The Origins of International Child Sponsorship

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This article was originally published as:

Watson, B. (2015). The origins of international child sponsorship. Development in Practice, 25(6), 867-879. doi:10.1080/09614524.2015.1064362

ISSN: 0961-4524


160101 Anthropology of Development| 160499 Human Geography not elsewhere classified| 219999 History and Archaeology not elsewhere classified

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International Child Sponsorship typically, although not exclusively, involves the pairing of an individual, identifiable child or young adult in a developing country with an individual donor or sponsor in a relatively wealthy country. Regular payments by sponsors (often monthly) accompanied by the exchange of personal information in the form of letters, cards, school reports or updates, characterise a fundraising phenomenon which currently links sponsors to more than eight million children globally. Although Child Sponsorship underpins a multi-billion dollar flow of funds to developing countries, its origins have become obscured by the passing of time, to the point where many international non-governmental organisations utilising it as a fundraising mechanism are unaware of the aims and context of its early use. To complicate matters, the invention of Child Sponsorship has been incorrectly attributed to the founders of Save the Children in the USA, Plan International (Originally Foster Parent’s Plan for Children in Spain) and ChildFund (Founded as China Children’s Fund). Contrary to such claims, research conducted in the archives of the British Save the Children Fund suggests that the pairing of individual children with international donors was initiated by the UK based Save the Children Fund and the Society of Friends Relief Mission in post World War One Austria in 1919. Unlike the long-term support that would characterise later programs, early sponsorship funded the short-term assistance of children.


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