Tribune: war and philanthropy by Francis Charhon

War and philanthropy. Two words so opposed in our minds, and yet…

Destruction in the Kiev district, Photo by Aris Messinis / AFP

It’s a huge shock for adults and older generations alike to relive the dark days of Europe, which seemed to have been consigned to the past and which our young people now only know from books or films. A solitary dictator decides to invade his neighbour in order to wipe out everything that has made it a country, with its history and culture, and to annihilate it with bombs and a wide variety of shells, some of which, it seems, contain cluster bombs. This barbaric method is nothing new to those, like NGOs or journalists, who have had to work in the field in other parts of the world. Humanitarian law is flouted with a cynicism that includes the creation of false humanitarian corridors that will be bombed or mined. In Chechnya and Syria, entire towns were razed to the ground by the Russian army, civilians were targeted, and health centres and schools were bombed. This inhumanity shocks the whole world. But how can we oppose such an insane project without going to war and triggering a major conflict? Nobody wants that. Of course, the Ukrainian army is trying to resist a steamroller that is inexorably advancing, crushing everything in its path. We can hope, unfortunately without much hope, that the sanctions will make President Putin think twice and that the cost of this war will become too heavy.

Honouring and supporting the Ukrainian resistance will not prevent the abominable suffering of a people, the thousands of dead and wounded, the exile of tens of millions of men and especially women with their children, and ultimately the occupation of this country, which will be razed to the ground. Border regions such as Crimea, Ossetia and Donbass have already been occupied; will the dream of the great Russia of the USSR era lead to further interventions in Moldova and Georgia? Who will oppose them?

In the meantime, we have to deal with the effects of war, and philanthropy has its part to play.

Let’s not forget that philanthropy is an ecosystem made up of players (associations and foundations), volunteers and donors; they are all on the move. The worldwide reaction has been as shocked as the violence of the images and testimonies. Huge collections are pouring in from individuals and companies, and volunteers are rushing to help, to relieve the Ukrainian population directly in their own countries or in neighbouring countries. While Poland and Hungary may be able to cope for the time being, Moldova and Slovenia are small countries at risk of being destabilised by the influx of refugees. They need major and urgent support from the international community. All the humanitarian organisations are mobilised and ready to respond to the needs of the injured and the refugees, to provide medical care, food aid and shelter, and to support the local associations that were the first to respond. Some NGOs were already on site, while others are opening missions in Ukraine and neighbouring countries. Foundations have also mobilised to provide support, not only in France, but also at European level, thanks to coordination in Brussels by their “Philae” representation. The International Red Cross, the High Commission for Refugees (HCR) and other UN agencies are also on the move.

At the same time, NGOs such as Amnesty International are documenting war crimes through testimonies, photos and videos, so that one day those responsible for all these atrocities can be brought before the International Criminal Court.

In France, operations are carried out in coordination with the crisis and support centre of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which also provides financial support. This relationship is a model of the relationship between the State, associations and foundations, and could serve as an example for the implementation of an ambitious strategy for the relationship between the State and civil society.

All these response capabilities have been able to develop in part thanks to the generosity of the public. These private funds have given these NGOs the capacity to develop. They have acquired increasingly professional methods of intervention through years of work in a wide variety of fields (war, natural disasters, epidemics, famine, etc.). Among the progress that has been made is the internationalisation of French NGOs: they have opened branches in many countries, thereby increasing their capacity for intervention and the inclusion of staff from the countries in which they operate. Other efforts have focused on coordination between NGOs at national level under the aegis of Coordination SUD, but also at international level through the VOICE network, a forum for exchanging and sharing practices to deal with crises on a sufficiently large scale. A European humanitarian forum will be held in March, organised by the European Commission, a major funder of humanitarian action through its Echo division. The aim of the forum is to take stock of international humanitarian action and facilitate its implementation. Ironically, a debate on humanitarian law, which is problematic in many parts of the world, was scheduled well before the Russian intervention.

The immense work carried out by French NGOs is just one aspect of the work of associations and foundations. They are now visible and recognised as a matter of course on the international scene.

In France, this same not-for-profit sector also carries out important and necessary work in all areas that address the needs of society: culture, the environment, social action, etc. Yet it is not recognised as a player in its own right.

It would be a major political project for a future government to give formal recognition to this sector. The State would have to agree to recognise the not-for-profit sector as an economic sector in its own right, in the same way as agriculture, industry, businesses, craft trades, etc., without constantly seeking to reduce its capacity to intervene. It is not a question of pitting two systems against each other, but of recognising that this sector provides appropriate responses that complement those provided by the state. Through its actions at both national and local level, it is a powerful bulwark against the disintegration of the social fabric that is undermining our nation, and a major element in the “living together” that is essential to our democracy.

