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


The humanitarian imperative in the face of exploding needs and the need for transformation

An elderly couple in Jytomyr, west of Kyiv, Ukraine. A Russian rocket demolished a civilian building near a military school. A hospital is also nearby. Photo taken on March 14, 2022 © T. Mayer/HI

An elderly couple in Jytomyr, west of Kyiv, Ukraine. A Russian rocket demolished a civilian building near a military school. A hospital is also nearby. Photo taken on March 14, 2022 © T. The 2020s began with a pandemic that hit hard and everywhere, causing economic instability, disrupting markets and increasing poverty. The combination of these disruptions, the consequences of new or long-running conflicts, and the climate crisis, is exacerbating global humanitarian needs.

Children, especially girls, are still deprived of an education, women’s rights are still being violated, famines threaten. Violations of the rights of migrants and refugees are reaching unprecedented levels. Lives are in danger, and decades of development are being called into question. The temptation to paralyze in the face of these challenges is greater than ever: the rules imposed by terrorist risk management, the procrastination of certain major powers both in terms of diplomacy and humanitarian support, and the problems of access due to the administrative constraints imposed on our organizations are weighing more and more heavily on our activities. However, the 2020s also herald a decade in which the humanitarian community remains mobilized, always ready in the face of adversity and in all circumstances to surpass itself by showing what can be achieved when the international community unites.

February 08, 2023, Hatay, Turkey. Emergency search and rescue teams search through the rubble of destroyed buildings in Hatay, Antakya, Turkey, following the earthquakes © T. Nicholson / HI

The challenges are more and more numerous. And new theaters of operation have emerged. Notably in Ukraine, where, from February 2022 onwards, the war caused the deaths of tens of thousands of people[1], complicated the delivery of food and energy supplies, destroyed hospitals, schools and homes, and triggered one of the worst displacement crises in three quarters of a century. It has also caused major destabilization: rising prices, availability of oil, gas and wheat, and upheaval of the world’s geopolitical balance.

More recently, in April 2023, fighting broke out in Sudan, where 2.5 million people fled to safer areas inside and outside the country[2]; before the crisis, Sudan already had almost 4 million displaced people[3]. Afghanistan is on the brink of collapse, with women’s and girls’ rights violated and over 25 million people dependent on the mobilization of humanitarian actors[4]. In the Horn of Africa, millions of people require nutritional treatment, food aid, emergency health care and essential supplies. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, as the conflict continues to wreak havoc, humanitarian actors are providing essential aid to 5 million people[5]. In Myanmar, the humanitarian situation is reaching unimaginable proportions due to growing conflict and insecurity. In Yemen, as the impact of war continues to destroy lives, NGOs are supporting some ten million people every month. In Haiti, rising violence, galloping inflation and a cholera epidemic have drastically increased needs. In Lebanon, the financial collapse has caused needs to soar.

Democratic Republic of Congo, Kasai Central Province. A member of an NGO speaks into a megaphone in front of a group of beneficiaries waiting for an organized distribution © John Wessels/HI

At the same time, the climate crisis is making survival even more difficult for many people. In 2020, extreme weather events deprived millions of people of access to means of subsistence. And these food crises in turn generate violence. In 2021, climate change has joined conflict as the leading cause of famine, as witnessed by the drought in Madagascar. The Horn of Africa suffered its fifth consecutive shortened rainy season. Massive flooding has submerged entire villages and crops in Nigeria and Pakistan.

From 125 million in 2016, the number of people in need in 2023 will rise to 339 million[6]; one in every 23 people on the planet needs emergency aid to survive.

Significant steps are being taken collectively to strengthen regionalized responses: local and national players, civil society and citizens are now increasingly placed at the heart of the humanitarian response system. Particularly since the beginning of the decade, NGOs have been able to develop their teams’ capacity and their working methods based on power dynamics, while recognizing a generational change. Their response tools have been adapted to the circumstances – longer conflicts, more difficult to resolve – sometimes questioning their positions on weapons, sanctions and the value of negotiations. Beyond major crises, they have been careful to keep the spotlight on extreme conflicts, such as Ethiopia, and on those such as Myanmar or Yemen, where international interest has waned. They have strengthened coordination between them, breaking down silos, particularly at senior levels of humanitarian organizations, human rights organizations, think tanks and other organizations, to better coordinate their actions in times of crisis.

