#13 Staying Focused on Your Mission| Douglas Taylor Interview- World Vision

Douglas Taylor, Senior Area Director for World Vision USA, shares with Ryan his role at World Vision and his journey into the nonprofit field. Doug emphasizes on the importance of working with individual communities and considering cultural characteristics to make efficient and sustainable changes.

Listen to Doug to learn how World Vision has managed to expand and make a global impact, as well as their work in different countries and how they are adjusting after COVID.


00:47 — His background

02:44 — Academia’s impact in the nonprofit world

04:38 — His role in World Vision

05:47 — Focusing on the vision and mission 

08:22 — Working with specific communities

10:11 — Paying attention to cultural issues

11:49 — The importance of  having a spirit of learning 

14:45 — How World Vision grew 

16:00 — Telling a story in nonprofits & using data to do it

19:52 — Working with different governments

23:28 — Working in difficult countries

25:00 — Finding balance in nonprofit work and for-profit

28:37 — Fundraising during COVID

30:19 — Connect with World Vision


Show Notes:

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Full Transcript:

Douglas Taylor (00:00):

We have to be so careful that we're not robbing people of dignity or we're not creating another set of problems, or we're not causing cultural problems because we're taking a white American approach.

Ryan Dye (00:10):

From CoLab Inc, it's There to Here, a show about entrepreneurs, innovators, and mentors and the impact they seek to make on the world. I'm Ryan Dye, Executive Director of CoLab. And on today's show, we talk with Douglas Taylor, Senior Area Director for World Vision USA. As one of the largest humanitarian organizations in the world, Doug focuses on strategic leadership, the key role in helping World Vision maximize its mission, as it seeks to empower people out of extreme poverty. Doug, thanks for joining us today.

Douglas Taylor (00:39):

Hey, glad to be with you.

Ryan Dye (00:41):

Tell us a little bit about your background and how your career has developed over the years in the nonprofit sector?

Douglas Taylor (00:47):

Yeah, that's really an interesting question given that I always thought I was going to be an entrepreneur or a business person in the for-profit world. And it's so interesting that's flipped. So I'm delighted, partly through mentorship to see how God has developed what I've got to participate in. So I've had the chance through friendship to have a view into the nonprofit world, and that just kept going.

Douglas Taylor (01:15):

So when I graduated from college, I intended to work in industry and had the job offer at Microsoft and was ready to take off and a mentor and friend of mine, his name is Steve Hayner said, "Hey, maybe you should consider or think about what else you might be interested in, and what God might call you to do." A year later, he became the president of a group called InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and said, "Hey, will you come along and walk with me and be my personal assistant in this process because everybody thinks I'm an extrovert and you really are. And I'm an introvert, and I could use somebody to help me kind of play off that."

Douglas Taylor (01:54):

So I got this introduction to the nonprofit world and it was a great time to connect and see what kind of impact you could have in that kind of space. And here 30 something years later, I'm still at it in different and changing roles, but delighted to be able to see the impact that a group like World Vision has on global poverty, that we can stand with Jesus who takes so seriously this topic and walk with people in that space, so.

Ryan Dye (02:30):

Absolutely. Before you got connected with World Vision, you were doing development in academia. Do you see kind of some similarities in your role now with World Vision and how do you think that's kind of helped or shaped your experience working to help academia?

Douglas Taylor (02:44):

Academia is of course a much different enterprise, but the basic principles revolving around these jobs are really very similar. People are seeking to have impact and make investments just like they are on for-profit spaces or nonprofit spaces. And so we talk about vision and what we can accomplish and in the educational space, we did that. And there was just a different purpose in the educational space, where I most recently was we were seeking to graduate people who could be interpreters of the gospel to people around them.

Douglas Taylor (03:25):

It's an exciting venture to be involved in something like that. Rich Stearns says, "People think that poverty isn't rocket science, but it really is." An interesting part is that World Vision is tremendously rigorous in their academic and approach. So they're very smart about what they do. I find that it's more academically rigorous than education.

Ryan Dye (03:52):

Oh, interesting.

