The French Red Cross Foundation: dedicated to research

L’Essentiel scientifique : 10 ans de recherche au cœur des vulnérabilités [The Scientific Essentials: 10 Years of Research at the Heart of Vulnerabilities] Collectif Fondation Croix-Rouge française pour la recherche humanitaire et sociale / French Red Cross Foundation for humanitarian and social research, 2023

Published to coincide with the French Red Cross Foundation’s ten-year anniversary (2013-2023), this book is the fruit of a collective undertaking to distil knowledge and an ongoing dialogue between all those engaged in the field, be they researchers, humanitarian practitioners, first aid workers or social action volunteers.

It chronicles ten years of the Foundation’s life that the Foundation’s team wanted to share in a publication situated midway between narrative and scientific synopsis, gathering accrued knowledge and forward-looking perspectives, all focused on the Foundation’s priority research themes and territories. Each chapter presents the results of one of the areas of research supported by the Foundation over the last decade (humanitarian transition, health and epidemics, risks and disasters, migrations and displacements, social bonds), imparts keys to new insights and gives concrete recommendations for the improvement of humanitarian and social action.

The French Red Cross (FRC) Foundation is a recognised public utility institution committed to supporting research on humanitarian and social action carried out close to the ground by researchers during crises. Its findings are widely disseminated and peer reviewed, contributing to the development of existing practices.

The Foundation’s vision aligns with that of the FRC, namely to advance scientific knowledge and social innovation to aid the most vulnerable in France and throughout the world.

Scientific research

No human enterprise can advance without part of its resources being devoted to pursuing research and innovation. Required to tackle the challenges experienced by vulnerable populations, humanitarian and social action is no different. However, research investments in this field have remained minimal. Research serves to prepare for the future, taking a more detached perspective from the immediate demands of the present.

The projects funded by the Foundation are either initiated at the request of its Governing Board or directly co-constructed with partners from the non-profit, institutional or private sectors. In every instance, they aim to fill a knowledge gap identified within their respective areas of intervention, enhancing the methodologies employed by a broader spectrum of actors. As such, the Foundation promotes authentic scientific research,[1]Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan, « Promouvoir la recherche face à la consultance. Autour de l’expérience du Lasdel (Niger-Bénin) », Cahiers d’études africaines, vol. 202-203, n° 2, … Continue reading the purpose of which is to respond to issues whose answers are unresolved due to the limitations of our existing knowledge, to impart knowledge offering new insights derived from in-depth literature reviews and to provide practical recommendations for humanitarian and social actors to enhance the effectiveness of their response.

For this to occur, the Foundation regularly collaborates with researchers in a fully independent manner. Regardless of their status, they remain affiliated with their research organisations, where applicable, and their work is carried out under the auspices of the Foundation’s conventions and charters, guaranteeing the independence of researchers and the spirit of public utility through their cooperation. The Foundation grants researchers the freedom to formulate their investigation and select their methodological techniques in compliance with prevailing deontological and ethical principles. Research projects are assessed and supported by peers, including researchers, members of the scientific council and associated experts from multiple scientific disciplines and experts representing the Foundation’s priority areas. The Foundation also safeguards the freedom of expression of researchers who retain full ownership of their data. By ensuring their independence and adhering to a timeframe commensurate with the requirements of field research in the social sciences, the Foundation gives itself the means to elicit constructive criticism, together with civil society and the people it assists, based on a thought-provoking process unrestricted by the demands of emergency response.

Field research close to human vulnerabilities

Our mission to alleviate suffering is central to our commitment. Non-profit organisations on the front line must continuously update their knowledge of the situations in which they are operationally and symbolically active and analyse their responses to vulnerable communities by working in close contact with them. For this reason, the Foundation has chosen to mobilise the human and social sciences by integrating disciplines that are frequently underfunded but are essential for revitalising efforts to disseminate sound scientific knowledge derived from the contexts in which they provide response.

We primarily support qualitative approaches employing ethnographic methodologies involving field surveys, primary data collection and extended contact with communities. The Foundation has prioritised ensuring field intervention and research are done in close cooperation despite their objectives and timelines being as different as they are complementary.

