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Concern Worldwide

Name Concern Worldwide
Website www.concern.net
Headquarters Dublin, Ireland Type of Work Emergency relief, Health, Community development, Agriculture and Natural resources, Primary education
Telephone (353) 1 4754162 No. of Headquarters staff 56
Fax (353) 1 4780827 No. of Overseas staff 115
Email Concern@iol.ie No of Local staff 3295
Formed 1968 Budget $49 Million (1995)
Chief Executive Father Aengus Finucane Public Donations $10 Million (1995)

 

What they say about themselves: "Concern Worldwide is a voluntary agency devoted to relief assistance and advancement ofpeople in greatest need in less developed areas of the world'
What others say: "If officials who supervised the relief effort were to make recommendations of whom to contribute to ... the top of the list would include Concern Worldwide" The New York Times
CVs to: Mary Considine, Overseas Personnel Officer, Concern Worldwide, 1 Upper Camden Street, Dublin 2, Ireland.

Interview with Fr Aengus Finucane
by Killian Forde

"Concern is an organisation born of famine, in response to famine" Fr Aengus Finucane - Dublin April 1997.

In 1968 the Biafran conflict and subsequent famine appeared in our living rooms. Television reports portrayed the horror of starvation to millions around the world. Ireland with its massive network of missionaries throughout Africa and still feeling the lingering scars of the devastating potato famine of the 1 840s reacted; a group called Africa Concern was formed. Africa Concern raised money and recruited personnel - directing resources through the missionaries already working there. Fr Aengus Finucane was one of these missionaries and since 1981 has been the Chief Executive of Concern Worldwide.

In 1972 Africa Concern began to work in Bangladesh and became simply, Concern, more recently adding 'Worldwide' to reflect the organisation's increased global presence.

Concern Worldwide's head office is situated on the corner of a regenerated and newly fashionable Dublin street, squeezed between rock music venues, 24-hour shops and basement massage parlours. Finucane a no-nonsense, practical, pragmatic and charming clergyman greets me in the lobby. As we go upstairs to his office, he gesticulates pointing out the open plan offices and the staff in them. This is a man who, on first impressions, appears full of contradictions, although it becomes clear by the end of the meeting that this apparent flaw is one his biggest attributes. The one absolute that Finucane will tolerate is that there are no absolutes.

A lesson learnt by Concern in its early days was that 'You can only rely to a point on your naked eye, as people who are chronically malnourished don't necessarily display any extreme signs that they are really at the edge". Finucane cites an example of how, whilst in Bangladesh in the early 1970s, Concern initially disputed a nutritional survey whose results
indicated that a massive feeding program was needed. He says of the subsequent survey which confirmed the first findings that "We all had to chew humble pie and say we were wrong'. The biggest problem now, Finucane feels, is that whilst there is a lot more food within the countries in which Concern Worldwide works, the poor are much harder to access. The programs require more administrative and logistical back up to secure consent, co-operation as well as acceptable conditions in terms of security for field staff.

Finucane sees Concern Worldwide's achievements due in large measure to the quality of its personnel over the years, a list of whom would read like a 'Who's Who...' of the development/aid business.

The agencies criteria for sending people overseas has changed over the years. The change has come about as more and more countries develop their own educational systems and have locally qualified personnel to do the work previously done by overseas staff. Because of this, there is now a very strong emphasis on overseas staff having an "applicable, relevant, professional qualification".

Finucane feels strongly that a Concern Worldwide employee must be a "people person" in so much as they can understand, if not empathise with, the beneficiaries of Concerns work. They must respect the feelings, knowledge and environment of the poor. Finucane likens the use of a Concern volunteer overseas on a two year development project contract to a "sprinter joining a marathon" whose freshness, enthusiasm and pace are utilised to the project's benefit. He points out the limitations that exist with some volunteers Who work in communities alien to them and he quotes anthropologist Margaret Mead saying "A person cannot prescribe for society in developing countries until they study their own society".

Finucane also cautions against the increasing trend towards relying solely on indigenous agencies to implement programmes. He predicts possible funding complications if overseas agencies increasingly withdraw from developing countries. The main reason for this is that local NGOs would be less able to lobby their governments or donor governments for resources, particularly in climates of declining government aid, without international NGO backing and support. Also, local NGOs may be constrained in effectively criticising or challenging the status quo for fear of funding repercussions. "With Concern Worldwide there if governments withdraw funding we can cause a rumpus"

Fr Finucane would like to see Concern Worldwide become increasingly professional and expert in the future, but believes it vital that the organisation rules with its heart, and uses its head. In this regard development specialists must become more realistic. He refers to the concept of peoples becoming 'independently economically viable' as "marvellous", but goes on to question, "if in Ireland, as in developing countries, there was no social welfare how long would it be before we were picking the poor off the street". He stresses that development agencies must not apply "unreal approaches to real situations".

Fr Aengus Finucane will retire later this year. Next year Concern marks thirty years in the field. The incumbent Chief Executive is 46 year old David Begg who is a very experienced Irish Trade Unionist. He will replace Fr Finucane in July this year.

The future

Field exchange aLso spoke to Howard Dalzell Concern's Overseas Director. We asked him to say a few words about current strategic planning and agency direction. His comments are summarised below:

Concern fully intends to continue a dual strategy of working in the development and emergency sectors. On the development side Concern are particularly eager to increase their organisational competency in the area of food security. On the emergency side Concern are currently focussing efforts on ways to enhance their capacity to respond rapidly to crises. Three related initiatives will help to underpin this capacity; the formation of an emergency personnel register with planning for rapid deployment units, continuation of Concern's emergency 'pre-stocks' which are currently located in Rotterdam, and appropriate training for Concern staff. Howard also indicated that Concern were keen to become more involved in emergency general ration distributions at camp level and that this would help ensure that Concern supplementary or therapeutic feeding programmes are implemented in a context of adequate food security.

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Reference this page

Killian Forde (1997). Concern Worldwide. Field Exchange 1, May 1997. p4. www.ennonline.net/fex/1/agencyprofile