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Humanitarian Aid on the move # 12, special issue: Environment

Integrating the environment into the running of a humanitarian organisation: the experience of Action contre la Faim
Thibault Laconde


 Launching the initial projects and maintaining motivation

The first stage allows a review of environmental practices to be established as well as consensus about the organisation’s values and how these should be applied in relation to this new subject. On this basis, it is relatively easy to identify shortcomings and the priority areas where progress is needed.

The passage from the initial assessment to the action plan can nevertheless be problematic. This is the consequence of using methods from other sectors: they allow reviews to be carried out without preconceived ideas, but the results can point in directions which are not adapted to the specific characteristics of humanitarian action. For this reason, in addition to the initial quantitative assessment, a qualitative assessment can be carried out, for example, a series of targeted interviews about the activities which have the biggest impact. These can be conducted within the organisation and also among partners and suppliers. It will quickly become apparent that certain positions cannot be reduced whereas others can relatively easily.
The action plan is always specific to the organisation: it depends not only on its situation, but also its history, its mandate and the subjects that are important to it. It is possible to take inspiration from actions taken by other organisations, and even by companies or public bodies, but it would be a mistake to want to reproduce another organisation’s approach.

Of course, the objective of this stage is to rapidly begin to see the initial improvements, but it is important not to forget to bring collaborators on board. The initial assessment will probably have sparked interest and debate in the organisation. This enthusiasm can be difficult to maintain when the process enters a phase which essentially consists of running projects. In the case of Action contre la Faim, the projects carried out concerned, for example, energy management, waste management and purchasing policy, actions which are not necessarily visible apart from for the people who are directly concerned with the implementation.
In addition, the natural tendency in the first action plan will be to give priority to a defensive approach, focused not on genuinely improving performance, but on the reduction of risks for the organisation: financial risks (e.g. the loss of funding [2]), legal risks, and risks concerning their image (including loss of acceptability)… This orientation can also have a negative effect on staff support.
As the interest and participation of collaborators is indispensible to a sustainable approach, these risks should be taken into account from the preparation stage of the action plan. For example, it is desirable that projects carried out should alternate between actions with a strong impact, which are often technical and long term, and other less essential actions which give more visible or more rapid results [3].

Finally, for the approach to be established in the long-term, it is essential to be able to monitor the results obtained and to communicate these. Consequently, this phase should also include the drawing up of indicators. After the initial assessment has helped to identify the positions with the strongest impact and their determining factors, the challenge is to find a way to establish indicators among the flow of information which already exists which are easy to compile and maintain for monthly, or at least bi-annual monitoring.


BOX: Recycling ACF

[2] A growing number of institutional donors either already take impact assessments into account when selecting partners and projects to fund, or plan to do so in the near future (AFD, DFID, CIDA, SIDA…).

[3] In the case of ACF, examples of this kind of action are distributing cups to new staff and installing coffee machines which are able to detect them in order to reduce the number of disposable cups, making the default setting of printers recto-verso or using recycled paper or paper from sustainably managed forests.