Douglas Taylor (03:53):

Which was a big surprise to me. Because we have to be so careful that we're not robbing people of dignity or we're not creating another set of problems, or we're not causing cultural problems because we're taking a white American approach, which we worked very hard on doing all those sorts of things.

Douglas Taylor (04:09):

It's really quite fun to see how education prepares us because we're wanting to learn, grow, continue to keep our minds open and evaluate things. And World Vision is certainly in those sorts of places too.

Ryan Dye (04:22):

For sure. The organization has what, 37 plus thousand employees in 90 countries and is roughly a billion dollar nonprofit annually. That's massive. As far as the hat that you wear for World Vision, what is kind of your role in helping with that strategy?

Douglas Taylor (04:38):

I really help people who are trying to make investments in the poor. So people who are looking for large scale investments and impact, so we're really thinking through how can we move the needle on some important thing? One of the things I've spent a fair bit of time on in the last year, especially is the Rwandan water crisis. 50% of the country doesn't have clean drinking water and that affects everything. Women spend 200 million hours per day, fetching water. That keeps them from being involved in business or school or anything else. It's humongous issue and World Vision has just said, "Hey, we're going to get water to a one-sixth of those people. We've committed to that." And what's interesting about that is we actually are tremendously efficient compared to other people who are doing similar sort of thing. We had research done by the University of North Carolina showing how our wells last past 20 years, most wells on average are failing very quickly in the four to five year range.

Douglas Taylor (05:47):

But what's interesting about that is that piece that I would think like you, would cause us to be lacking in efficiency is the exact opposite. And it's partly because we're so motivated by the mission and vision. We're motivated by the mission and vision to help the poor, to help children, that people then change how they're doing their work and are quickly... So in the COVID moment, everybody was told, and we didn't have to be told, we have to do our work in new ways to deal with this new realities and everywhere innovation is happening throughout the organization.

Douglas Taylor (06:27):

I've been in lots of organizations where, when it comes time to say, "Well, I think your position needs to be eliminated." People are defensive and hurt. And really what I've experienced at World Vision is, "Yes, by all means, if I'm not supposed to be here, let's get rid of this position and let's keep this money flowing to the kids appropriately." And that's heartwarming for people in my position who are talking with people who want to make large investments in the poor, because our interests are aligned well. And that's really pleasing and helpful in my mind to be able to say, "Our interests are aligned and we want this to be efficient, just like you do. And we're ruthless about that." Because when you go to the field and you see children who are in such desperate needs, and you think, "If this was my little daughter, I would hope somebody would take an interest in them. And they wouldn't be worried about their own skin so much as the children we serve." I think we all come away with being very moved by that and realized that we're fortunate people in this country.

Ryan Dye (07:35):

For sure.

Douglas Taylor (07:36):

Even for the poorest people in this country.

Ryan Dye (07:37):

Yeah. Right. That's for sure. One of the things I love about World Vision and the focus is we're going to look at a particular area and maybe a problem that is really prevalent here, and we're focusing on that there. So you can't necessarily try to be all things all the time to all people, but you can say, "This part of the, maybe in Honduras, we can help with micro business development for families and different communities." Or "In Thailand dealing with child protection and sex trafficking, that's a major issue." I think it's really cool when you can say, "Okay, maybe the small things we do here can make a big difference, but let's stay focused on what is most important for this community, perhaps."

Douglas Taylor (08:22):

So we work with an individual community. We don't go in and say, "Hey, we're here and we're going to do X and Y and Z in your community." We sit down, well, actually 99% of our staff are indigenous to the country they work in.

Ryan Dye (08:39):

Yeah. That's important.

Douglas Taylor (08:41):

Born in the US, I work in the US. The 800 staff who work in Ethiopia, 99% of them are-

Ryan Dye (08:48):

Are Ethiopians.

Douglas Taylor (08:49):

... from Ethiopia.

Ryan Dye (08:50):

So they go into communities and say, "Hey, these are the sorts of... What are the strengths and skills that you as a community have? What are your resources? What are the things that are important for you in your day-to-day life?" And they talk about all those sorts of things. And then there's a conversation about, "What are the things that you think would help you as a community go to the next level?" And then we say, "We actually have some skills in water. We have some skills in economic empowerment. We have skills in a variety of things and we could walk with you to decide what we might be able to do and partner to help you move to the next level of sustainability." And so yeah, each community then has its own focus about what's important for them, which is really, really remarkable.

