Child Development and Community Development: Is One Better Than the Other?

What is Compassion International all about?

Well, first and foremost, we’re about Jesus. We are Christ centered. We “release children from poverty in Jesus’ name.” We work through the local church, and we work in response to the Great Commission.


We demonstrate what we’re about in how we behave — what we do and how we do it.

We’re child focused. We develop children. Each child we serve is ministered to personally, and each church partner we work with tailors its programs to meet the specific needs of the children in its community. We help children in poverty become responsible, fulfilled Christian adults. We give them an opportunity to succeed.

Sometimes meeting a child’s needs begins in the womb with a mother. And sometimes meeting a child’s needs means helping his or her whole community.

World Teacher's Day friend

As we do this, we refute the lie of poverty and are that much closer to eliminating extreme poverty altogether.

But how we go about fighting extreme poverty contrasts with how other organizations work toward the same goal. We fight poverty personally, while many organizations fight it communally.

I don’t mean that other organizations aren’t personally invested or committed to eliminating extreme poverty. I mean that a child-focused, child development approach to fighting poverty is distinctly different from a broader, community development approach.

Community Development child

I believe that community development is important work, and I suspect that everyone at Compassion would agree it’s important.

At Compassion, we don’t agree that community development is the best approach to eliminating extreme poverty because over the years we’ve learned that changed circumstances rarely change people’s lives and changed people inevitably change their circumstances.

So, which method do you think is more effective?

What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of each? Do the two methods complement one another or work against one another?

And if you had complete control over limited resources to use in the fight against poverty, how would you approach it? Would you focus on children, on communities or something else?

This was originally posted on June 15, 2010.

4 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Gail February 23, 2012

    Good to hear that economists agree with what sponsors have long known – child sponsorship really does work!

  2. Kees Boer February 23, 2012

    I remember teaching in one project in Bolivia and some people came in that were studying Compassion in a number of countries. They weren’t Christians and they didn’t see the result of Christ in the children’s lives. But they said that the reason that Compassion was effective was because the children get exposed to other ways of life. So it enlarges the children’s view of the world. For instance in the past they might only know of adults that are having low paying jobs and what poverty is like, but when they get involved into the Compassion program, they now get exposed to people that might be accountants, or other higher paying jobs. Thus they might come to the conclusion that they can do that too and set their aspirations higher. Now, they totally ignored the fact that the child might have gotten saved and passed from death to life in the process. It was interesting talking with them though. They kept to themselves. I.e. they didn’t seem to really get involved with the project. They did a study. Then I remember being with them in the bus back to Cochabamba.

  3. Lisa Miles February 23, 2012

    Oh wow, this is great. From the article:

    “Two researchers and I recently carried out a study (sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development) on the long-term impacts of Compassion International’s child sponsorship program. The study, gathering data from over 10,000 individuals in six countries, found substantial impact on adult life outcomes for children who were sponsored through Compassion’s program during the 1980s and ’90s. We statistically compared formerly sponsored children to older siblings who were too old for sponsorship when the program started in their village. In adulthood, formerly sponsored children were far more likely to complete secondary school and had a much higher chance of having a white-collar job. They married and had children later in life, were more likely to be church and community leaders, were less likely to live in a home with a dirt floor and more likely to live in a home with electricity.”

    LOVE the measureable outcomes. I can’t wait to read the full report once it’s been peer-reviewed.

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