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Christian Aid

Name Christian Aid    
Address 35 Lower Marsh London SE1 7RT, UK Year formed 1945/6

+44 (0)207 620 4444

Director Dr Daleep Mukarji
Fax +44 (0)207 620 0719 HQ staff approx. 300
Email Overseas staff approx. 16 expats/100 local
Internet Annual budget approx. 55 million UK pounds


Jeremy Shoham interviews Phil Crane and Sarah King

Sudanese cattle farmer

Phil Crane and Sarah King from Christian Aid (CA) were interviewed in their London Headquarters near Waterloo station1. Phil works in the Eastern and Central Africa team. His early work experience included a job as an accountant in the city, followed by two years with a Pakistani non-governmental organisation (NGO) where he kept the accounts and did some teaching. He then returned home to the UK, to the more tranquil setting of a church book (and coffee) shop, before joining CA in 1990 as an accountant. After covering for two maternity leaves he took up his present full-time post. Sarah, who works as an emergency capacity building officer in the emergency unit, joined CA towards the end of 2001. She has previously worked as a nutritionist for CARE and UNICEF in Kenya and brings nutritional expertise to the organisation.

CA was created at the end of World War II by UK and Irish churches, in response to the devastation in Europe and the urgent need for reconstruction. Phil remembers seeing an audit from 1946, which showed CA sending bicycles to Belgium and biscuits to Hungary. Later, the wave of decolonisation and independence in the 1960s led to a greater awareness about developing country problems, so that CA changed its focus to emerging states in the 'third world'. It now works in 56 countries around the world.

Phil explained that there are a number of key internal policies which underpin the way CA works. CA is not an operational agency - it works through partners. The belief behind this is that 'local people are closer to the poor and will therefore have a better sense of what the problems of poverty are and how best to solve them'. CA has recently established a network of field offices. This process began following the Rwandan crisis in 1994, when a number of partners were placed under tremendous pressure during the civil war and CA felt a need to be present to provide extra support and capacity. However, these relatively new field offices are not implementation offices but rather they are, support partners. They also make it easier to access decentralised funding sources, as well as monitor projects more closely. Phil maintained that the value of field offices was proven during 1998 in south Sudan. Here, the Nairobi office was able to support information flows and logistics, and ensure a more rapid response overall, than would otherwise have been possible. There are now 16 field offices with the greatest concentration in Africa.

Typically CA works with between 10 and 20 partners in a country, of which, on average, approximately half are church based agencies. Essentially CA is open to working with 'whoever is doing the best antipoverty work'. "It is important to build up long term relationships with partners" says Phil. Partners approach CA with a proposal which then undergoes a rigorous appraisal procedure, including examining the track record of the agency. Often CA's partner is the national Council of Churches' relief and development arm. In other instances, CA may work through individual churches at diocese level. Phil reflected on how CA still occasionally gets approached for support to buy hymn books or rebuild churches, but was quick to point out that this was not something CA does.

Much CA funding comes from the church sector, but also from the public at large. For example, the second week of May each year - 'Christian Aid Week' - is given over to fund-raising at a local level when volunteers are each 'allocated a street'. This event, which basically consists of distributing and then collecting red envelopes ("hopefully filled"), usually raises about 12 million UK pounds a year, which amounts to 20-25% of CA funds. The CA board has restricted governmental monies to 30% of the organisation's funding. The remainder comes from individuals, churches and non-church agencies. The fact that the majority of funding comes from a wide variety of sources provides consistency of income, and prevents CA from being over-dependent on annual grants from government donors.

According to Phil, "the CA partnership approach does not make fund raising easier with agencies like DfID and EU, compared to say Oxfam or SC UK, as CA is the middle man and essentially putting someone else's proposal forward". However, good project appraisal mechanisms and the recent introduction of field offices is helping the process of fund-raising from institutional donors.

Advocacy seems to be a growing component of CA activity. Perhaps 15-20% of income now goes towards advocacy. CA is especially involved in global advocacy messages, e.g. Jubilee 2000 advocacy work was about debt. "CA can mobilise churches to get people out onto the street, while working through partners gives CA a legitimate mandate to say things", according to Phil. The 'Trade for Life Campaign' is now the main advocacy issue for the next few years, e.g. World Trade Organisation legislation, import tariffs and quotas, and access to western markets.