Ryan Dye (09:39):

Yeah. I think that's an important point that over the last say, century you've had missionary expansion globally, well that's two centuries. And oftentimes it's been led with this idea of "Oh, we're going to go into this area and upend everything, and you all need to join us and do everything we do." That's very culturally insensitive. And actually counterproductive.

Douglas Taylor (10:04):

Exactly. Well, and people really...

Ryan Dye (10:06):

I can go back 500 years and that's been a problem. So yeah.

Douglas Taylor (10:11):

Yeah, exactly. Well, and even water, for instance, why we succeed, and the University of North Carolina said that our water stuff far outstrips everyone else, we're known globally as the leader related to water, because we pay attention to those cultural issues. I was a part of a group that's 10, 15 years ago, they said, "Oh, let's go do these wells." And somehow we've got a list. And we went out and drill these wells in these places, we didn't talk to anybody. We didn't do any stuff. Nobody knew what kind of well we had or how the pump worked. And when we left, they'd have no idea how to fix this thing. There's no ownership.

Ryan Dye (10:46):

Right. I've seen that too.

Douglas Taylor (10:46):

These guys came put in a well, and we can get water for now, but well, who knows?

Ryan Dye (10:52):

Right. Yeah. Now I went on a mission trip to Iquitos, Peru last year, and we're going to this little neighborhood... I know exactly what you're talking about, we go by a thing and like, "Oh, that looks interesting." I look over, it's a well, like some group came in and put in a well, I don't think the thing had been touched for 10, 12 years because over the things you just described. Like [inaudible 00:11:15] "Oh, thank you very much." Okay. Well, it's either broken. We have no idea how to use it or whatever the case may be. Well, this is a wasted effort. Come on people.

Douglas Taylor (11:22):

Well, what it has done is it's helped people feel better about themselves.

Ryan Dye (11:28):


Douglas Taylor (11:28):

One of those things is when you go to Africa, you stand out because you have this pale skin. And if we're not careful, we can be seen as the hero. But we're not to be the hero. Jesus Christ is the arch hero, we are just his hands and feet.

Ryan Dye (11:49):

We need to be the guide. Right.

Douglas Taylor (11:49):

So when we take people there, are we go on a spirit of learning. We're going to learn from these people. And what's amazing CEOs, executives, people who have had great life experience and are well thought of in our culture, come away with great learnings from people who are very poor and have seemingly nothing, because in Christ, we have a lot to learn. And even have a lot to learn from Muslim brothers, sisters that we are partnering with or Hindu or Sikhs or whoever else.

Ryan Dye (12:23):


Douglas Taylor (12:24):

It actually, it's really quite lovely when that happens.

Ryan Dye (12:28):

Right. Yeah. I think when we can focus on our shared humanity and the fact that all people want safety, security, food, water, and protect their family. Being able to have those things working that's a common need. And if we can help be a part of that solution, then I think that's a worthy endeavor for sure.

Douglas Taylor (12:52):

When we're doing child protection work in the North of Uganda, there's been these troubles in Sudan and South Sudan and civil war. Parents are being hacked to death with machetes. And until recently the largest refugee camp in the world is in Northern Uganda. We have children coming out of South Sudan by themselves at five years of age and maybe a nine year old girl will hold the hand of a five year old boy. But they get to this refugee camp and the truth is they're vulnerable. And there are always people to take advantage of children. So we set up child friendly spaces. So kids can come to these spaces and be safe and secure and get a meal and find safe connections for them for the next stage. Sometimes they find their family there, sometimes they never, their families all died. But you just think, "Is this the story of the good Samaritan that we can come alongside these kids who are tremendously vulnerable and be with them?" The benefit is huge and the imposition is small. And the impact is monumental.

