably could have told you myself: I love setting a good goal and engaging in the disciplined pursuit of realizing it with others! Particularly if that goal relates to making an even greater impact on the lives of others.

Every goal and organizational objective we set at Compassion is in pursuit of our unwavering mission to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name. With each passing year, my conviction for our mission only grows as I see not only the needs and vulnerability of children and youth, but also their agency, power and God-given potential.

Allison Alley and Jimmy Mellado are sitting on a platform in grey chairs engaging in a "fireside chat" presentation.

Allison Alley alongside Jimmy Mellado, Compassion International’s President and CEO, at Compassion Canada’s all-staff summit in London, Ontario in January 2024.

Of course, the holistic child development work we do as an organization is, thankfully, not done in isolation. We work in an international development sector that is filled with phenomenal peer organizations, agencies, partners and stakeholders all rallying around the many shared goals and objectives we have in common.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a prominent set of goals that our sector rallies around. Adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, the SDGs provide “a shared blueprint” for development and flourishing around the world.

This week is International Development Week in Canada, which continues to spotlight the SDGs and our collective efforts to reach them by 2030. As we mark this important week for our sector, a few of the goals and some related issues are particularly on my mind.

Allison Alley on the SDGs and 3 priority issues facing children and youth living in poverty in 2024

1. Trafficking and exploitation

Goal 5, Target 5.2: Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.

Here’s what we know: poverty, hunger, crisis, conflict and disaster increase children’s vulnerability to abuse, trafficking and exploitation. What we also know is that over the past few years, poverty, hunger, crisis, conflict and disaster have been on the rise around the world.

Perhaps one of Compassion’s best-kept secrets is the scale of our child protection efforts. Child protection is one of the core elements of who we are as an organization. For us, child protection isn’t just about our certifications or ensuring all Compassion personnel, staff and volunteers are screened and trained in child protection—though we do that, too. Instead, our approach to child protection comes from the sobering knowledge that we work with some of the most vulnerable children and youth in the world. If we want to see them thrive, they need to be protected and safeguarded. That’s why we have a global team dedicated to child protection, from prevention to intervention.

National Director Noel Pabiona gives a presentation at a Compassion Philippines national leadership team meeting.

Compassion Philippines’ national leadership team meets regularly to address the child protection risks facing the children and youth they serve.

In 2021 and 2022, International Justice Mission Philippines partnered with the University of Nottingham Rights Lab to conduct a study called Scale of Harm. The purpose of the study was to investigate the prevalence of online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) in the Philippines.

IJM Philippines reported: “The study revealed that nearly half a million children were trafficked to produce new child sexual exploitation materials in 2022. That’s approximately 1 in every 100 Filipino children.”

These are devastating and unthinkable realities. These numbers should sober us and stop us in our tracks. They should motivate us to act.

Compassion Philippines has often partnered with IJM Philippines and others in our sector to address this urgent and growing issue. It’s just one example of Compassion’s tenacity in child protection around the world and of the power of collaboration to address some of the most urgent issues facing children living in poverty.

2. Infant mortality

Goal 3, Target 3.2: By 2030, end preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5 years of age.

In 2020, an estimated 5 million children died before reaching their fifth birthday, with almost half of those deaths occurring in the first 28 days after birth (WHO). Most of these deaths are from preventable or treatable causes.

These are, once again, staggering numbers. Numbers like these come to life for me in the stories of women like Iris, her daughter Jamie and her granddaughter Hazel, all of whom I met in El Salvador last year.

Allison Alley visiting a Compassion-assisted family in El Salvador.

Allison and her family with a team of Compassion staff visiting the home of Iris, Jamie and Hazel, who are part of the Survival program in El Salvador.

Determined to spark generational change in her family, Iris registered Jamie in the Survival program at the local Compassion centre when Jamie became pregnant with Hazel. In doing so, Iris connected her daughter to what are life-changing and sometimes even life-saving resources and relationships for a new mom living in poverty.

Compassion’s Survival programs indeed spark generational change in communities around the world. Survival dramatically decreases the risk of not only newborn and child mortality but also maternal mortality through access to healthcare and birth attendants, nutrition support and health workshops.

When we think about the vulnerability and potential of children, those things are never more salient than in the first days, months and years of life. That’s what makes Compassion’s Survival programs such a vital and powerful part of our approach to holistic child development.

3. Lack of education and employment for youth

Goal 4, Target 4.4: Substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship.

Globally, approximately one in five youth are not in education, employment or training (ILO). This reached peak levels during the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery is slow and difficult for young people living in poverty.

Like the first years of life, adolescence is another crucial and unique stage of child and youth development. This stage is key to seeing youth graduate from our program as healthy adults who have maximum opportunity to be released from poverty and impact their family, local community and beyond.

Four young women pose together in professional outfits.

Marie, Genesis, Acsa, and Eunice were Compassion program participants in Honduras. Today, they each are aspiring young leaders and professionals in their communities.

