Key principles that guide our change efforts.
We value rights as a tool, but not as the basis for change
Today, many development organizations are conferring a more central role to human rights in their work. We applaud this, because the rights-based approach (RBA) is an important tool for working towards change, in addition to duty- and goal-based approaches.
Rights language can give words to experiences of injustice that cannot be done with a duty or value discourse. It acknowledges that people are wronged and draws attention to structural causes, such as discrimination, exclusion, and inequality.
Human rights conventions apply equally to developed and developing countries, which are both subject to the same monitoring mechanisms. And the RBA makes the processes by which duties or goals are implemented just as important as the outcomes.
At the same time, we are not willing to redefine development solely as 'realization of human rights' and to make rights, in the order of arguments, always appear before duties and values.
The human rights discourse only provides a narrow morality. It does not address the broader question of worldview and values, and is therefore not by itself able to motivate people to respect, promote and protect human rights. The Christian gospel, on the other hand, provides not just a morality, but a worldview. As such, it is not only capable of directing, but also of motivating people.
Human rights conventions claim that human beings have an inherent dignity, but they have no basis for this claim. The claim rests on a belief or conviction, in other words on "faith". Therefore, it concerns us that the secular worldview has become dominant in the public domain. We do not believe that our current culture of rights is save within the secular tradition, because it cannot provide an adequate grounding for human rights.
There is an inherent worth to human beings, because they are created in the image of God. Without this faith as a basis, there is nothing about each and every human being that gives them a worth adequate for grounding human rights, and the circle will forever tend to contract, and fewer and fewer people will be protected.
We find our motivation for change in Christ's love
Under the pressure of the negative consequences of globalization, self-interest is rapidly becoming a more prominent motivation for promoting change, even in countries where so far altruistic motives, based on the interest of others, had been more prominent.
The financial crisis, climate change, epidemics, terrorism, and migration are transnational issues that have an impact on all parts of the world. They’ve lead to a motivation based on shared interest, meaning that we promote change because it is also good for us.
For World Servants, both self-interest and altruistic motives have always been present. Among our participants, the drive “to have a wonderful experience”, “to see something of the world”, or “to learn about other cultures” has always gone hand in hand with the motivation “to help others”, “to provide children with a better future” or “to bring hope to hopeless places”.
In the history of World Servants, the motive of self-interest has lead to the construction of concrete facilities and in the requirement that local communities prepare the foundation, so that teams can start raising walls from their first day on the construction site. At the same time, the altruistic motive has made us form teams that bring in substantial financial contributions to finance and complete entire structures rather than only help to raise one or two walls and then leave the rest to the community.
The question, then, is not whether our work is based on self-interest or altruistic motives, but how these two relate. Will our altruism reach as far as our self-interest reaches? Or do we make our self-interest the measure of our altruism?
As a Christian organization, we find our motivation for change in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the Great Commandment, we are told to love our neighbor as ourselves. This commandment implies that we love ourselves, and serve our own interests. Indeed, Jesus’ life and death did not only lead to our salvation, but also to his own glorification.
However, neither his mission nor his commandment were ‘to serve self-interest’. They were ‘to serve others as we serve our self-interests’ and ‘to serve each other as I served you’. This makes our self-interest and Christ’s loving service the measure of our service for each other. Indeed, our self-love and Christ’s love for us are great. So, then, should be our service to the poor.
We don’t just send money, we also send people
Charities usually just send money to the developing world and let local people do the work. That’s easier and much cheaper. So people often ask us, ‘Why don’t you just sent the money and let the people develop themselves?’ But when we think of ‘change’, we don’t just think of how a new school gives children a better future. We also think of how the interaction between a team from the Netherlands and a community living on the other half of the globe changes the way they both think (see the video on the sidebar at the right).
We come with an entire team, not just with one or more individuals
Teams are key to our approach. It takes a team to raise a building and it is within the community of a team that participants experience personal change. Teams also effect positive changes in the communities they serve. People see how our teams organize themselves. They notice how boys also help in the kitchen and work with children, while girls also lay bricks and mix concrete.
We don’t just bring a team, we also leave a building
Volunteering abroad is a popular way to develop yourself while you help others. Often international volunteers engage directly in delivering services: teaching, nursing, managing. Although we may sometimes do a little bit of this, it's not our primary aim. Our primary aim is to develop the capacity of those who’ll be there delivering services long after we've gone: the schools, the clinics, the water boards, the family-type children's homes. We do this by helping them to realize much-needed construction projects. When our teams go back home, they're leaving behind a tangible and valuable result that will last for generations to come.