The Foundation’s commitment to research demonstrates a regard for academic, linguistic and geographical diversity, factors often overlooked in financing and planning projects. Research favouring multidisciplinary approaches, funded by the Foundation, spans various social science disciplines, such as sociology, anthropology and geography. The Foundation primarily supports French-speaking researchers as part of its commitment to French-speaking communities and diversifying knowledge production, particularly in international aid. Lastly, the Foundation primarily supports researchers from fields of intervention linked to social action practitioners and international solidarity. By advocating for locally based research, the Foundation seeks to combat unequal access to research funding, particularly in Africa, where scientific output constitutes only a tiny fraction of global research.[2]African scientific output, starting from less than 1% of total output in the 1990s, represented only 3% of global research in 2016 (Sarah Botton, Linda Zanfini et Rohen d’Aiglepierre, « L’aide … Continue reading

Action-centred research

Using research in the humanities and social sciences to promote humanitarian action reflects the Foundation’s concrete support for humanitarian and social actors in their quest to fulfil their research needs. This includes identifying those needs, issuing recommendations based on scientific studies and following up on field research close to people’s vulnerabilities.

Reflection on scientific issues enables operational personnel to view their programmes and their fields of intervention from a greater distance. It helps them find ways to improve their practices and implement their actions in accordance with local realities. In this way, the humanitarian and social research we support ultimately benefits operatives. By building bridges between researchers, civil society, public institutions and the private sector, we help enhance existing actions, strengthen capacities and autonomy and foster the emergence of innovative and sustainable action models.

The Foundation regularly interacts with the employees and volunteers of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and remains in close contact with their “national societies”. Numerous research programmes have been undertaken in collaboration with the FRC and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), specifically addressing operational concerns that volunteers have raised. Membership in the IFRC lends the Foundation legitimacy as a civil society representative seeking to strengthen the link between academic and operational spheres.

Research serving the common good

As a foundation recognised as a public utility institution, the French Red Cross Foundation supports and assists research projects whose findings are published and freely accessible. Designed to serve the general interest, this requirement has led the Foundation to highlight research for the benefit of the common good, freely accessible through a variety of publications and platforms – articles, summaries, reviews, series of publications, seminars, webinars, podcasts, etc. – presenting findings in diverse formats that facilitate wider dissemination of knowledge.

The Foundation funds research that contributes to public discourse by positioning innovation at the centre of dialogue and fostering exchanges between researchers, members of civil society and public institutions and entities from the private sector. Scientific events are arranged every year in France and abroad to ensure the knowledge generated bears fruit, informs discussion and encourages collaboration between the scientific community and the operational field.

By putting ten years of research onto the table – in book form – the Foundation’s goal was, yet again and unwaveringly, to galvanise collaboration between social science disciplines, professional sectors, the academic world, languages and concepts, experiences and methodologies, in order to engage with and reach out to people who are vulnerable or have experienced vulnerability. It is these people who must benefit from the results of this research.

Éric Delaporte and Francis Akindès, President and Vice-President respectively of the French Red Cross Foundation’s Scientific Council

This text is an adaptation of the article co-authored by Éric Delaporte and Francis Akindès in the publication presented here, pp. 8–11. Many thanks to Virginie Troit, Director General of the French Red Cross Foundation, and her team.

The publication can be freely consulted and downloaded on the French Red Cross Foundation’s website, in the Research, publications and event section:

Translated from the French by the French Red Cross Foundation

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1 Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan, « Promouvoir la recherche face à la consultance. Autour de l’expérience du Lasdel (Niger-Bénin) », Cahiers d’études africaines, vol. 202-203, n° 2, 2011, p. 511-528.
2 African scientific output, starting from less than 1% of total output in the 1990s, represented only 3% of global research in 2016 (Sarah Botton, Linda Zanfini et Rohen d’Aiglepierre, « L’aide internationale peut-elle participer à l’ancrage de la recherche africaine ? », The Conversation, 6 septembre 2021). Africa (17% of the world’s population) accounts for only 2.4% of the researchers in the world, 2.6% of scientific publications (Maryline Baumard, « Ces femmes qui œuvrent au rayonnement scientifique de l’Afrique », Le Monde, 18 novembre 2019), and 1.3% of global research and development spending (Catherine Le Brech, « Encourager le potentiel de la recherche africaine, l’exemple du Burkina Faso », France info, 27 novembre 2017, In Africa, the underfunding of the scientific domain and the weakness or absence of national policies has prompted researchers to engage in side activities and, at times, leave their country. Since its inception, the Foundation has supported researchers representing twenty different nationalities, one-third of whom are Africans. They have contributed
to the production of knowledge not only in Africa but also in France.

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