Associations and foundations: governments’ blind spots

Following the last presidential election, I entitled an article on my blog “New government, hope for a new philanthropic policy”. Since then, we can say that hopes have been dashed, with measures that have not gone in the direction of strengthening associative life or foundations, such as the Republican contract.

Associations and foundations: governments’ blind spots. Photo credit: iStock

The new government is a great disappointment for all those involved in philanthropy, associations, foundations, volunteers and donors.
After the July riots in many neighborhoods, many people seemed to have rediscovered that populations were being neglected in neighborhoods in a spiral of despair. On the one hand, those who choose violence to express themselves
on the other, residents powerless to live peacefully, often at the center of local situations marked by the predominance of drug trafficking, the only source of income for many from an early age.

A feature of these riots was the attacks on public buildings and community facilities serving the population. Was it a way of showing the State the failure of the various suburban plans of the past decades? These extremely worrying events have fallen on deaf ears, as the problems persist and will recur if nothing is done to restore hope to people who no longer have any.
Dealing with these issues shows that governments’ ambivalent approach to civil society players is not working. One day, they are hailed as indispensable; the next, they experience cuts in subsidies and changes in public policy priorities.

Philanthropic players essential to social cohesion

Yet many associations, foundations and volunteers are already involved in a wide variety of programs in all fields: cultural, environmental, social and so on. They are not there to replace public policies, but to act in the interstices, complementing or interacting with them. They can’t do everything, but they can do a lot.

As I write these words, I have the impression, along with others, that I’m repeating myself endlessly, yet our message doesn’t make an impression.

So I repeat all the arguments:

The fragmentation of society is such that the answers to be found are local, often small-scale, far from grand plans, with visions far removed from the field. It doesn’t sound great, but it’s useful. To tackle these problems, our country has no shortage of arms or willpower: associations, foundations, nearly 20 million volunteers, donors by the millions who support them. Their action, based on listening to specific needs and providing tailor-made solutions, has proven its effectiveness. They have the capacity for innovation and the flexibility to adapt to rapidly changing situations. The results are visible in areas where dialogue between residents has re-emerged, social ties have been rebuilt and democratic life has been revived. All these actions are presented by the organizations on their websites, but their fragmentation does not give an impression of spectacular results to convince. And yet, without them, what would the state of the country be!

The diagnosis of the state of the country is well known, and has been analysed many times by studies and reports. We are on a powder keg that can give rise to violent events, as we have just seen, or lead elective choices to extremes with caricatured solutions that cannot produce good results either.

In the latest ministerial reshuffle, the disappearance of the not-for-profit sector in the SSE into a ministry for SMEs shows a lack of understanding of what associations and foundations do. This is not a good message. Their social impact is not short-term, but long-term, with an essential component: taking the time to listen, understand and act with appropriate solutions.

Paving the way for the future

Not everything can be read in economic terms:

  • Would it be possible for this new government to acknowledge, with modesty, that it can’t do everything, and accept that the not-for-profit sector (associations, foundations) is necessary to resolving a number of problems facing the country?
  • Would it be possible to reflect on the way in which it fits into the march of society alongside companies, the State and local authorities, contributing its skills, its capacity for innovation and the dynamism of millions of people?
  • Would it be possible to take stock of the immense human and financial cost of all these failures, and weigh them up against the funding provided by the not-for-profit sector?
  • Would it be possible, as a corollary, not to consider tax deductions in this sector not as a burden, but as an investment in the future?
  • Would it be possible to take the risk of trusting operators who have demonstrated their capabilities by reducing ambiguity?
  • Would it be possible to write a new page in social relations for the benefit of all?

It’s not a question of begging for a few subsidies or additional benefits, but of establishing a more global vision of the role of this sector. Those who define public policy need to change their way of looking at things, and provide the impetus needed to invent an ambitious philanthropic policy defined in conjunction with the non-profit sector, with clear, long-term relationships and the acceptance of constructive partnerships.

Impotence, immobility and the construction of new plans are not options. We need to react in order to face up to all the societal and environmental challenges that beset us, building on what has proved its worth. There is an absolute urgency to respond realistically and pragmatically to our country’s fears, anger and suffering.

Let’s not wait for the next social explosion, or the advent of regimes that promise better days. Let’s start a social conference on the subject.


Republishing of an article published on Chroniques philanthropiques, by Francis Charhon.


Honorary Chairman, Centre Français des Fonds et Fondations

Trained as an anaesthetist. After a career in the hospital sector, he became President of Médecin sans Frontières from 1980 to 1982, then its Director from 1982 to 1991. Managing Director of the Fondation de France from 1992 to August 2016. In 2002, he created the Centre Français des Fondations, which he chaired until 2016. He was Chairman and Director of the European Foundation Centre. Previously member of the CESE and CNVA. Currently member of the IDEAS label committee. An expert in philanthropy, he set up FCH conseil to support association and foundation managers in their strategic projects. For the past 40 years, he has dedicated his activity to the development of philanthropy in France, and continues to do so through the “Chroniques philanthropiques” blog. He has published: Vive la philanthropie, L’engagement social pour les nuls.



