Médecins Sans Frontières: Guardian of Humanitarian Values

Liesbet Heyse*, Valeska Korff

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors without Borders, was started by a few doctors and journalists in the 1970s. Today, MSF is a humanitarian actor to be reckoned with, with its emergency medicine expertise and its unique interpretation of the neutrality and independence principles. The organization has acted unconventionally in numerous humanitarian crises and criticized peer organizations in the sector. This nonconformity has never harmed MSF; the organization is highly respected by the general public. This chapter analyzes how MSF as a principled provocateur could evolve into a public guardian of humanitarian values. We posit that MSF’s controversial acts have become an integral part of its reputation; it is expected to go against the grain. However, in order to be credible, the organization works hard to uphold its ‘volunteer and humanitarian spirit’ and strives to be an effective and professional organization.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGuardians of Public Value
Subtitle of host publicationHow Public Organisations Become and Remain Institutions
EditorsArjen Boin, Lauren Fahy, Paul 't Hart
PublisherPalgrave MacMillan
Number of pages31
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-51701-4
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-51700-7
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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