Lutheran World Relief (LWR) is an international non-governmental organization that focuses on sustainable development projects and disaster relief and recovery. The organization was founded in 1945 to collect and send aid to people living in post-World War II Europe.
According to its website, LWR "works to improve the lives of millions of smallholder farmers and people experiencing poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America, both in times of emergencies and for the long term. LWR builds and maximizes community assets to develop strong local economies and resilient communities, toward our ultimate vision of an end to poverty, injustice and human suffering" by focusing on three main areas of work:Agriculture
One of LWR’s flagship programs – started in 1945 and continuing today – is its Quilt and Kit Ministry. Each year Lutherans across the United States assemble and donate LWR Mission Quilts, as well as several kinds of kits to assist people living in poverty in times of emergency or great need.
LWR continues to receive high rankings from organizations such as the Charity Watch, which gave LWR an A rating from 2007 through 2015.
LWR is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global alliance of churches and related agencies working on development that are committed to working together.
Since 1999, LWR has been headquartered at The Lutheran Center, located in Baltimore, Maryland. Prior to 1999, LWR's headquarters were located in New York City.
The organization that would eventually become known as Lutheran World Relief began in the 1940s as Lutherans in the United States were working to help people living in post-World War II Europe. LWR as an organization was officially founded in 1945 when some of its early leaders put into place principles that remain with the organization today.
LWR transitioned from a focus on the needs of people living in Europe to forming methodologies of working in agriculture and with farming cooperatives to increase rural incomes and food security in the developing world.
After changing its articles of incorporation to reflect its work in international development (in addition to disaster relief), LWR began to develop some of the core practices of long-term, sustainable development projects that still guide the organization’s work today. In 1979, LWR opened its first regional office in Peru.
Famine in Africa started to make media headlines, especially the plight of people in Ethiopia. LWR reports shipping 5,000 tons of wheat to northern Ethiopia in mid-June. African regional offices open in West Africa. LWR is first religious development agency to receive the Presidential End Hunger award.
LWR joins Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Service in moving its headquarters from New York to Baltimore into the newly built Lutheran Center in Baltimore, Maryland, which was dedicated in October 1999.
The Indian Ocean Tsunami hit on December 26, 2004. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history, killing an estimated 230,000 people in 14 countries. Lutheran World Relief begins what became a 10-year response in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia.
On January 10, 2010, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake hit Haiti near the capital city of Port-au-Prince. The earthquake caused widespread devastation as well as a large-scale migration out of the city, putting stress on surrounding rural areas. LWR's initial response to this disaster was with partners World Neighbors (as well as the distribution of Quilts & Kits in partnership with IMA World Health). A Haiti country office was established to oversee a longer-term relief and recovery effort.
In the spring of 2015, two powerful earthquakes struck Nepal: a magnitude 7.8 quake hit on April 25 with the epicenter located approximately 50 miles northwest of the Nepali capital Kathmandu in Lamjung District, and a 7.3-magnitude quake struck just weeks later on May 12. LWR responded to immediate needs through the distribution of food rations and temporary shelter materials to more than 20,000 people. In the next two-year phase of its response, LWR will help farmers plant new crops and replenish livestock, help families to repair their homes, and assist communities to organize and plan for future emergencies.
In its founding structure, Lutheran World Relief was originally led by a secretary. In 1953, the organization changed its top leadership position to an executive director. In 1996 the organization transitioned to being led by a president and CEO, the structure that remains in place today.
The organization has four departments:The President’s Office oversees strategic leadership of the organization, manages relationships with church bodies and other major stakeholders and acts as a liaison between the organization and its board of directors.
International Programs Department
External Relations & Strategic Partnerships
Finance & Administration
LWR’s board of directors is made up of 13 members, including representatives from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, the two largest Lutheran church bodies in the U.S.
