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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

 

 Setting up a process of continuous improvement

The first projects have been successfully completed. The indicators show that results have improved in relation to the initial assessment. The risk at this stage is that there is a drop in interest and that the subject is considered closed. And yet, it is only the beginning. Only the most obvious failings have been corrected and there is still a lot of room for improvement even if this is not as easy to identify and to put into practice. What is more, the normal development of the organisation, of technologies and operational contexts will create new needs which are impossible to predict in advance.
The process therefore needs to continue, but not in the same way: it is no longer a matter of correcting well identified shortcomings but of entering a process of continuous improvement. Two tools are essential for this: involving stakeholders and making collaborators accountable.

The principle of involving stakeholders [4] is simple: it is a case of listening to the people who are affected by the organisation’s decisions. However, putting this into practice can be more difficult as it involves identifying stakeholders and understanding the reasons for their engagement, setting up mechanisms which make it possible to maintain constructive dialogue, ensuring that interlocutors are representative, etc. Establishing this dialogue is a project in itself.
Nevertheless, experience in the private sector shows that this investment is worthwhile: establishing links with stakeholders is essential to improve environmental performance, but also helps to innovate, anticipate and convince… in short, it helps the organisation to fulfil its mandate.

Although at the beginning there is a need for impetus from the board of directors, once the initial projects have been carried out, it is middle management who have the main role to play. Indeed, a responsible organisation is above all an organisation that makes its collaborators responsible, and this often implies a managerial change: changing job descriptions and evaluation grids, but also facilitating continuous reflection within the organisation, as is the case within ACF’s Sustainable Development Club or the French Red Cross’s Green Team. In addition to allowing proposals to be made and positive initiatives to be recognised and rewarded, this approach also has the advantage of involving all collaborators and making them think about the goal of humanitarian engagement in their speciality, even if it is very removed from the field.

 

BOX: Sustainable Development Club

[4] Person or body who a) can be significantly affected by the activities, products or services of the organisation, b) whose actions are susceptible to influence the organisation’s capacity to successfully put in place its strategies and achieve its objectives.