Ryan Dye (14:06):

Part of what we do at CoLab is to help nonprofits in their development process, whether they're just starting out with some idea or project or whatnot, or if it's an organization that's maybe been around 10, 20 years doing humanitarian work or whatever, I look at World Vision I think my goodness you've got well, 70 years now of existence, which is incredible, but going from those early days to where the organization is now, again, being one of the largest humanitarian organizations in the world, how do you think you've gotten to this point as an organization? Just can a nonprofit grow that much or is that kind of an anomaly?

Douglas Taylor (14:45):

The interesting part is it's always, what is God's call for us? And what's God calling us to be at this time in place? So I think that's the interesting questions. Otherwise, we can get discouraged with our piece of the puzzle sometimes. But I do think we serve a big God with huge problems in the world. I believe God wants to do more than we think he can. And even with World Vision we're actually in the US a 1 billion a year organization. Globally, we're about 2.5 billion. We could be 40 times larger than we are, and still do great, amazing work in a highly efficient way. So we have to tell those vision stories, where should we be going with that and who should join us in that and be [inaudible 00:15:39] in our approach?

Douglas Taylor (15:40):

I think one of the interesting ways, and COVID is a scene point in my mind. I think there's these difficult points in our society and culture. And those are moments where all of a sudden, some big stuff happens. And I believe this is on one of those scene points, just like the late seventies [inaudible 00:15:58] politically and economically in the US and out of that came all these businesses that were really important.

Douglas Taylor (16:06):

There's another one. One of the things that Bob Paris did was he was a tentmaker as a journalist. So he took a movie camera to South Korea. And so the image and the message was particularly important from the beginning. And so that capability has remained strong with World Vision. For other organizations I have been a part of that has not been as strong. So it's harder to tell that story and share the vision. And in this moment, I think being able to tell the story and share that vision in new ways is going to be equally important.

Douglas Taylor (16:41):

I think the other piece that's going to be particularly important is how do we use big data to tell that story? We collect monumental amounts of data to be able to talk about what's important and what's not important, what's working, what's not working in our work. And donors, governments, World Vision, all needs that information to make decisions about how we fund, what we will fund, how we will do our work. And I think organizations haven't quite figured that out yet. World Vision needs to do more on that, but they're ahead of most everybody I know, but more needs to be done.

Douglas Taylor (17:25):

And then I think we also need to rely on Jesus more than we do. I think we rely on our ideas and for believers and not believers, those who aren't believers, I still would want to make the case that movements around Jesus have prompted really incredible things. When me think about the emancipation of slaves, the changing in the slave movement in Britain, even the tenements in New York City in the US early 1900s, these are Christian endeavors, and we're done coming alongside what Jesus was prompting people to do. So I think we need to be doing those things and leaning on Jesus and saying, "Hey, we can do more. We can do more than we ever thought we possibly could." And let's be bold about that. And let's put ourselves out and let's put ourselves at risk. Let's not live small, safe lives.

Ryan Dye (18:22):

I think that's a great point. Having throughout my education and later on, any opportunity I had to be a part of a mission related project or working with a nonprofit organization, it's really something that can be so powerful because it just changes your perspective. And when Jesus talks about, "The poor will always be with you." He's not saying, "So don't do anything about it."

Douglas Taylor (18:49):

Exactly. Exactly.

Ryan Dye (18:52):

I think that regardless of where a person might be in their particular industry or business life or family life, if you can just take a moment, whether it's sponsoring a child or being a part of a project or whatever, it may be, try to take advantage of those opportunities, because they are some of the most profound things you'll do in your life, to help you realize, like you say, even the poorest among us are wealthy compared to other parts of the world. And man, there's a lot of things that God can help us do. So I think that that's a powerful reminder.

Ryan Dye (19:26):

With World Vision and all the different areas you focus on, like you say, you collect all this data, have you had various world governments ever want to connect or reach out to World Vision to work with that information? Or is it kind of like, "Well, we're an NGO over here, we're doing our thing." And the government's like, "Well, it's just another organization that's doing something in our country. And we got other problems we want to worry about." Have you had any good positive relationships develop?

Douglas Taylor (19:52):

Oh yeah. The list is long and really exciting to realize the World Food Programme, which is the UN's feeding program, who's just said, "Hey, we're going to spend $250 million in Lebanon." World Vision is the preferred implementer of food distribution programs for the World Food programme. And it's because our data proves what we say. So we can give them all the data about what we do and what we're accomplishing.