We don't just make one type of construction, we've made it all
Unlike "one-issue" non-profits, we don't construct houses only or water systems only, but we make various kinds of constructions. We've got experience in building kindergartens, primary schools, secondary schools, clinics, hospitals, sanitary units, water systems, community centers, homes, houses, and cooperation centers. We're not experts in any of these fields. Our local partners are. We're experts in getting any of these construction works done and changing people and communities in the process.
We’re cost-effective, but not cheap
We don't leave a cheap construction that will not last a generation. We build facilities where we'd be comfortable sending our own family members to. Our projects are often more cost-effective than others, but still they are expensive to manage, especially when they take place in more remote communities.
Some people make a problem out of these 'overhead costs'. We believe they're right when it concerns high salaries paid to chief executives. But also that they're wrong when it comes to a public belief that development and social change should be cheap. It is not possible for us and other NGOs to organize projects which make a difference and to ensure that the funds we receive are well accounted for without spending considerable amounts on administration, training & development, and project management.
We integrate our projects in wider programs
In the past, we worked with ‘country coordinators’, individuals who acted as our local counterparts. Then we made the transition to working with field partners, local non-profits with their own staff and their own operations. Our current transition is to incorporate all our projects into multi-annual plans.
In this approach, we make one plan for about eight construction projects in a particular district, plus additional activities enhancing the impact of the building. Thus, the construction projects are only one out of a number of activities designed to address a specific problem in a specific area.
Membership of the ICCO Cooperation also allows us to take the next step and integrate our joint program plan into comprehensive country programs. Such programs enables us to undertake joint lobby, advocacy, and fundraising activities.
We focus on long-term impact, not only on support delivered
Our aim isn't to provide some kind of support to as many people as possible. It's to achieve sustainable results by making constructions that are build to last. It's easy to reach lots of beneficiaries by buying thousands of children a school uniform or providing hundreds of mothers a mosquito net. But we don't judge our impact purely by the number of people we've directly supported. That number is usually not that impressive. We judge it by the number of generations we reach. That's where we make our impact.
We meet people on the threshold of social exclusion, not necessarily on the threshold of death
Many charities pride themselves in reaching those who are "hardest to reach" and are among "the poorest of the poor". We cannot always make such claims.
In this world, there are many people who are ‘obviously’ in need. They’re affected by hunger, disease or war. There is a threat to their existence. We meet them on the threshold of death. With them, the continuity of life itself is at stake. That's what impels people to help them.
But there are also people who are not that obviously in need. There’s no immediate threat to their existence, but still there’s a threat to their human worth. We meet them on the threshold of social exclusion, where full and equal participation in society is threatened or denied. We would not like to trade places with them, but still their life is not so bad. This is what puts us in genuine doubt. Do they really deserve our help? We don’t always know for sure. But we are willing to take the risk.
We get both the local community and a volunteer team involved in our projects
There is an increasing consensus among donors that strong local ownership is key to sustainability. Local organizations, however, appear to value shared ownership more highly than exclusive local ownership. That’s why we use the term co-ownership to refer to our approach, in which ownership is neither exclusively international nor exclusively local. In co-ownership, the responsibility that each party takes is a function primarily of its ‘calling’, the place where their affinities, capacities, and opportunities meet.
Our projects start with a request for assistance from a local service provider, such as a school, cooperation, or water board. We make sure that the service provider will be able to use and maintain the building at its own or the government's expenses. The local community prepares the foundation of the building and prepares any locally available materials, such as bricks, stones, water, and sand. Our teams raise the walls and do other non-specialist work. When a team leaves, the building is symbolically handed over to the service provider.
Our field partners employ a local contract to oversee the construction work and complete the professional work required to finish the building, such as roofing or plastering. We employ no ex-pat staff in the field and make use of local consultants as much as possible.
We manage our benefits as well as our costs
If you're an organization that offers short-term mission trips or volunteer projects abroad, you're going to have to rely on flying. As a globally operating organization, we also have to fly our staff and trained volunteers around the world on a regular basis. We recognize that this contributes to climate change. But this has to be put into context. Our participants travel across the world to do an average of 3 weeks of voluntary work in some of the countries that need help most. This cannot be viewed in the same way as flying thousands of miles to spend a week at a luxury resort.
With little room to reduce the financial and environmental costs of the international travel we do, we've decided to focus on increasing the benefit of our travel costs. We do this by looking at how we can make the most of the presence of our teams in the host community and the interaction that can occur between them. In this way, we offset our carbon emissions with benefits on other international issues, such as gender equality, human rights, and global citizenship.