Does sponsorship really work?

New independent research shows Compassion's Sponsorship Program makes a strong positive impact.

A few weeks ago I received an update on my sponsored child, Jocsan from Honduras. I did a double-take when I saw his picture. I’ve been his sponsor for seven years. He’d just turned six when I sponsored him. I met him when he was seven and again when he was 10. I “knew” Jocsan was growing up—but it really hit me when I got the update and saw him looking more like a man than a little boy.

I realized just how easy it is to take things like this for granted. Maybe you can relate.

DrWydick-Web One of the easiest things to take for granted is the effectiveness of child sponsorship. To some, it’s a given, especially those of us who support and work for ministries like Compassion. We’ve read the stories of children whose lives have been changed through Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program. We’ve seen our sponsored children grow up—and some of us have even met them!

But despite more than $3 billion going to child sponsorship organizations annually, no one has conducted an empirical study of whether these programs really make a difference.

Until now, that is. In April, new independent research led by Dr. Bruce Wydick of the University of San Francisco was published in the prestigious Journal of Political Economy.

“We were surprised to see that no one had ever done research to determine if international child sponsorship really works,” Wydick said. “So we conducted a study of Compassion International’s program in six countries we believed to be representative of its work around the globe.”

Over two years, Wydick and his team studied the life outcomes of adults who’d been sponsored with Compassion as children. The study, “Does International Child Sponsorship Work? A Six-Country Study of Impacts on Adult Life Outcomes,” shows that alumni of Compassion’s program are significantly better off in the areas of education, employment and leadership.


Education: stairway to sufficiency

Among the most powerful evidence gathered by Wydick’s team was that Compassion sponsorship increased secondary school completion by 27 to 40 per cent. The skills developed in secondary school can help a student become a business owner or public servant as an adult, Wydick says, rather than a menial labourer.

The drastic impact isn’t limited to secondary school completion. Compassion sponsorship more than doubled the probability that a student earned a college degree in the countries studied. That increase was over a small baseline, since only about 5 per cent of people complete university in these areas, “but it’s still a dramatic increase,” Wydick says.

The value of education isn’t lost on those who receive it. When the researchers asked formerly sponsored children to name Compassion’s biggest benefit, the most common response was educational support, followed by spiritual development.

Equipped with extra knowledge, sponsored children see a new realm of employment—and a path out of poverty—unfold before them.

“It’s gratifying to see that the results demonstrate the effectiveness of compassion’s holistic approach to child development and affirm the transformation I’ve seen in my travels overseas.”

—Barry Slauenwhite 


Employment: labour and love

Researchers also found that sponsored children were around 35 per cent more likely than their unsponsored peers to find white-collar employment as adults, including roles such as teachers, nurses and church leaders. These careers offer stability and a salary, benefits that are rare in countries where itinerant or seasonal labour is most common.

Wydick reasons that staff members at Compassion’s child development centres and schoolteachers provide positive role models for the children, “and basically, they want to emulate people who have given to them when they were younger. And that’s an exciting thing.”

The staff at a child development centre may be a child’s primary role model, since many parents work long hours as manual labourers. Compassion staff members ensure that every child at a development centre is known and loved. Many children also receive encouraging letters from their sponsors, which means all sponsored children have advocates cheering them on as they develop goals.

As adults, stable employment allows them to provide for themselves and their families. But their influence doesn’t end in the home.


Leadership: consequence of confidence

Compassion staff members and supporters want to see children grow into fulfilled, Christian adults who serve their communities. Because the researchers wanted to learn whether Compassion’s child sponsorship model does what it sets out to do, they examined formerly sponsored children’s roles in adulthood. They found that adults who were sponsored as children were more likely than their unsponsored peers to lead in their communities and churches.

“We asked what happens during this programming,” Wydick says, “and a lot of it seemed to be in the development of children’s self- esteem.”

These efforts help sponsored children discover the gifts and abilities God has given them, showing them they can be leaders, whether making decisions on village councils or offering spiritual guidance in their churches. Compassion’s church-based model shows children just how precious they are to God. And when children are nurtured physically and spiritually, they thrive.


A whole life: whole-person result

Compassion’s unique approach is to nurture children directly, a model of child sponsorship that helps address all aspects of a child’s life.

Wydick says that development organizations sometimes focus on solving broad, community-wide problems, whether installing water pumps, emergency medical interventions or food relief. These things matter, but to see real transformation in the lives of individual children you need to meet internal needs, too.

Educating children, providing them with a safe place to learn and grow, and teaching them about the hope that comes from a relationship with Jesus helps ensure children grow up to make positive, lasting
changes in their communities.

“Never in the history of child sponsorship has a study like this been done,” Barry Slauenwhite, Compassion Canada’s President and CEO says. “It’s gratifying to see that the results demonstrate the effectiveness of Compassion’s holistic approach to child development and affirm the transformation I’ve seen in my travels overseas.”


The science of the study

Number of individuals included in the study: 10,144

Number of Compassion alumni in the study: 1,860 Compassion alumni who were enrolled in the program between 1980 and 1992

Countries of study: Bolivia, Guatemala, India, Kenya, the Philippines and Uganda

Main life outcomes studied: Education level, type of employment, status in community

Individuals compared: Children sponsored in Compassion’s program and their siblings who were not sponsored; other children in the community who were not sponsored; children in nearby villages where Compassion wasn’t offered.

co-written with Willow Welter, Compassion International

Want to know even more? Read this story and more in the latest issue of Compassion today, where you’ll learn how Compassion’s ministry is helping children around the world develop healthy minds, bodies and relationships while discovering God’s love for them in Jesus Christ.

Download the latest issue!

Written by: Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books, including Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation and the End of Poverty.