Read Francis Charhon’s articles on Défis Humanitaires :

War and philantropy

An interview on philanthropy with Francis Charhon


Mothers don’t do humanitarian work” comic strip

Interview with Justine Muzik Piquemal, Léa Ducré, Benjamin Hoguet (Scenario) and Paul Gros (Drawing), La Boite à Bulles.

Cover of the comic strip “Les mères de famille ne font pas d’humanitaire” by Léa Ducré, Benjamin Hoguet (Scenario) and Paul Gros (Drawing), released on August 23, 2023 by La Boite à Bulles.


When Justine Muzik Piquemal wanted to enroll in a “humanitarian” course, she was told that it was out of the question as she already had a child. Since then, Justine has shown that it’s possible to be a happy mother of four and still travel the globe.

Justine, why did you want to put your experience into comic form?

Justine: Being a mother is a full-time job with daily constraints. But when you add humanitarian work to the mix, people just don’t get it. It’s important to let people know that you can be a mother (surely a good one) and a humanitarian. That you can travel the world and follow your children. We don’t abandon them, we’re not bad mothers… it’s a passion, they’re passions…

Benjamin and Léa, how did you go about gathering Justine’s testimony?

Benjamin and Léa: We saw Justine on several occasions over a relatively long period of time. We went to meet her at her home in Courthézon with her whole family, where we got to know Lilio, Loutsi, Aloïs and Léon, her children, and Tomas and Paul, their dads. Then we came to visit her in the Paris region, in her office or on the terrace of a café.

It was important for us to give her the opportunity to talk to us freely and over time, sometimes digressing, because it was precisely these digressions that formed the bulk of our raw material for writing the comic strip.

The fact that we were able to follow her over two years was invaluable, because as the months passed and the children’s birthdays came and went, she told us what was going through her mind. And for us, it was fundamental to be able to tell what it’s like to be a humanitarian mother with children who are growing up and evolving in their relationship with their parents.

Benjamin and Léa, why did you choose this form of gags/short stories, more portrait than bio?

Benjamin and Léa: What particularly touched us about Justine’s story was the way she told it: her humor against all odds. The way she laughs and soothes tensions. Her generosity in the face of the unpredictable.

It seemed obvious to us that the best format to make this palpable for the viewer was the chronicle. It’s a form that captures the difficulties of life as a humanitarian mother. Justine recounts her daily life, the little hurts, the big blows. And the passage of time. It’s also a form in which humor takes precedence over drama.

This is of course something we discussed with Justine, who is a great fan of this form in comics, and welcomed the proposal with enthusiasm!

Paul, wasn’t it too complicated to bring real people to life, including children? Did you try to make them look like their models, or did you take some liberties?

Paul: Above all, I approached them as characters in a story. Although I was able to talk to Justine on a few occasions (by video, telephone or e-mail), I mainly discovered the protagonists through Léa and Benjamin’s script. The dialogues they wrote were also very effective in establishing their identities.

My approach was therefore to memorize the information Justine had given verbally and integrate it into the characters brought to life through the words of Léa and Benjamin. In the context of a comic strip, it’s essentially the actions and words of the characters that give them their consistency. The same goes for the physical aspect. If my starting point is photographs, it’s above all important to me to offer a treatment in line with what the characters do and what they are within the story.

After all, an album is a fairly short narrative space. Readers need to be able to grasp characters quickly. In this sense, the treatment of characters can sometimes flirt with caricature. But a character’s narrative potential is just as important. In other words, they must be graphically adapted to what the script expects of them. You don’t want to “fix” a character in an attitude that clashes with an action instead of accompanying it. For all these reasons, my characters are perhaps more (re)compositions, linked to the context of an album, than exact replicas of Justine and her family…

Justine, in the end, do you feel that this comic resembles you?

Justine: It resembles my family and my profession, yes!


This interview was originally published in La Boite à Bulles on August 23, available here : Les mères de famille ne font pas d’humanitaire (

The comic is available online (link above) and in bookshops everywhere.


Links to press articles about the comic:


Justine Muzik Piquemal

Regional Manager, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Sudan and Mozambique

A lawyer specializing in Religious Law, Justine Muzik Piquemal is in constant training. She began her career negotiating humanitarian access for state and de facto militaries. She is now Regional Director for Solidarités International, and is currently monitoring CAR, DRC, Sudan and Mozambique. From one country to the next, crisis after crisis, every road she travels enables her to support teams in reaching the most vulnerable.


Justine Muzik Piquemal on Défis Humanitaire :

Justine Muzik Piquemal on Solidarités International :