Douglas Taylor (20:21):

And the reason we chose Rwanda to be the first country where we provided universal water coverage everywhere we worked, was we had a particularly tight relationship with the highest levels of the government. And they wanted to partner with us. This is their goal and it's our goal. Their goal is to provide clean drinking water everywhere by 2024, ours is 2022. So that gives us two years to make sure we don't miss the goal for them. So we're working with those sorts of governments.

Douglas Taylor (20:52):

And then we're working with the governments of Australia, England, Germany, the US, South Korea, which was one of our first program countries is now what we call a support office. And they're sending money around the globe. So countries around the globe are helping us fund projects and then coming alongside of us to work on funding in particular things.

Douglas Taylor (21:16):

One of the interesting things that World Vision has been able to do, governments have said, "You can't do anything in Syria with refugees." And private donors who stepped forward and said, "We think you can, you have the data to prove it." And then once we have private funding in place, governments who are justifiable scared of failing with public monies say, "Oh, we now see you're doing it. We'll come alongside that and join you." So it's a fun partnership that World Vision has had with a variety of foundations, private individuals, and governments, and using that data to prove that we are making an impact that allows them to feel secure in spending money in those ways.

Ryan Dye (22:01):

Has a World Vision been able to make some inroads in countries that can be pretty hard to work in. Like you mentioned Syria, or areas that's just been devastated by war for what seems like ever like in Iraq and Afghanistan, if you're working with some local people there that are trustworthy partners in the process, have you been able to see some success in inroads in some of those really difficult parts of the world?

Douglas Taylor (22:28):

Yes. I may not speak specific about a country.

Ryan Dye (22:33):


Douglas Taylor (22:33):

But World Vision has, and we're respected by the local leadership even though we may have different religious views.

Ryan Dye (22:42):


Douglas Taylor (22:43):

We're working in an area where there is tremendous tension between what's militant, armed insurgence and World Vision is working with refugees right next to them. And there's two organizations. One is a group that is known for fighting governments and overthrowing governments and killing and murdering many people of their own religious persuasion and other religious persuasions. And there are recruiting people globally to do that. And there'll be World Vision and that group in one village, I ask our person who leads that work and said, "How do you do that?" I feel my own skin about to slough off.

Douglas Taylor (23:28):

So I'm feeling really chicken at this point. And I'm saying, "Do try to go onto the radar screen?" And this guy says, "Doug, [inaudible 00:23:37]. They know who we are. We are who we are openly, but we're respectful of them." This person said there was a Saturday night where the group found a truckload of Bibles and a truckload of pork in the area. And some members of this group were wanting to find Christians to deal with. And the leader of the group said, "Don't touch Christians. They're helping our people." So we work in tremendously sensitive and difficult places. And our staff at times die because of it. But we're able to stand in those places and still provide assistance. God doesn't say that life's going to be easy or difficult, or we're not going to get harmed. It's that kind of boldness, which it really is, feels like privileged to represent World Vision.

Ryan Dye (24:35):

It's not that you have to try to figure out, "Where are we going to be in 25 years or 30 years?" But if they're just saying, "Well maybe we're just working with this particular community in say, Mexico." Or wherever, that's still important work, the system can be established well and run efficiently. Would you agree with that assessment for people who are trying to do something significant, even in a small way?

Douglas Taylor (24:58):

Yeah. I think particularly if you can do that in a way that you provide inexpensive leadership or whatever to that project. I've been walking with a group, that's doing some really stunning work in the DRC and initially they had this whole leadership structure and I said, "Guys, this is just way too expensive." You're going to be spending all your kind of money on offices and staff in the US and not accomplish what you needed to do in the DRC. So there is that balance. I think that people, they're aware of that. So they just need to be cognizant of that. And I think pay attention to what's already been done. One of the things that World Vision does as part of their whole research and data piece is they have ideas and programs and then they test them over and over and over again to make sure they're accomplish what they have said to accomplish.

