© Ehab Zawati/MSF
29 Jun 20 07 Jul 20

MSF UK’s commitments to addressing institutional racism

In MSF UK’s new Strategic Direction for 2020 – 2023 we set down a vision to be an organisation and part of a movement that values its staff and ensures that all those who work with and for us feel this value in their working lives and are treated with equity and respect.

Today MSF is a movement that works in 70 countries around the world with a 45,000 strong workforce.  We staff our country programmes with management structures where key field coordination positions are largely filled by international staff hired on short-term contracts.

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International staff supervise local staff, despite the latter frequently having greater experience of the project. Staff hired locally are rarely given positions of responsibility over colleagues hired internationally, despite spending far more time in the projects. Locally-hired staff perceive obstacles to career development, which affects their morale and retention. 

There are clear structural differences between the way these two groups of staff are treated in terms of rewards (including professional rewards like career progression), exposure to risk and their ability to be heard within MSF. In our Strategic Direction we have termed these issues as that of workforce injustice and equity. Today we need to go further and acknowledge them as institutional racism. 

Closer to home our Strategic Direction commits us to creating a healthy working environment in MSF UK built on community, inclusivity, diversity and a proactive idea of acceptance. A diverse staff team at all levels strengthens us and makes us more innovative and effective.

MSF UK has already put considerable effort and resources to the process of breaking down structural barriers that prevent staff from across the world from making progress within the organisation. Our Leadership Education Academic Partnership (LEAP) programme and Global Health and Humanitarian Medicine (GHHM) course enable access to world-recognised higher education, and our Scientific Days conferences are key knowledge-sharing events.   

We will continue to champion and resource these courses and conferences, prioritising access for staff across the world. 

Actions to be taken by MSF UK

Over and above our investments in and commitment to the LEAP, GHHM and Scientific Days, the MSF UK Management Team have already committed to the following actions:

  • A diversity and inclusion action plan by the end of 2020 covering all areas including recruitment policies and internal language, fully implemented by the end of 2022
  • An audit of HR policies to check for statements that undermine workforce inclusion, fairness and diversity; and if required will have updated its policies or developed new ones to address this by the end of 2020
  • An increased proportion of locally hired MSF staff members enrolled as students in the LEAP programme and the GHHM course will be 10 percent higher than the 2020 baseline

You can read more of those plans in our Strategic Direction for 2020 – 2023. From June 2020 we will be reviewing and consulting on them to ensure they are good enough, go far enough and actually happen.

In addition, we will be creating safe spaces, dialogue and support mechanism for staff across MSF UK – field, offices and associative membership.  We will be supporting the process of educating ourselves, signposting to relevant literature and resources, and identifying anti-racism training, with senior managers having undertaken this training by the end of 2020. Once we have reviewed our plans, we will publish any updates to our commitments and be accountable towards them in the public domain.

In addition, the MSF UK Board of Trustees has issued a statement supported by some more personal reflections from the Chair, Dr Javid Abdelmoneim.

MSF exists because of the principle of humanity, the belief that all humankind shall be treated humanely and equally.  Institutional racism has no place in MSF and MSF UK fully commits to be part of making the change both across our wider movement and closer to home.  

Vickie Hawkins
Executive Director, MSF UK


MSF UK is part of an international movement of legal entities, commonly referred to as MSF, which are bound by a shared name and identity, and shared commitment to the MSF Charter and principles.

The statements in this article relate to both the international movement’s global field projects and to the MSF UK office.