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Name DanChurchAid Website
Address Noerregade 13, 1165 Copenhagen Director General Secretary Henrik Stubkjær
Phone +45 33 15 28 00 No. of HQ staff 140+

No of staff worldwide (25 countries):

600+ staff


The ENN were meant to interview Erik Johnson, humanitarian coordinator for DanChurchAid (DCA) for this issue's agency profile slot. However, a last minute trip to Gaza by Erik meant that the interview couldn't take place. Nevertheless, Erik dutifully responded to all of the questions we had sent him in advance of the interview by email. His responses were so comprehensive, informative and interesting that we decided to forget the interview and simply edit his replies into the article below.

Before joining DCA, Erik worked for 5 years in West Africa with IRC, Merlin, and Oxfam, and another 18 months in the Palestinian Territories with Oxfam. He joined DCA as Humanitarian Response Coordinator with a global responsibility for DCA's emergency response work. His current role is to supervise the small team of Humanitarian Advisors in headquarters (HQ), and ensure that their inputs on humanitarian responses are coordinated across the organisation, including staff in HQ, the field, and DCA partners. "In the humanitarian team we play a pretty diverse set of roles, but overall we're there to ensure the quality of DCA's emergency response work".

DCA was founded in 1922 by the Danish Churches in order to respond to the poor communities in Europe still suffering in the wake of the First World War. DCA has since evolved into a professional relief and development organisation with five programme types, one of which is humanitarian relief. "Though we're non-missionary and perhaps 95% of our staff are not Christian (we haven't counted!), our history, values, and a lot of our supporters in Denmark are rooted in the Danish Lutheran Church, and many of our implementing partners are church councils or related agencies". DCA funding primarily comes from three sources: Danida (the Danish foreign ministry), the European Union (Europeaid and ECHO), and private donors in Denmark.

Although not certain, Erik thinks that DCA has been involved in nutrition for many years, although he wouldn't hazard a guess at when and where it started. Like many smaller Northern European non-governmental organisations (NGOs), DCA has typically been involved in disaster responses where it had an existing presence and partnerships and where needs arose. "As DCA has a general focus on food security and more recently on food crisis response, it has naturally meant that we've supported nutrition interventions as well".

As a non-specialised agency that doesn't usually support any health activities outside of HIV/AIDS, DCA typically supports supplementary feeding programmes (SFPs), although Erik has also seen some therapeutic feeding centres and community therapeutic care programmes run by DCA partners.

According to Erik, DCA has evolved organically. "Often DCA's partners are the only ones present in their areas of operation, which tend to be the most marginalized and remote areas of any given disaster-affected population, whilst the larger agencies congregate around aid hubs and more heavily populated areas. You could therefore say that DCA have often gotten into nutrition work 'by default,' because there was simply no one else to do it".

"As DCA is usually a non-implementing agency that works primarily through Southern partners, including those of the Action by Churches Together (ACT) network, it's tough to generalise. Right now, DCA are supporting a partner in the Gaza strip, the Near East Council of Churches (NECC), who are a highly competent medical partner that has long been addressing child nutrition as a component of their Maternal and Child Health programme with micronutrient supplements and nutritional counselling. On an assessment in 2006, we identified that these strategies were no longer sufficient due to the simple lack of household food as a result of the economic blockade of Gaza, and together with NECC started a more comprehensive project to address child nutrition, including an SFP for under 5's."

Food aid distributed by DanChurch Aid partner in Burma

Erik explained that he didn't think DCA were implementing any nutrition interventions directly at the moment. "It's all through partners. It's a bit difficult to say, off the top of my head, where we're doing nutrition around the world; even though we're a relatively small agency, we still work in over 25 countries and even I don't always have an overview of everything that's going on! But I do know about the project in Gaza, as well as SFP programmes in Ethiopia, Myanmar, and Uganda, to name a few. We're also hoping to start school feeding programmes in a couple of the countries where we work in Southern Africa".

Erik also explained that because DCA emergency response is typically built on the back of their development programmes in Food Security, they are trying to develop DCA and partners' competencies in that grey zone between relief and development, where DCA believes its Southern partners excel most.