Each of Compassion’s national offices has a robust youth development strategy that is implemented by local Compassion centres as they work with the registered youth in their community. For example, around the world, each Compassion program participant 12 years and older completes a life-planning tool called “My Plan for Tomorrow”, which is reviewed annually with a mentor at their Compassion centre. The focus is for each participant to discover their skills and interests, develop goals, and find ways to achieve them through their own means, through support from Compassion, and through support from other local resources such as scholarships. Through mentorship, higher education and vocational training initiatives, youth participating in Compassion’s programs are being equipped to excel as community leaders and achieve their highest potential.

Each day, we see encouraging outcomes. A 2021 study of program outcomes in Ethiopia found that youth in Compassion’s program are 26% more likely to complete a higher level of education and 25% more likely to be able to use an income-generating skill than youth who are not Compassion program participants. In Honduras, a 2017 study of program outcomes found that compared to their non-registered peers, Compassion youth were 98% more likely to be acting on a plan for their future.

Compassion’s proven approach to child development

Compassion’s programs address a plethora of issues and advance many of the Sustainable Development Goals and targets, but if you could sum up our work in phrase, it would be holistic child development. Ultimately, our focus on the whole-life transformation of children is our best contribution to Goal 1: to end poverty in all its forms everywhere.

Two young boys walking outside together.

Innocent and Remy at early childhood development centre in Malawi, where Compassion recently opened programs.

That means we have a global team and staff at all levels of our organization specifically focused on protecting and safeguarding children from abuse, exploitation, trafficking, child marriage and more. We have an entire program dedicated to advancing child and maternal health. From our global offices to local Compassion centres, we have staff dedicated to youth development, advancing education and life outcomes for hundreds of thousands of teens each year. To complement all of this, we also have experts and program teams specifically focused on heath, safe water and sanitation, disaster response and more.

All of this works together under the banner of holistic child development, which has Compassion’s 70-year legacy of impact behind it and a forward-looking, innovative, sustainable and adaptable approach today.

Right now, Compassion is impacting more than 2.3 million infants, children and youth in 29 countries around the world to address poverty in all the ways it can impact a child: physical, spiritual, social-emotional and cognitive. But we know that is only scratching the surface of global child poverty. That’s why we are committed to faithfully doing our unique part as an organization to advance our mission, while standing with others in our sector as we collectively work to reach goals like the SDGs, for the sake of the world’s children.

Mobilizing sector partnership and engagement: Goal 17

Goal 17 is all about partnership, including sector engagement, advocacy and networking. We are stronger together than when we operate in silos. This is demonstrated by our child protection collaborations in the Philippines, our partnership with local resources in our youth development efforts around the world, and our participation in network organizations that enable us to advocate for international development priorities alongside other organizations in our sector.

I am so thankful for Compassion Canada’s long-standing membership and engagement with organizations like Kentro Christian Network, where I recently completed my 6-year term on the board of directors, and the Canadian Centre for Christian Charities, where I recently began serving on the board. These organizations provide valuable space for encouragement, partnership, collaboration and advancement amongst like-minded, mission-aligned organizations.

I am also grateful for our newer memberships and engagements with organizations like Cooperation Canada, Ontario Council for International Cooperation and CanWaCH. This week, as part of International Development Week, I am looking forward to engaging with Cooperation Canada’s Hill Day in Ottawa. Alongside other leaders in the Canadian international development sector, this day of advocacy and engagement is an important opportunity to bring forward key international development priorities—like child trafficking, infant mortality and youth development—to some of our country’s leaders and decision-makers.

A large group of leaders stand together for a photo on the steps of a stone building.

Allison alongside leaders of other Canadian international NGOs at a Cooperation Canada event in Ottawa, Ontario in October 2023.

Partnership and collaboration in our sector are as important as ever. As my conviction to urgently advance our mission grows so does my conviction that we have a collective responsibility to stand with others to maximize our reach and impact. My hope is that 2024 will be a year of deepening engagement, collaboration and partnership for Compassion in the Canadian international development sector—for the sake of our goal to reach more children and youth more quickly with whole-life transformation.

I remain so thankful for each person and partner who joins in our mission. It’s not just that we couldn’t do what we do without you—you are a key part of what we do. The threads of your generosity, advocacy, prayers and action are woven into the tapestry that is the global Compassion community. As we continue to work to advance our mission for the sake of the world’s children, we invite and thank you for your ongoing support, prayer and generosity.


Written by Allison Alley (President and CEO, Compassion Canada) with Alyssa Esparaz (Content and Public Relations Manager, Compassion Canada)

Allison Alley

Allison Alley

Allison is the President & CEO of Compassion Canada. She holds an M.A. in Global Leadership with an emphasis in International Development and Urban Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary and an MBA from Ivey Business School. She and her husband live in London, ON and have two daughters.