The results achieved by national and international aid workers are a credit to the determination and capacity of the NGOs and donors who support them.

Janez Lenarčič, European Commissioner for Crisis Management visits the European Humanitarian Response Capability warehouse in Vinnytsia, Ukraine. He is pictured here with Manuel Patrouillard, HI Managing Director, and Jean Pierre Delomier, Deputy Director of Operations. European Union, 2022 Photographer Ramin Mazur

Unfortunately, funding remains well below requirements. For example, to provide a lifeline to 230 million of the most vulnerable people in 69 countries, the financial requirement was estimated at $51.5 billion[7]… Yet only half of this sum has been received. This incomplete funding has, however, already enabled humanitarian actors to reach 145 million people, to practice responses underpinned by humanitarian negotiations aimed at accessing people in need in many parts of the world.

March 09, 2022, Przemysl, Poland: people cross the Medyka border crossing between Ukraine and Poland. More than 2 million people have left Ukraine since Russia invaded the country on February 24, 2022 © T. Nicholson/HI

In many respects, the outlook is uncertain. Not since the emergence of the French Doctors has humanitarian action – founded on the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence – come under so many constraints. The collapse of a world order based on values promoted as universal has led to an explosion in needs and a reduction in humanitarian access. The administrative processes to which NGOs are subject lock them into the responsibilities of the state. To preserve humanitarian space, we need to limit normative hyperinflation, particularly that linked to counter-terrorism measures, which unreasonably restricts NGOs’ ability to act. Better protection of civilians and humanitarian and health workers in crisis situations must be ensured. Every effort must be made to ensure that humanitarian action responds and adapts better to the climate crisis.

We mustn’t let ourselves be driven by bureaucratic locomotives; let’s not forget the original rebellion that made our organizations what they are today, let’s keep fighting because results can be achieved and early action can help mitigate the consequences of climate change, among other things. Humanitarian organizations also take steps to prioritize equity, inclusion and access to information for affected communities. They must work tirelessly to protect the most vulnerable from sexual exploitation and abuse. We must all continue to advocate for the full and equal participation of women and girls at all levels of education, the economy and public life. Even if humanitarian needs continue to grow, let’s resist the temptation to think that humanitarian action is pointless; we are collectively capable of making the necessary efforts to provide an adapted response that meets the needs!

ONG de solidarité internationale | Handicap International France (


Jean-Pierre Delomier

Handicap International Federation – Humanity & Inclusion,

Deputy Director of Operations

After working in the field for various international organizations, he co-founded and directed the NGO Atlas Logistique in 1992, until its merger with Handicap International in 2006. He then joined the Management Committee and took charge of the Humanitarian Action Department, to ensure the association’s ability to intervene in major humanitarian crises, contributing to the organization of relief efforts while providing humanitarian aid to vulnerable groups, including people with disabilities. He has been a director of Bioforce for 15 years, he is leader of Coordination Sud’s Humanitarian Commissionand board member of VOICE in Brussels. Since January 2019, he has been HI’s Deputy Director of Operations, in charge of influencing and representing the organization to stakeholders, as well as leading the Atlas technical-operational unit.


[1] AFP and Euractiv France (2023, 14 february) : the appalling toll of a year of war in Ukraine,

[2] UN Sudan: difficulties in delivering aid as conflict escalates.(2023, 27 june), ONU Info

[3] UN : UNHCR, P. L. P. (2023, 14 june), 5 things to know about the Sudan Crisis, HCR

[4] European Council :

[5] UN : OCHA 10 millions of people targeted by humanitarian aid in DRC in 2023 (2023, 23 february), ReliefWeb.

[6] UN : For the 339 million: UN General Assembly adopts resolutions on humanitarian aid and declares 2023 “international year of dialogue as a guarantee of peace”. | UN Press.

For the 125 million: UN World Summit on Humanitarian Action,

[7] UN : UN launches record $ 51.5 billion humanitarian appeal for 2023 [EN/AR/ES/FR/RU/ZH], World (2022, 1 décembre), ReliefWeb.