"Because our implementing partners are locally based, they tend to know the local contexts to a much better degree than larger, international NGOs whose engagements tend to be shorter term. This also brings the advantage of being able to identify and assist difficult-to-reach, 'gap' populations that are often overlooked by others. I'm particularly proud of DCA's role with these people, and knowing that DCA and its partners have really made a crucial difference in the lives of children which otherwise never would have received assistance".

Erik evaluated the intervention of DCA and its ACT partners' in response to the food crisis in Malawi in 2005. He found that DCA's partners were supporting both SFP and therapeutic feeding programmes that were entirely off the radar of the larger agencies, including the World Food Programme who was running an emergency operation (EMOP) at the time.

"For me, this represents the two sides of the story at once; whilst I was proud of the work that our partners were doing, I was disappointed that it wasn't better coordinated with the WFP and other INGOs' efforts. This, unfortunately, is sometimes the case, the national agencies we support inhabit one world, whilst the INGOs and the United Nations and Red Cross agencies inhabit another. As a result, our national partners don't get exposure to the technical expertise of the international organisations, and the international agencies don't get the essential knowledge that our partners possess, nor are their interventions typically as sustainable. This is where DCA can often play an important role, in bridging the gap between the two worlds."

DCA do not have any nutrition staff. Erik explained "this is another challenge for an agency the size of ours, with about 130 staff in HQ and over 600 hundred staff in the field. Our humanitarian department has 6 staff, but though we each have our areas of competence and experience, we're basically all generalists. We have to be, as we need to be able to assure the quality of interventions across all the sectors where our partners work. It's also for this reason that we tend to focus more on general ration distribution than more technically complicated nutrition work, though in many cases, if DCA's partners weren't there to intervene, no one else would. Whenever we get involved in these types of interventions, we always ensure that the required technical competence is present at the partner level, or else we build it into the budget or bring in a consultant. But I'll be honest - this is a challenge! It's one of the areas where an organization like ENN can help us ensure our partners' quality".

In response to a question about future plans and directions for DCA, Erik replied that "DCA is currently making investments to increase capacity and competence in food crisis response, and an increased focus on our SFPs is definitely part of this. In addition, we're also making efforts to ensure that humanitarian reform doesn't pass us by, and are therefore spending more effort to ensure that our partners' interventions are coordinated in the food and nutrition clusters, where they operate".

"We also hope to play a role in bridging that gap between the national and international organisations' responses in nutrition work. We believe that southern organisations will play an increasingly important role in humanitarian response in the coming years".

The ENN asked Erik to say something about the 'culture' of DCA and any ways in which it is unique. His response was this.

"When I worked at Oxfam GB I remember that many referred to it as, 'the thinking person's NGO'. Oxfam's got nothing on DCA! This was definitely a cultural difference for me - an American - to get used to at DCA; an acceptance of the Danish tendency to examine every aspect of a problem thoroughly, from a well-documented analytical framework, before acting. On the positive side, it means that it's an organisation of tremendous conviction, and with a very strong linkage between what it believes, says, and does. But sometimes for a former field guy like me, I just want to chuck all the policies and get on with the work! But in the end I think the two approaches - practical and theoretical - complement each other well at DCA. That and its commitment to working through and supporting national partners are part of what makes DCA unique".

Finally, the ENN tried to draw Erik out on his views about where emergency nutrition is going and recent developments. He had this to say.

"The fairly recent developments of ready to use therapeutic food and other locally produced nutritional supplements are a huge step forward. I remember using F75 and F100 in Sierra Leone in 2000 - this requires a lot of international procurement that will always be beyond the reach of a national organisation, and national organisations often make up a huge part of the response. I think the trend I'd like to see - other than the bridging of the national / international divide that I spoke of before - is towards more of these types of interventions; locally sustainable, with a focus on longer-term nutrition, instead of just shortterm crisis interventions. Here I personally think that school feeding can also play a really important role, and I think that WFP's new purchase for progress programme - which purchases from small local producers - is a step in the right direction, if we can make it work. But it's clear that we've entered the 'post food surplus' era, faster than anyone thought we would, and climate change and population growth mean that the days when American and Canadian grain producers had massive surpluses are long gone".

This was the first interview by questionnaire that ENN has done for the agency profile section of Field Exchange and, judging by the quality and honesty of the response, it won't be the last.

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Reference this page

DanChurchAid. Field Exchange 36, July 2009. p26.



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