In an age characterized by geopolitical instability, climatic extremes, and health crises, organizations like Doctors Without Borders, known by its French name Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), play a pivotal role. In a recent conversation with Avril Benoît, the Executive Director of Doctors Without Borders U.S., I delved deep into the heart of this organization’s mission, its challenges, and the roads it’s paving for the future.
Navigating Political and Operational Challenges
MSF operates in more than 70 countries, extending emergency medical aid wherever calamity strikes. But these services often place MSF in politically sensitive zones. Reflecting on the diplomatic tightropes the organization frequently finds itself walking, Avril shares, “Even something that you would think is as simple as declaring, ‘Hey, there’s cholera here. We need more attention to the cholera.’ A government might say, ‘Don’t mention cholera… It’s bad for the economy.'” The need to maintain a delicate balance while sticking to their mission is a constant challenge.
Internal Dynamics and Decision-Making
The success of MSF isn’t just about navigating external challenges but also
understanding and harmonizing the organization’s rich internal dynamics. Avril speaks to the importance of open debate within the organization, stating, “It has happened to me many times where I think I know, and then people speak up, and I realize I didn’t know.” This culture of valuing every voice underscores the organization’s commitment to making well-informed decisions.
MSF in the U.S.: More than Just Medical Aid
While MSF’s medical missions make headlines, its strategic roles are equally crucial. With a significant presence in the U.S., MSF is active at the United Nations in New York, exerts influence in D.C., and plays a vital media role. This strategic positioning ensures not only global outreach but also funds, as Avril notes, “Americans providing about a third of the global income for the entire organization.”
Adapting to a Changing World
The world has experienced significant shifts recently, with the pandemic being a defining event. This change hasn’t left MSF untouched. Avril’s candid reflection on her leadership journey during these times highlights this adaptability: “That is something that I have certainly… I continue to work on as a leader. It is just to get the pulse of what is going to keep these very talented, knowledgeable, experienced people with us, motivated, and not feeling like the demands upon them are unreasonable.” This adaptability extends to the organization’s stance on information credibility, with Avril emphasizing their commitment: “And that’s one of the reasons we don’t comment on things where we’re not directly operationally on the ground witnessing…”
The Road Ahead
As our conversation neared its end, the future trajectory of global humanitarianism and the potential challenges that lie ahead became the focal point. From climate crises exacerbating problems in low-income countries to nations rejecting independent humanitarian aid, the landscape is complex. But amidst challenges like Gaza, MSF’s mission remains undeterred, echoing in Avril’s words and the dedication with which the organization operates.
In these trying times, entities like MSF illuminate the path ahead with their unwavering commitment to humanity. For those seeking to delve deeper or contribute to the cause, Avril points to the Doctors Without Borders website, reminding everyone of the profound difference even a small donation can make.
To listen to the full interview or read the transcript, just click here.
Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving serves as a Trusted Advisor and Executive Coach to Nonprofit Leaders. His Book, The Business of Giving: New Best Practices for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Leaders in an Uncertain World, is available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.