Médecins Sans Frontières, Evolution of an International Movement: Associative History 1971-2011

· Médecins Sans Frontières

About this ebook

When Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was founded in 1971, it was founded with both international and associative

dimensions. International because it wouldn’t have made sense for MSF France, on its own, to aid threatened populations

around the world and associative because civil law in France, especially the 1901 law governing charitable

bodies, was perfectly suited to the MSF organisation’s guiding precepts, which are democratic and selfless in


Yet, MSF’s development from a small, purely French organisation to an international associative movement was never

carefully planned or particularly smooth. MSF’s development was the result of various compromises between the

movement’s leaders, with their individual agendas, and the integration of fait accomplis when necessary. The evolving

modifications were debated at length to ensure that concerns raised were legitimate and that there was agreement

for decisions made. The nature and the validity of MSF’s leadership were regularly challenged, as was the

question of how MSF should grow while remaining true to its humanitarian precepts.

This case study elaborates the history of the MSF movement from inception in 1971 through 2011, when MSF legitimised

an international governance system and architecture. The study is divided in two episodes. Episode One reviews

MSF’s first three decades (1971-2000). Episode Two is about the challenges of the early 21st, century, from 2001

to 2011.

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