Humanitarian aid: French NGOs focus on local development

Published on 06/12/2023 | La rédaction

While the image of French humanitarian NGOs is dominated by that of the "French doctors", many other structures have developed cross-functional actions, combining access to water, food and healthcare, for example, with environmental regeneration. A French specificity that is sorely needed in beneficiary countries.

French humanitarian action has its world-renowned stars, such as Médecins sans frontières, Médecins du monde, the Ligue des droits de l'Homme and Handicap International. But it also boasts a constellation of smaller organizations that are less well known to the general public, but which nevertheless make the "French touch" stand out in the highly standardized world of humanitarian NGOs. Whether their approach is social, food or environmental, they make the development of their local partners a permanent objective.

Multidisciplinary humanitarian action

While the image of Bernard Kouchner in 1992 - then Minister of Health - carrying a sack of rice to Somalia has gone viral, the work of humanitarian NGOs is not limited to emergency food aid. NGOs are now investing in cross-functional programs, combining food aid, education and access to water. This is the case, for example, of the NGO Life, which has set up projects in over 25 countries since it was founded in 2009. "Our action is based on four pillars: access to drinking water, food security, education and the environment. Unlike in the past, today's projects generally embrace several of these four areas of intervention, with a focus on integrated projects and synergy between specialties: behind a project based on access to drinking water, such as the construction of a well, we are going to develop, for example, a vegetable garden project for a school canteen, with annual food support for as long as the vegetable garden yields enough. This canteen will itself be backed up by an educational structure for children in remote areas. The autonomy of the people and communities concerned remains the ultimate goal and guiding principle of all our projects," explains Fanny Fernandes, Executive Director of the NGO LIFE.

This "autonomy" also means not taking the place of local authorities and structures, and passing on know-how. Like LIFE, the NGO Aide Médicale et Développement (AMD) addresses the needs of its beneficiary populations in a variety of ways. Our fields of activity are numerous, starting with maternal health," explains Dr. Bertrand Devimeux[1], the NGO's president. In certain countries, such as Senegal, Mali and Guinea, we are also active in child malnutrition. In Asia, it's child disability; in Madagascar, it's a lot about hygiene, i.e. sanitation and the supply of clean water, and we also have actions to strengthen health structures. We're also building health posts, disability consultation centers and production units for enriched flour for babies" - a way of covering all needs, but also handing over to local partners.

Direct support for local partners

Many French NGOs work very closely with local partners. Did you know, for example, that SAMU Social - which Parisians know well - also operates abroad via SAMU Social International? Last June, for example, the emblematic head of this NGO, Xavier Emmanuelli, visited Gabon, where SAMU Social International launched a local branch six years ago, headed by Dr. Wenceslas Yaba. Since then, this structure has been providing free medical examinations and care for the most disadvantaged populations, as well as distributing clothing, hygiene products and everyday items. It's a real qualitative and quantitative leap forward in the SAMU Social's aims, and I'm amazed by it," said Xavier Emmanuelli[2] during his visit. I have no doubts about the capabilities of this structure. Dr. Yaba has done a remarkable job. "Six years after its launch, the Gabonese center of SAMU Social International now has a hospital offering 10 medical specialties. What's more, the NGO's teams are on the move in over a hundred surrounding villages.

This direct support for local players is essential. The vocation of French NGOs is not to do everything, but to support the implementation of local actions. In addition to healthcare and social action, several NGOs are also developing partnerships in the agricultural sector, as providing local communities with a sustainable livelihood is crucial in the long term. AFDI Bourgogne-Franche-Comté (BFC) supports five farmers' organizations in Africa, four in Madagascar and one in Cameroon," explains Sophie Fonquernie[3], President of AFDI (Agriculteurs français et développement international). The Doubs department is involved in a partnership with the Confédération nationale des producteurs de cacao du Cameroun (Conaprocam), a national umbrella organization for 14 cocoa-producing cooperatives in Cameroon."AFDI already provides support and partnerships in Cameroon, but also in Benin, Togo, Burkina-Faso, Mali, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Haiti and Madagascar.

Although some of these countries have experienced coups d'état, leading to the departure of European NGOs, some of them have nonetheless been able to continue their work. This is also the case for the NGO Life, whose financial independence and cultural identity enable it to bypass the bans. "We work mainly in French-speaking West Africa: in Senegal, where our African branch is located, but also in Benin, Togo, Niger, Mali, Côte d'Ivoire, Somalia, Kenya and Djibouti, as well as a few projects in Madagascar, Lebanon and the Maghreb," emphasizes Fanny Fernandes. In African countries, we are relatively unaffected by political or security upheavals, since we usually work with local players who are not affected by international disputes."This is not the case for most NGOs funded by the European Union or the French government, for example. Geopolitical bickering obliges.

Partnerships and funding: a constant search

Generally speaking, French NGOs are looking to the future, in search of new projects and the means to fund them. Sophie Fonquernie of AFDI-BFC continues: "Since 2022, we have been working on a project to export cocoa to Europe, in order to ensure better control of marketing in France.The aim is to ensure better control over marketing, by cutting out certain intermediaries, and to provide better income for producers, while helping to capitalize on the organizations. Also, Doubs, which had a second partnership with the Fédération des éleveurs de Kolda in Senegal that ended in 2021, is about to launch a new dynamic in Togo with a new farmers' organization that has yet to be identified."To this end, AFDI dispatched an exploratory mission in October 2023 to select the future Togolese partner for this project. A first for AFDI's BFC branch in this country.

As well as regularly seeking new partnerships, all these NGOs are also looking for new donors to finance their development programs. But as they know, the economic climate is not favorable. According to the France Générosité barometer[4], donations to associations and NGOs slowed considerably in 2022 compared with the previous year. In view of the crisis and inflation in 2023, the main parties concerned fear that the trend will not be reversed. Bad news for them, but especially for their beneficiaries around the world.






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