De-Seiple-ing World Vision

Straight talk from Bob Seiple on myopic Americans and the new realities facing international development.

After serving more than a decade at World Vision, Robert Seiple is stepping down this month as president of the largest privately funded Christian relief-and-development organization in the world. During his tenure, Seiple doubled the funding for relief work and moved wv's headquarters from California to Federal Way, Washington (south of Seattle). His most lasting contribution, however, may prove to be his pushing the organization beyond the first two steps of relief and development into effective engagement of the deep-seated nationalistic conflicts that have erupted around the globe in recent years. World Vision, which was founded in 1950 when Seiple was eight years old, today operates in 100 countries worldwide. Before coming to World Vision, Seiple served as a United States Marine captain during the Vietnam War and was president of Eastern College and Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

How has the landscape of relief and development changed since you came to World Vision in 1987?
I began during the last two years of the Cold War, which was followed by the chaotic, dysfunctional, transitional era we're still in. Without the balance caused by having two world superpowers, we've seen virulent identity wars break out that are difficult to stop and that continue to burn like fires in the back 40. Relief-and-development agencies need to bring a new emphasis to conflict analysis and reconciliation that relief agencies have never had.

For instance, you can go to the border of [the former] Zaire and Rwanda and feed refugees in the camp, but if you stay long enough, the refugees not only recover physically but begin to monetize the food they're getting so they can buy guns and go back over the border and continue the carnage. ...

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