It’s easy to write inspiring words that define an organization’s mission. It’s much harder to put those principles into practice. Since its founding in 1971, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has operated with a fierce—and challenging—commitment to independence, impartiality, and neutrality.
These principles are what make it possible for us to respond rapidly to emergencies and provide lifesaving medical care in situations where many other organizations can’t or won’t. This commitment ensures that we can help people most in need, rather than following other priorities—whether they be those of politicians, funders, or the media.
The impact and efficacy of our ability to put these principles into practice was recognized in 1999 when MSF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Where we go
MSF operates in over 65 countries around the world. As medical first responders, our teams of over 42,000 doctors, nurses, and logisticians are often the first on the scene—sometimes arriving in a matter of minutes to respond to the needs of people whose lives have been upended by emergency and crisis.
The decision to offer assistance in any country or crisis is based solely on our independent assessment of people’s needs. We work to ensure that we have the power to freely evaluate medical needs, to access populations without restriction, and to directly control the aid we provide.
MSF offers assistance to people based solely on need, irrespective of race, religion, gender, or political affiliation. We give priority to those in the most serious and immediate danger. Wherever we go, we make sure that people in the communities where we’re working understand that MSF’s commitment to independence, impartiality, and neutrality means that we will provide assistance to anyone who needs it. We run radio campaigns and hold meetings with everyone from government ministers to local warlords, community elders to women’s groups.
Gaining their acceptance is key to our being able to work in difficult environments such as Afghanistan or Democratic Republic of Congo.
We rarely take funds from governments, businesses, or institutions for our work. Instead, we rely mainly on the generosity of individual donors like you. Over 90 percent of our income comes from private donors giving small amounts.
When there is an emergency, we don’t need to wait for official funds to be released or for the media to generate interest. We can act fast to save people’s lives based on need alone.
Our financial independence also means that the aid we provide cannot be used to further any government’s political or military goals.
MSF is an outspoken organization. We have extremely high standards for ourselves and other organizations, and we speak up when we see that those standards are not being met. We believe that being honest about the difficulties of delivering world-class medical care during disasters is a vital part of constantly improving the scope and quality of the care we can provide.
At MSF, we regularly evaluate and critique the effects of our activities, and are committed to accounting for our actions to both patients and donors.
In 1999, MSF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of its pioneering humanitarian work around the world.