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Action Contre la Faim

Name Action Contre la Faim    
Address rue Niepce, 75014 Paris, France Year formed 1979

+33 (1) 43 35 88 88

Director Jean Luc Bodin
Fax +33 (1) 43 35 88 55 Overseas staff 194 expat / over 4,000 local
Email HQ staff 63
Internet Annual Budget 263 Million FFrancs


Interview by Jeremy Shoham

ACF personnel discussing a crop production at harvest (West Africa)

During my efforts to fix up a meeting with ACF's D.G in Paris, I had been asked to be very clear about how much time I would need as he would be squeezing me in between urgent meetings. In a way I expected nothing less from the busy head of a large international NGO and was therefore pleasantly surprised when Jean Luc introduced me into his office in a relaxed manner and proceeded to give me a couple of hours of his afternoon to answer my questions before getting back to work at 5pm!

Jean Luc Bodin began his professional career working for MDM and IFRC in Karamoja between 1979-82. He subsequently went to work for AICF1 in Chad in 1982 and then moved into a field post with MSF France in Ethiopia. He returned to France in 1987 having spent 8 years in the field. AICF then proposed that he work as a volunteer in Paris. "At the time there were only 5 staff at HQ covering four country missions," Jean Luc remembered having to share one phone between 3 people.

AICF were founded by a group of French 'intellectuals', authors and other public figures in 1979 whose concept for the agency was a sort of 'Amnesty International' for combating hunger. The main aim of AICF was to sensitise the French public to the need to fight global hunger and starvation and to engender a belief that the problem could be tackled with their help and work. AICF committees were set up in many cities in France. Their role was to fund-raise and sensitise the local community. However, following the experience in Ethiopia in 1984 it became obvious that AICF lacked operational capacity for this type of emergency and needed to 'scale-up' in terms of resources and staff. During this period (1987-91) AICF expanded rapidly but also began to work more in the development sector, e.g. seed programmes in Kordofan, income generating projects in Pakistan and Madagascar and land transfer programmes in the Philippines.

Jean Luc was made director of operations in 1991 and soon after AICF's Board decided the organisation urgently needed to rationalise its work and specialise in one or two emergency sectors only. This was partly as AICF was spreading itself too thinly and also as there was no real coherence between the organisation's name and what it was doing. It was also hoped that this strategy would make it easier to raise funds. It was decided to focus on the emergency nutrition and water sectors.

Two technical specialists were taken on to help with this transformation and AICF began to develop expertise in selective feeding programme interventions. During this period (1992) links with INSERM (a government advisory centre) led to the formation of the International Consultative Scientific Committee whose role was to advise AICF on technical matters in the nutrition domain and also to initiate research through AICF emergency programme infrastructure. Field trials of F100 in AICF projects came about through this linkage. AICF also developed a water and sanitation expertise at about the same time. Subsequently, AICF have strengthened their institutional capacity to deal with medical aspects of therapeutic feeding programmes and more recently developed a food security capacity.

Since taking up the DG post three years ago Jean Luc has put a lot of effort into improving the marketing of ACF to the French public. The proportion of ACF funding that comes from the public purse is very low (just under 25%) - especially compared to larger NGOs like MSF or OXFAM. It was felt dependence on a few large donor organisations for funding could compromise autonomy. ACF hopes eventually to get to a position where 50% of revenue comes directly from the French public. Jean Luc's view is that "MSF's success in getting public donations is due to their greater involvement in advocacy work which in turn makes them more publicly visible."

When asked whether ACF had ever found themselves in a difficult political or ethical position, Jean Luc replied that this had indeed happened on a number of occasions. For example, ACF had pulled out of DPRK at the beginning of this year because their food aid appeared to be siphoned off by government and was not reaching the children it was intended for. Then there was the experience in South Sudan, where AICF had been concerned about the consistently high levels of wasting (13-18%) recorded in Labone camp and wanted to do a socio-economic survey to establish whether food aid was being diverted from intended beneficiaries. Not surprisingly, the authorities asked them to leave.

ACF - Nurse feeding a malnourished infant in a TFC in SierraLeone

Jean Luc gave an example of the type of conflict that can arise between humanitarian ideals and the need to satisfy potential funders but where ACF managed to hold fast. This occurred in Afghanistan where the UN/OCHA had developed a strategic framework for influencing Taliban policies - especially with regard to women. ACF's view was that this translated into sacrificing short-term humanitarian ideals for longer-term political ones and struck a deal with the Taliban in 1998 to open up selective feeding programmes in Kabul. They were only the second agency to sign an agreement with the Taliban. This did however, make it very difficult for ACF to get funds for the programme, strengthening Jean Luc's resolve to increase agency financial autonomy from major donors. In Jean Luc's words 'its OK for development programmes to be influenced by political or foreign policy purposes, but not humanitarian aid'.

Apart from ACF Paris, there is also an ACF in the UK and one in the US since 1985 (both called Action Against Hunger) and an ACF Spain (ACH) in Madrid. The four offices have a co-operation agreement but are all legally independent. However, only ACF in Paris is so far financially self-supporting although ACF - UK (AAH) expects to be this year.

There were three main reasons for setting up international offices:

  1. to improve capacity to lobby or influence other donor governments, e.g. the capacity for advocacy in Spain and the US are now considered to be good given strong linkages with the Spanish government and US senate;
  2. to improve access to human and technical resources and expertise that may exist in other countries;
  3. to increase access to financial resource in other donor countries.

At the end of our meeting Jean Luc re-iterated that his main wishes for the future were for greater independence financially and less political constraints in ACF's work.

I met Chris Daniel's (the recently appointed ACF Technical Co-ordinator) prior to leaving the organisation. We chatted a bit and Chris told me how recently revised EU funding arrangements (the EU provides about 50% of ACF's funding) were making some people in ACF cautious about ACF moving back into rehabilitation and development programmes even though this makes sense from a food security perspective. Apparently ECHO now generally provides funds for only the first 12 months of an emergency and then DG VIII takes over responsibility. However, DG VIII may well take a year and a half to consider a funding request, and funding is rarely allowed to be used for funds spent before a proposal is approved with the result that ACF needs to provide interim funding after 12 months for longer lasting emergencies and particularly for programmes that involve rehabilitation.

I left the ACF offices in Paris thinking about the balancing act key decision makers in humanitarian NGOs have to perform in order to survive while at the same time maintaining the political and professional integrity of their agency. Institutional flexibility and adaptation seem to be the name of the game.

Show footnotes

1AICF changed their name to ACF in 1996 as it was realised that AICF did not convey the organisation's intentions or purpose very readily to the French public and nor was it very consistent with the names of the other partners, Action Against Hunger in the US and UK and Accion Contra el Hambre in Spain. Thus the 'I' for international was dropped.

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Reference this page

Jeremy Shoham (). Action Contre la Faim. Field Exchange 10, July 2000. p15.



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