Association Strategy 2018-21

The commitment of each volunteer to the MSF movement goes beyond completing a mission: it also assumes an active participation in the associative life of the organization and adheres to the Charter and Principles of MSF Within the different representative structures of MSF, the effective participation of volunteers is based on an equal voice for each member, guaranteeing the associative character of the organization. MSF also endeavors to constantly integrate new volunteers to maintain spontaneity and spirit of innovation. Linked to the idea of volunteerism, the association character of MSF permits an openness towards our societies and a capacity for questioning ourselves.

The Chantilly Principles, 1996. Principle 10: Operating as an Association








Association Strategy 2018-2021

Médecins Sans Frontières is an international medical movement that exists to save lives, alleviate suffering and speak out when the circumstances force its members to do so. Established as an association, the voices of its associative members are crucial to inspire the internal culture of debate that keeps the movement questioning its actions. It is the capacity to question and to hold our movement accountable that has made MSF evolve into a strong international movement, where members get increasing power to associate and decide the fate, actions and orientations of the movement.

Läkare Utan Gränser, MSF Sweden, is a 25-year old association and includes more than 400 members, the majority residents in Sweden and Finland, that make a strong contribution to the international movement. The engagement, motivation and perseverance of MSF Sweden members have been crucial in the movements’ actions, for instance, to fight power abuse and sexual harassment, to lead to the creation of the MSF Pediatric Days Conference, and to motivate an honest discussion about organizational growth within the movement. 1

Our movement needs to continue striving for a membership that’s meaningful: one that sees value in common action, that resists the dangers of compromise, routine and institutionalization (The Chantilly Principles) and that feels the responsibility to make our movement even more relevant and less comfortable. With this in mind, we are very happy to launch the very-first Association Strategy for MSF Sweden!

This paper, with a three-year reach aims at lifting the strengths of our association and capitalizing on them to, at the same time, address issues like our civil-society activism, internal democracy, and our support toward more associative participation in the field. We believe that a strong and active participation will challenge and support our executives into ensuring the highest quality of care towards patients. To turn the strategy into concrete results we need the engagement, critical thinking and support of our association all the way from this document, to the activities that during these three years will bring our strategy into meaningful implementation.


This strategy is an internal document that guides the work of the Board and Association department / Board and Executive into strengthening the MSF Sweden Association, which is in line with the current MSF Sweden Strategy. Association members are understood as a one-MSF force in MSF Sweden, including current or former fieldworkers, office staff and volunteers. The purpose of the strategy is to drive forward the development of the MSF Sweden Association. We believe that a strong, active and engaged MSF Sweden association is to the benefit of MSF as it:

  • Exercises democracy through the election of Board members;
  • Holds the executive accountable;
  • Directs MSF and sets the movement priorities through motions and a culture of debate.

This strategy document focuses on how to lead our association towards four Expected Outcomes (EO) in the areas of: informed engagement, nurturing our social capital, democracy and associative life in the field.

The document provides a short insight into the strategies and visions of other associations, and it briefly refers as well to our 2018 Annual Action Plan. Some current figures and data about the MSF Sweden Association will allow us to analyze both our strong points and our challenges, the latter which are addressed in the action points belonging to the four expected outcomes that form the core of this strategy. 


In the MSF Sweden Strategy 2018-2021, the Board mandated all departments in the office to focus on areas that need further strengthening and support in order to reach MSF Sweden’s wished position.2 One of these focus areas is the MSF Sweden Association, and it is described as following: 

Strengthen the Association in Sweden in order to drive forward the development of MSF The Board and the Executive will commit time and resources to developing measures to inject energy into the “MSF spirit”, bringing more members to the table for debate and decisions, and boosting the democratic process within the Association.

Strengthen the Association in Sweden in order to drive forward the development of MSF The Board and the Executive will commit time and resources to developing measures to inject energy into the “MSF spirit”, bringing more members to the table for debate and decisions, and boosting the democratic process within the Association.

The MSF Sweden Strategy was developed with a process of co-creation between the Board, the Executive and the association. The focus area reflects the commonly-identified need to boost the MSF associative engagement. Parallel to this, the objective for the Board and Association Department in 2018 is to ensure accountability through a knowledgeable, participatory, democratic, and engaged Association. The subobjectives for the Association’s Annual Action Plan 2018 are:

  • Association members are engaged and proactive while our medical identity remains solid;
  • A welcoming and inclusive space for the other Nordic sections (Norway and Denmark) in the frame of the Nordic Associations is created in MSF Sweden;
  • Strengthening the MSF Sweden Association as a strategic part of the MSF movement;
  • The Board, predominantly medical, will maintain its fiduciary responsibility with a well-defined and followed strategy and a functional dynamic vis-à-vis the Executive. 