Having an ambitious and assertive philanthropic policy, with clear objectives, would make it possible to understand the meaning of the measures that are regularly taken. It would be possible to anticipate costs upstream, rather than taking piecemeal tax measures without weighing up the consequences for recipients, and avoid moving forwards or backwards at the whim of political influences. This would be a real cultural revolution that would require a lot of work, giving up prerogatives and letting go of the administration. It would be facilitated by a stand taken at the top of the State. A conference under the patronage of the President would make it possible to collectively define a vision of the general interest, commitment and generosity, and to review the public governance of the sector.

Philanthropic chronicles, by Francis Charhon. 

A successful gamble for the European Humanitarian Airlift

The partners of the European Humanitarian Airlift Bridge look back on their experience with the graphics below and the following article.

RLH-HAB (Réseau Logistique Humanitaire – Humanitarian Air Bridge)

When the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a pandemic on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, the Covid-19 virus triggered the greatest concern of international humanitarian organizations. The measures taken at the global level to contain the spread of the virus, including border closures and the halt of airline operations, were going to have major consequences on ongoing humanitarian operations, and potentially create new crises (due to the restricted mobility of humanitarian personnel and the impossibility of supplying operations).

Faced with this situation, and while waiting for the World Food Programme (WFP) to set up a larger air bridge, NGOs got organised.

In April, the Informal Network of Operations Directors (INOD) began to identify the immediate needs for staff movements and the Humanitarian Logistics Network (HLN/RLH)[1] focused on the flow of supplies to ongoing humanitarian operations. These two groups rapidly coordinated with each other and with their members to jointly seek transport solutions. The Crisis and Support Centre of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with whom INOD and HLN have been coordinating since the beginning of the crisis, established the link with the European Commission and its Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO). On 20 April 2020, the European Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič, announces the implementation of a humanitarian air bridge, financed by the European Union.

The objective of the operation is as follows: the coordination of the European Humanitarian Air Bridge (HAB) enables a rapid response to the transport needs of passengers and equipment of European humanitarian actors, on a complementary basis with existing transport offers, during the Covid-19 crisis, in conjunction with the Member States and the European Commission. In concrete terms, it involves collecting and consolidating the passenger and equipment transport needs of European humanitarian organisations, identifying routes not covered, listing transport capacities, planning flights and ensuring overall coordination (Partners – ECHO – Member States – Broker – Airlines – Handlers).

The first flight took place on 8 May 2020, from Lyon to Bangui. It carried 73 passengers and more than 8 tons of material, supporting 23 organisations. Following this flight, the need to structure the coordination of the flights appears in a blatant manner. To meet this unprecedented challenge, a team of 10 people seconded from 5 NGOs (Solidarités International, Action Contre la Faim, the French Red Cross, HI-Atlas Logistique and the Norwegian Refugee Council) was set up.

Five months later, 42 flights to 12 different countries were coordinated by the RLH inter-NGO coordination cell. These flights carried 1,208 passengers and more than 780 tons of equipment, benefiting more than a hundred organisations.

Throughout the operation, the coordination team was particularly vigilant in serving and supporting each of these 108 organisations, especially the smaller ones.

A satisfaction survey carried out among the organisations benefiting from the flights demonstrated the relevance of such an operation, and its success, since 100% of the partners stated that they would reuse this mechanism. One partner applauds “a concrete application of the mutualised approach working for the benefit of the NGO community”, another stresses that “flights are requested according to needs, there is a focus on real emergencies in the field by the NGOs” and a last one welcomes the “creation of a collective”. There has been “a real understanding of the exceptional nature of these flights”, says one interviewee, and many partners are satisfied with the added value of some of the EU HAB operations, complementing the offer proposed by the WFP.

With the resumption of commercial air traffic at the end of the summer, the coordination cell is being readapted to the needs: the team is being reduced but a watch capacity is being maintained, as well as an operational capacity to be able to react quickly if required for punctual flights, and this until the end of 2020, thanks in particular to the support of the CDCS. Maintaining the cell has made it possible to organise three flights in response to the explosion in Beirut in August, as well as two flights to Yerevan in response to the Armenian crisis more recently.

The success of this operation demonstrated the ability of NGOs to organise themselves and show synergy in the face of the Covid-19 crisis. And, more broadly, that collaboration between NGOs is the best lever for a reactive response adapted to humanitarian issues.

What RLH has been supporting since its creation in 2014, namely that collaboration between humanitarian logistics actors and the pooling of resources makes it possible to improve operational efficiency and achieve objectives which are beyond reach on their own, is best illustrated by the creation of this humanitarian airlift, highlighting that cooperation between NGOs is more necessary than ever for humanitarian action.


[1] The Humanitarian Logistics Network was created in 2014 and has now 9 members: ACTED, Action Contre la Faim France, Croix-Rouge Française, Humanité & Inclusion, Médecins du Monde, Oxfam Intermón, Plan International, Première Urgence Internationale, Solidarités International.

The infographics in PDF foramt – EUHAB reporting – SOL

The photo album of the humanitarian airlift is here!

The press review on the humanitarian airlift:

On Défis Humanitaires:

A humanitarian airlift to fight Coronavirus.

Interview of Marie Houel, inter-NGO coordinator for the humanitarian airlift.

Covid-19: the planes of the riposte.