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Faith-based and secular humanitarian organizations

30-06-2005 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 858, by Elizabeth Ferris

Faith-based organizations share many characteristics with their secular counterparts and this article identifies some of these similarities as well as some of the differences. It also highlights some of the differences within the faith-based community, particularly between Christian organizations involved in humanitarian assistance.


Elizabeth Ferris
is presently in charge of the relief and development work of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland and currently serves as chair of the International Council of Voluntary Agencies. A former university professor in the United States, she served as Research Director of the Life and Peace Institute in Uppsala, Sweden and as Director of the Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Program in New York. 

This article examines the role of faith-based organizations, particularly Christian organizations, in humanitarian assistance within the broader context of the NGO world. Following an overview of the historical development of these organizations, the article examines the current context in which faith-based and secular humanitarian organizations operate. The different roles played by these organizations are explored as are some of the difficulties they encounter. The article suggests that much more work is needed in the area of capacity-building of local humanitarian organizations and in the coordination of NGO programmatic work.  

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