Douglas Taylor (25:57):

I think that's important for people to do, to make sure that we're rigorous with each other selves to make sure that we're doing what we say we will do. And then I think also, everybody, when I graduated from college in 1987 was going in the for-profit world. So for me to go into the nonprofit world was kind of crazy. The pendulum has swung a bunch too. And I just want to again, say to people, because I have people who are donating large sums of money to nonprofits, and they're saying, "Maybe I should work for a nonprofit." And I say, "You know what, your giving is able to accomplish so much. So don't throw away the for-profit ideas if that's your bailiwick." And I might say, "Little simpler life, spend money, give more money away. 10% does not have to be a maximum [inaudible 00:00:26:52].

Ryan Dye (26:52):

Amazing. Well, I think that the point you made about a lot of nonprofits, maybe try to put all of these various parts together in the early stages. And I think it's all about balance. Yes, get a structure, make sure that you understand your message, make sure you understand what your mission is and what you're trying to achieve and you're developing an organization, but don't feel like out of the gate, you need to have 12 pieces in place before you even go out the door to do anything.

Douglas Taylor (27:21):

Precisely. You only legal counsel when you open up, right?

Ryan Dye (27:27):

Well, and I think to that end I believe World Vision spends roughly almost 90 cents of every dollar goes back out into the field, close to that anyway.

Douglas Taylor (27:38):

Close to that.

Ryan Dye (27:38):

And I think that's a great goal for any organization. Because obviously you have to have money to help run things, but if you're spending 50 plus percent just renting office space, I think you're going down the wrong path.

Douglas Taylor (27:53):

Exactly. And just like quarterly profits on a for-profit, our executive staff is focused on our fundraising percentages and how much money we get to the field. If that's out of balance, then all of a sudden we're going to get back to those vision, mission questions again and say, "What's our mission. Where should the money be going?" COVID, there's a blessing in all of it, it's a challenge, in some ways we're going to become more efficient because of it, because we have to be.

Ryan Dye (28:20):

We can't afford not to be.

Douglas Taylor (28:24):

Yeah, we can't afford not to be, that's one of those good sides of the COVID, that'd be hard for some staff because we're having to reduce expenses, as everybody should be, regardless of where you are.

Ryan Dye (28:37):

What's your experience been or what are you seeing in terms of the fundraising capacities because of COVID? We've been talking to other nonprofits about that, but certainly aren't on the same scale, but I don't know if you can speak to that just briefly.

Douglas Taylor (28:48):

World Vision donors are what you call in the industry sticky. And that's because people realize that they're connected to a child and they realize that even as people are losing their jobs, they're remaining World Vision donors because they know that these children that they are connected to, this is often the only lifeline they have. It's a sobering responsibility we have as World Vision employees. Overall, we are still down about 14% year to date, that's difficult. But we also have some places where people have said, "We need to stand with the poor, but we need to give early and more often." And that's been really heartwarming to see when individuals and organizations are taking that approach. We're struggling and yet we're optimistic about what God's doing.

Ryan Dye (29:44):

Well on that note, I really appreciate your time and your thoughts and just giving us a little glimpse of kind of the process and how things are shaping up at a World Vision and all the wonderful things that your organization is doing globally. It's a never ending job, but one that is incredibly rewarding. We appreciate your thoughts.

Douglas Taylor (30:02):

Ryan, thank you so much. Great to be with you as always and I appreciate what you guys are trying to do and how you're trying to help people dream big and manage well, the visions that have been placed on their hearts to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Ryan Dye (30:16):

How can listeners learn more about World Vision and how they can help?

Douglas Taylor (30:19):

Well, is a place to go. Dive in, there's lots to see and lots to explore.

Ryan Dye (30:26):

Thanks again, Doug. We appreciate it. And we look forward to just keeping track of what World Vision is up to and how we can be a part of that process.

Douglas Taylor (30:34):

Thanks so much and have a great day.

Ryan Dye (30:36):

Thanks for listening to, There to Here. We invite you to check us out on all the various social media platforms and visit our website to sign up for more information on our many upcoming events and various ways we help promote the spirit of entrepreneurship. If you have comments on today's episode or know someone who would be a great guest on our show, send your suggestions to We'd love to hear from you special. Thanks to our producer, Michael Webberley and all the CoLab staff until next time be well and God bless.