The Association Working Group3 (AWG) decided to develop a strategy for the MSF Sweden Association with the aim of encouraging “outside-the-box-thinking and a zoom-out perspective” that would allow for action to strengthen activism and active engagement of members. A long-term strategy has never been developed for the MSF Sweden Association, however, a Nordic Association Strategy was drafted in early 2016. This strategy, embedded in the Nordic Project of merging the MSF Sweden and Norway Associations addressed four focus areas: Member communication and information sharing, members’ meetings, governance, and integration in the international movement. Although the MSF Nordic strategy would be clearly different in terms of scope and structure from the MSF Sweden Association strategy, it highlights three membership types: highly-motivated members, moderately-motivated members and distant members.; these categories may prove useful when orienting our activities to a specific member group. In the Nordic strategy for instance, the communication area focused on motivated members as a priority group.4

Another inspiring strategy is the Southern African Association Strategy.5 It relies on the MSF-Southern African vision of Strengthening Diversity Together and it therefore aims at building, leveraging and linking the experience and expertise of the MSF Southern Africa Association for the MSF Movement’s Medical and Operational needs. In this strategy, there is a clear link between associative activities and the four focus areas of the MSF-Southern African vision, namely proximity, diversity, innovation and activism. A useful paper that has been consulted by the AWG is the Action Plan for the Brussels Association Team6 which leads to four expected outcomes:

  1. informed and engaged staff;
  2. dynamic association in all missions; 
  3. OCB network’s co-ownership;
  4. democratic and participative governance. The elements that were more useful in the AWG from the OCB-Association Action Plan were the aspect of co-ownership and democratic participation.


The AWG considers a strategy paper as a method to encourage outside-of-the-box and zoom-out thinking for the association. The MSF Sweden Association counts with a strong membership of 411 paying members in 2018, which is 55% of the total of members who have ever joined the 25-year-old Association.7 When these statistics were consulted, 99 people that qualify for membership had not yet become members. Our membership is also compliant with the International Statutes8 as 60% of paying members have a medical/para-medical background and 83% have MSF international experience (have been in field projects at least once).9 In 2017-2018 the Board of MSF Sweden had a majority of board members with medical background and all of them had relevant field experience.

However, figures are less promising when it comes to internal democracy. Although in 2017 the General Assembly (GA) had a record in attendance, only 22% of voting members casted a vote (91 people). Even though this is a slight improvement from the 17% of 2016, it does not reveal any promising trend. Quite the opposite; it is clear that the majority of MSF Sweden members are not exercising the full democratic role that they are entitled to play.

At a survey launched in 2016 to evaluate the PowWow (84 responders), questions around membership and active association were asked. 27% of responders said they were “somehow active” in the Association, while 15% would describe themselves as “very active”. Nearly 50% of respondent valued themselves as active members. It could then be argued that the association is “moderately active”. Participation in MSF Evenings in Stockholm is good (between 15 and 40 participants since 2016) and the number of participants in international associative events is most of the times higher than what we forecast during our Annual Action Plan. 


We believe that our moderately motivated association could improve in the exercise of democracy at General Assemblies, be part of the civil society in Sweden by actively raising awareness about MSF and our work, take the lead in the movement when raising relevant issues, continue promoting relevant motions for the international movement, and develop stronger links between association members spread across the country.

The Board and Association Department strives to create a sense of ownership among members by providing the information and opportunities for them to contribute in the organizations’ social capital. This will in turn lead to better retention and potentially, more departures to the field. Furthermore, the identity of MSFers as part of an association, is key when building the core of MSF activities in the Association: The Association should be integrated in the whole concept of MSF Sweden.

To achieve these objectives, the MSF Sweden Strategy 2018-2021 has as one focus area to “Strengthen the Association in Sweden in order to drive forward the development of MSF.” We believe that we have the resources, competences and engagement needed to lead a successful and steady process of further engaging members and strengthening our internal democracy.

Communication is also an overarching role of the Board and Association department. An important part of the department’s work is to keep members informed, network with other associations, and to arrange and support members’ activities and the General Assembly.

Associative life is the responsibility of each associative member. The MSF Sweden office and in particular the Board and Association department is responsible for providing a strategy that allows to change routines into more involvement of our association members to make the association stronger, inspiring, democratic and inclusive. 


Four expected outcomes are defined in the Association strategy. Those are developed after identifying the focuses of engagement, nurturing our social capital, creating co-ownership and building on a stronger associative life in the field! 

