Like parents, sponsors want the best for the children they support. Parents want to see their children become healthy, educated adults with stable careers and self-confidence. To track their kids' well-being, Mom and Dad use tools such as thermometers and report cards. And while sponsors use different tools to assess sponsored children's well-being — letter exchanges, child updates, even Sponsor Tours to meet their children — they hope to see similar life outcomes.
But there's more than just a hope that Compassion's program can produce those desired adult life outcomes — there's compelling evidence. A new, independent study of adults who were sponsored as children found that Compassion's Child Sponsorship Program is molding educated, employed leaders in the most impoverished, hopeless places. Dr. Bruce Wydick, professor of economics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, and a team of researchers spent two years in six developing countries where Compassion has offered its Child Sponsorship Program. In April, the prestigious Journal of Political Economy published their peer-reviewed research, which found "large and statistically significant impacts" of Compassion's child development program.
The researchers found that adults who had been sponsored through Compassion as children were significantly better off than unsponsored children 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 percent. 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 daily laborer.
So imagine the difference university education could make for a sponsored child, 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 percent of people finish 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 development, sponsored children see a new realm of employment — and a path out of poverty — unfold before them.
Employment: Labor and Love
In another impressive result of the study, researchers found that sponsored children were roughly 35 percent more likely than their unsponsored peers to grow up to become white-collar employees — teachers, pastors, nurses. These careers offer stability and a salary, benefits that are rare in countries where itinerant or seasonal labor is most common.
Wydick reasons that staff members at Compassion's child development centers and schoolteachers provide positive role models for the children and "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 center may be a child's primary role model, since many parents work long hours or do not have the job status to model new roles. Staff members ensure that every child at a development center is known and loved. Many children also receive encouraging letters from their sponsors. So all sponsored children have advocates cheering them on as they develop goals.
As adults, the stable employment allows them to provide themselves and their families. But their influence doesn't end in the home.
Leadership: Consequence of Confidence
A goal of Compassion is to see children grow into fulfilled, Christian adults who exhibit servant leadership. And a goal of the study was to find out whether Compassion's child sponsorship model does what it sets out to do. So the researchers examined formerly sponsored children's roles as leaders 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."
It's the trust in their own capabilities that convinces the children that 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
The Child Sponsorship Program's unique approach is to nurture children directly. While Compassion does offer provisions — school uniforms, healthful meals, safe water — the focus is on the individual child rather than on more diffuse community wide improvements.
Wydick says that development experts and many child sponsorship organizations often focus on solving external problems. For example, if a village lacks clean water, install a pump. These provisions are essential, but what happens if the pump breaks? It is more effective for children to learn how to develop safe-water solutions for their communities or learn how to fix the pump.
By building up children, educating them, providing them with a safe place to learn and grow, and teaching them about the hope that comes from a relationship with Jesus, children are growing up to make positive, lasting changes to better their communities.
"The study," says Compassion's former President Wess Stafford, "clearly demonstrates that a holistic approach to child development is the critical factor that enables young people to step out of poverty."