LWR’s projects are structured to address three core program areas:
LWR’s programs in agriculture focus on improving the livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers and their families by through sustainable agricultural practices that build food security and increase rural incomes. Some approaches LWR uses to carry out this work are:Through agriculture value chains: This refers to all the steps involved in producing an agricultural product, from planting to the final product. For example, the agriculture value chain of chocolate would begin with the planting of cacao, proceed through the processing of cacao into cocoa and end in a final product, such as a chocolate bar. When farmers are involved in many steps of the agriculture value chain, they have the ability to earn more income from their crops. LWR projects help farmers learn how to take part in various roles in the agriculture value chain.
Strengthening farmers’ organizations: LWR works with farmer and producer organizations to increase their capacity to deliver services to their farmer-members, such as training, the communal use of equipment, and relationships with credit institutions to help farmers secure seeds, fertilizer and other tools necessary to plant crops. LWR projects help farmers’ and producers’ organizations improve their governance, build relationships with credit institutions, and implement support for their farmer-members.
Climate-Smart Agriculture: LWR works with farmers to cope with and overcome the effects of changing climate conditions through focuses such as conservation agriculture, sustainable land management and the improvement of water access, management and protection.
LWR's programs in climate change focus on helping rural communities adapt to changing climates by:promoting Climate Smart Agriculture practices (described above)
working with communities to develop disaster preparedness and disaster risk management plans
promoting sustainable and renewable energy sources in rural communities; and
protecting communities' natural assets – such as water and soil – from degradation through reforestation.
LWR's emergency operations focus on helping rural communities prepare for disasters before they happen and cope with and recover from emergencies in ways that promote lasting improvements in living conditions by:expediting aid on the ground through the use of cash transfer programs
meeting short-term material needs with non-food items, such as blankets and cooking utensils
supporting local partners to conduct programs that meet international quality and accountability standards;
transitioning work to support early recovery and helping communities recover their livelihoods in ways intended to better prepare them to cope with future disasters; and
working with communities to become better prepared and equipped to withstand and recover from emergencies.
LWR works in 36 countries with 16 field offices in three regions: Asia and the Middle East; Africa; and Latin America.India
Every year Lutherans across the U.S. sew quilts and assemble kits of supplies that LWR sends to partners around the world that request them to meet the needs of people affected by poverty and disaster.
Mission Quilts were one of the earliest forms of aid that Lutherans sent through LWR to reach out to people in other parts of the world. In 2013, LWR sent $14.3 million worth of Quilts & Kits to more than 841,000 people in 21 different countries.
There are four kinds of LWR Kits. LWR Personal Care Kits contain items like toothbrushes, wash cloths and soap, intended to help a person or family maintain hygiene practices. LWR School Kits contain notebooks, pencils, erasers, a backpack and other items to use for students to attend school. LWR Baby Care Kits contain T-shirts, cloth diapers and other items to care for a baby. LWR Fabric Kits contain fabric, thread and needles so that people can learn to sew, potentially to earn an income.
In 2013, LWR joined the United Nations Humanitarian Resource Depot, which allowed it to pre-position Quilts and Kits in depots across the world for rapid deployment after an emergency.
LWR has promoted Fair Trade since the Fair Trade Coffee Project began in 1998 in partnership with Equal Exchange. In 2004, The LWR Chocolate Project began in partnership with Divine Chocolate, the world's first farmer-owned chocolate company. In 2007, LWR became a shareholder in Divine USA, the American arm of Divine Chocolate, makers of the chocolate sold through the LWR Chocolate Project. LWR retained a seat on the Divine Chocolate board of directors until 2014. In 2014, LWR Fair Trade Coffee and Fair Trade Chocolate were consolidated into a single program called LWR Fair Trade, carried out in partnership with Equal Exchange.
In 2005, LWR began to partner with the University of Minnesota Center for Integrated Natural Resources and Agricultural Management to offer Eco-Palms to congregations throughout the United States. Eco-Palms is a program that engages palm harvesters in Mexico and Guatemala and provides training on sustainable palm harvesting and trains members of harvesting communities to sort and package palms in order to retain more of the income from the palm industry. Through Eco-Palms, congregations order palms through Lutheran World Relief for their Palm Sunday celebrations.