Historically, CA have always resisted an emergency/development split in its work so that the 'desks' are organised along geographic lines. Phil, therefore, deals with relief, development and advocacy programmes within the east and central African region. There is, however, an Emergency Unit (created in 1995) which operates as a technical support mechanism for geographical teams and partners at the onset of emergencies. The unit currently employs seven full-time staff with experience in logistics, shelter, nutrition and disaster mitigation, as well as general project management. There are also two trained SPHERE trainers in the unit.

Like many other agencies, CAs involvement with emergencies really started with the Ethiopian famines in the 70s and 80s. Involvement in general ration programmes is common, although CA may take the view that it can be more effective in advocating for the international community to stump up the necessary food aid pledges. CA also supports partners in implementing supplementary feeding programmes and, on rare occasions, will support partner therapeutic feeding programmes. According to Sarah, another common type of programme has been 'seed protection rations' where the intention is to provide food as part of an agricultural support programme, to prevent households consuming valuable seeds before the next agricultural season. There have also been a number of general ration programmes where families, acting as hosts for internally displaced people (IDPs), have been targeted, e.g. in Kosovo/ Albania and more recently, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

CA generally plan for longer-term interventions once involved in an emergency. For example, they have been supporting four clinics for IDPs in shanty towns around Khartoum for a number of years, with partners working under the Sudan Council of Churches. In Wau in 1998, CA started working with IDPs through relief programmes, gradually moving into provision of permanent housing, agricultural and fishery support, building clinics and schools. Phil described this as "post relief rehabilitation". In Central America, meanwhile, CA supports organisations dealing with the psychological and pyscho-social effects of disaster - a crucial aspect of recovery that is all too often overlooked. Capacity building and disaster preparedness are other big components of their work. The Emergency Unit has developed a strategy for working with programme managers and partners to strengthen their disaster preparedness activities, encourage them to incorporate risk reduction measures into ongoing development work, and encourage adherence to international guidelines. CA is a signatory to the Red Cross/ NGO Code of Conduct and encourages adherence to SPHERE standards among all partners working in humanitarian response.

Phil highlighted two big challenges that CA faces. First, the temptation to take over and become operational - which is especially strong in emergencies, and where partners are weak. Second, CA has to be careful not to set up over-demanding programmes (over-scale) with partners that appear capable, only to find out later that they have taken on more than they can handle. Phil gave an example of a seed multiplication and ox plough training programme where this happened. The programme proved too large and complex for local partners to sustain. This problem is compounded by the fact that emergencies can generate a lot of money, which creates a momentum for spending.

Sarah identified co-ordination with other agencies as an issue, in that sometimes a local/ international NGO split occurs in the field, with the former feeling excluded from international co-ordination mechanisms. One of the roles of CA, especially in emergencies, is to help local agencies integrate into national co-ordination mechanisms. CA is a member of the Action by Churches Together (ACT) network, and all its activities are co-ordinated with other ACT members, as well as with the Disasters Emergency Committee, other agencies, governments and United Nations bodies, as appropriate.

Sarah also identified a difficulty CA sometimes faces when partner agencies may be located in remote areas of the country, making communication and support difficult. She cited the example of a partner agency working in Gaza province in Mozambique, which is 650 km from Maputo. However, "this can also be a strength as the local agency is working in an area where there are no international agencies".

I asked Phil what he thought were the main strengths of CA. His response was clear and to the point.

"CA works with the poor through local partners and therefore has the advantage of being a channel for the authentic voices of the poor. It is the poor themselves who have most knowledge about poverty and the best solutions. Being a channel for the voice of the poor also gives us a legitimate and perhaps unique mandate for advocacy".

Show footnotes

1The ENN would like to state that the views expressed in this article are those of the interviewees and do not necessarily represent those of Christian Aid.

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Reference this page

Jeremy Shoham interviews Phil Crane and Sarah King (). Christian Aid. Field Exchange 18, March 2003. p25.



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