Salvation Army World Service Office: 36 Years of Improving Lives Around the Globe


A Salvation Army school in Africa. One of SAWSO’s goals for expansion is to support educational programs around the world.

Fueled by the support of donors and partners in mission, The Salvation Army World Service Office (SAWSO) finds lasting solutions to poverty around the world through community driven approaches that help people help themselves.

Working through The Salvation Army’s presence in 126 countries, SAWSO develops sustainable programs that improve lives in some of the world’s poorest communities. Fighting human trafficking, combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic, providing disaster relief, and economic empowerment are just a few of SAWSO’s areas of expertise.

Now in its 36th year and under the guidance of Executive Director, Lt. Colonel Joan Canning, the program recently launched a dynamic new strategic plan for its mission and methods. The following is an excerpt of an interview with Col. Canning that was featured in the January issue of War Cry, a publication of The Salvation Army. To learn more about SAWSO or to show your support, please visit

WC: Your guiding principals are collaboration, cooperation and communication. Can you cite a real world example of how that works?

JC: The Women’s Worth program in Zambia. The ability for SAWSO to work with that territory and to gain the kinds of relationships needed meant that we were able to prepare 25 women, all who now have their own small business, such as selling vegetables and knitting clothing. They are generating funds to support their own families while collaborating as a group to support some orphans in the community as well.

Lt. Col. Joan Canning, Executive Director of SAWSO


WC: What is your vision for SAWSO?
JC: We reach some of the poorest of the poor through The Salvation Army in 126 countries. We want to build the kind of relationships that will have long–term impact in the lives of those people.

WC: What outcomes do you value most, and how do you measure success?

JC: Transformative change in the lives of some of the poorest people in the world.

In terms of measuring success, we help territories set up short–term and long–term goals and outcomes and then throughout the life of a project we will monitor and evaluate the work. If a government grant is involved, there are lots of requirements and we ensure that the people meet those requirements and report on them.

WC: It must be rewarding to know you are reaching out to the neediest people around the world.

JC: We always have to remember that it is a response to God’s call. It’s nothing more than we’re expected to do, according to Scripture. Doing the most with what God has given you—that’s our aim. So ultimately, while it’s fulfilling, it’s God that deserves the praise.

WC: What is unique about The Salvation Army’s development work?

JC: The footprint of The Salvation Army is huge. The advantage, in Haiti for instance, is that we were there when the horrific earthquake hit three years ago, and we’ll be there after it’s over, we’re staying.

WC: Are you surprised at the level of acceptance the Army has around the world, or is that an issue in some places?

JC: In some places we serve, Christianity is not the religion of the majority, so it can be dangerous. I believe that the Army was raised up by God, and I think that as long as we’re faithful to that mission, then God will be faithful in opening doors for us. The gospel is the gospel wherever you are, in the sense that Jesus said whatever you do for one of the least of these you do for Me.

WC: Mother Teresa said she maintained her perspective by seeing Christ in each person she encountered. Does that resonate with you?

JC: Absolutely. It’s about remembering that every cup of water you give or training you offer on how to prevent or work with HIV/AIDS or every little child that’s given food is done in the name of Christ. One of the first times that I went to a really poor community in a country, I felt so terrible, because I felt why should I have all this privilege and here are these little children sitting in the mud, no running water, no houses, hardly enough food. How is that fair? But it compels you to do better. It compels you to give more. Being ever conscious, that in the words of the Salvation Army song, there are people hurting in the world out there. They need you. They need me. They need Christ. That’s collaboration.