Our approach

Unbound sponsorship is about individuals and families helping each other. It is a connection between someone who wants to give help and someone who needs it. Unbound sponsorship lifts people up — both the sponsor and the sponsored — in ways that are large and small.

We're on the leading edge of fighting world poverty. Poverty isn't just about lack of money — it’s about lack of choices. We’ve found that families make good choices when they have support and encouragement. They invest in the education of their children. They develop livelihoods and become active community participants in the spirit of true sustainability. We work with families at the grassroots level with local staff. Our social workers visit the homes of the families and listen to their needs. They work with children to set education goals. They visit the elderly. They bring families together in small groups to support one another and improve their community. You partner with us in this effort. Your sponsorship provides direct, personal support for your friend and family. It encourages them. It gives them choices. It allows them to develop their talent and fulfill their potential.

At the heart of our program are two concepts:

  • Families make the best decisions about how to overcome the challenges they face.
  • Small groups of people working together build lasting support structures for a community.


We believe families should have a primary voice in making decisions that will impact their lives. Our experience shows that families know what they need to overcome the challenges they face. This is why families are the primary decision makers in the Unbound program. Each family is unique, with unique needs. Your sponsorship allows your friend's family to set personal goals. They're able to select benefits designed to help them achieve their goals.


Taking on poverty alone is daunting. That's why Unbound's small group model is a cornerstone of our program. We believe in the power of small groups of people united in a common purpose.

  • We bring families together in groups of 15-20 to create a support network. The families encourage each other and are accountable to one another.
  • In many countries where we work, mothers are often the primary caretakers for their children. Many struggle in isolation to provide for their families. Groups offer these mothers stability within a caring environment. Ultimately, mothers become agents of positive change in their communities.


Unbound sponsorship makes a difference. But it’s not a quick fix. It means an ongoing commitment on your part and on the part of the person you sponsor. Over time, we can change the world. Here are the results to prove it.

Why we believe in it

Many organizations espouse a grassroots approach intended to put people, rather than bureaucracies, at the center of development. In this model, someone representing the nonprofit agency engages a group of community members to identify the key problems in their community. The community members articulate their primary needs (or strengths), and their representative works with them to devise a program intended to respond to the needs that have been expressed (or leverage the strengths).

Grassroots approaches point us in the right direction, but they don't go far enough. Even grassroots development is based on the assumption that the pressing needs and interests are the same, or at least very similar, for everyone in the community. In this sense, the grassroots approach is not so different from one-size-fits-all approaches; the scale is just smaller. Both depend on a "basic common denominator" view that dilutes the potential impact on the individual in order to serve the most common needs of the group.

A radically personalized approach

Unbound believes in a focus on individual needs and strengths and seeks a radically personalized approach to development. This requires a strong belief in the agency and ability of individuals and families to direct their paths out of poverty, but it also demands a commitment to dependable, direct support over a long period of time. Lasting change takes time.

Unbound sponsorship offers the simple security that consistent financial resources and a supportive community will walk with an individual and family for 10, 15 or even more years. Receiving a small amount of financial support on a regular basis allows families a little more room to breathe and a little more space to maneuver around the daily obstacles that surround them.

Families can look beyond tomorrow

The recurring nature of sponsorship funding gradually lengthens a family’s decision-making horizon as they look beyond tomorrow and begin to allow themselves to set goals for next month and next year. Sponsored members can begin to take the risk to dream, pursue a degree, start a small business and enact change in their communities precisely because they know they have the added security that monthly sponsorship benefits provide.

We aim to have the best possible programs for the families we serve. To do this we place a high value on innovation and learning for continuous program improvement. We employ a three-tier approach to measuring program effectiveness and outcomes for sponsored persons and their families. This framework reflects Unbound's commitment to personal relationships and outreach, while recognizing the value of evaluation for program development and the power of experience in a global organization. Learn more about our approach to monitoring and our results.

Characteristics of change

To provide a framework for individual development, we have identified nine characteristics that guide our programs in creating an environment for families to build lasting change in the communities we serve.

Economic self-sufficiency – Sponsored members and their families meet their basic needs through a combination of their own income-generating activities, access to capital and sponsorship benefits. Over time, families rely less on benefits and more on their own income-generating activities.

Mutual accountability and support – Families of sponsored members form a support network in which they encourage and are accountable to one other.

Capacity building – A primary focus of the program is creating opportunities for families to develop their own capacity for personal and economic growth rather than a focus on the distribution of material goods.

Decentralized decision-making – Sponsored families have the primary voice in selection of personalized benefits and services as well as other key decisions within a solid framework of staff support and internal controls.

Empowerment – Program initiatives establish spaces where marginalized groups are empowered to create equality, justice and unity in their communities. Existing power imbalances are addressed with an enduring commitment to creative non-violence, dignity and long-term change.

Goal orientation – Sponsored members and their families have clear personal goals and realistic plans to achieve those goals.

Culture of learning – Sponsored families, in conjunction with staff, balance reflection and action, define and measure outcomes, and utilize results for continuous program improvements and adaptation to changes in the world around them.

Mothers group in Nicaragua

Unbound supports over 10,500 mothers groups around the world, helping revitalize families and communities through the power of women.

Worldview – Sponsored families are agents of positive change in their local communities. Sponsored families see themselves as part of a worldwide movement with responsibilities and opportunities to share their lives with their sponsors. Sponsored families know there are others who are walking the journey with them.

Sustainability – Sponsored families are the primary agents in their own development, taking initiative and assuming responsibility for the sponsorship program and eventually self-managing many aspects of the program with staff serving as support resources. The community is eventually able to develop key programs independent of Unbound staff.

Want to witness the Characteristics of Change in action? Travel with us on an Awareness Trip to see our work firsthand!


Further Reading about Tackling Global Poverty