EO1: The MSF Sweden Association is engaged, informed and participative. Activism goes beyond paying the annual fee or formally being a member. We provide the tools so that all MSFers feel included and take a role in the association. 


  • We achieve a stronger synergy between the Communications and Association Departments: The association is in the loop regarding fieldworkers that communicate about MSF activities. These fieldworkers are Ambassadors of MSF, and therefore they’re also of great help to inspire other members.
  • Fieldworkers are offered an Association buddy. The Association connects fieldworkers with association members living in the same area in order to meet, exchange experiences and introduce them to the association.
  • The Association Coordinator attends the various gatherings and meetings where associative members are present, such as homecoming seminars and returnee workshops. The purpose is to reach to fieldworkers / associative member and explain about different initiatives or ways to support issues of interest from fieldworkers.
  • The Association teams-up with the Fundraising department so that the Telemarketing Team can support us to get in touch with inactive10 members to better assess the reasons why they’re not anymore active or haven’t considered to become members yet. We believe that in this way we can get a better, personal insight into what inactive members think and possible ways to re-boost engagement. 
EO2: We all invest in our social capital. The association is seen as an investment for the common good. Our association is aware of the advantages of voluntarism and cooperation and this inspires members and strengthens their bonding with the movement. 


  • With input from MSF Communication and Advocacy department we propose areas of members’ engagement, depending on operational relevance (e.g. antibiotic resistance, access to healthcare, attacks on humanitarian workers, etc.). Members are invited to participate in these groups and to liaise with other health and civil society organizations to do mobilization or awareness-raising activities.
  • Developing stronger links between association members spread across the country and in Finland. Despite the policy of two trips per year, members from places other than Stockholm feel that they don’t have the same possibilities to participate in association events because they often take place in Stockholm. To enhance ownership, the President, the Association Coordinator and the Association working group will continue supporting Satellite Groups, including helping them to arrange associative events, linking people together and visiting them every year.
  • We will continue to improve our streaming and videoconference solutions so that people can easily connect and participate in debates taking place in Sweden from everywhere.
EO3: Democratic and participative governance. Our members vote at the General Assemblies, present motions and question/guide the work of the Board and Executive. Members hold the Board and Executive accountable and they, at the same time, give account to beneficiaries and donors by implementing the social mission of the organization. 


  • After the input from / After consulting associative members, the Board will decide if continuing or not to hold General Assemblies together with MSF Norway.
  • A teaser is developed with the help of the Communication Department inviting to the GA three months before it takes place. The teaser would include members from all backgrounds (medical, non-medical, office staff, fieldworkers, etc.).
  • Together with the Board and the Fundraising Department we contact members that have shown strong interest in associative work and offer them to lead thematic groups and to help with MSF evenings and events. Likewise, some donors that have been loyal to MSF can also be co-opted and help us arrange activities that our regular members lack the time to arrange.
  • A Statutes change is proposed by the Board to allow electronic voting.
EO4: Associative Life in the Field. The Association goes beyond Sweden and Finland borders. MSF Sweden fieldworkers have a role in developing and strengthening the associative life in our projects. The Association and Board department is engaged in supporting field missions in the pursuing of a stronger associative network. 


  • A partnership proposal is developed by the Association to support field associative activities in a project or mission. The support intends also to benefit and engage the MSF Sweden association and to hold it updated with field operations.
  • We encourage the linking and networking of the MSF Sweden Association’s expertise within the wider movement. Members are engaged to develop joint projects with other associations and offices. The Association in cooperation with other departments supports them in bridging with different associations.
  • Field Associative Debates (FAD) will continue to be an important part of the Board and Association department. The support and discussions between MSF Sweden association and field projects goes beyond the FAD visit itself. 


We don’t foresee the need to increase resources during the strategy’s implementation period. The association strategy is aiming for a stronger and more active association and this will be possible within the scope/capacity of the current staffing (1,5 FTE) 11 with the support of board members.


  • If the General Assembly is hosted in Norway every second year, it will impact participation of MSF Sweden members and therefore our internal democracy.
  • Our presence in towns other than Stockholm can only be limited to a few trips per year. Therefore, satellite groups can have low motivation to engage in activities.
  • The Board and Association Department is the smallest department in the MSF Sweden office and therefore has limited resources when it comes to supporting participation of association members in international association events, especially if held outside Europe.
Informed and active associations and their representatives are crucial to assuring the relevance of our action and the maintenance of a strong MSF international movement. Invigorating participation in the associative at all levels of MSF is essential to building and maintaining credible, competent and relevant international governance. MSF, La Mancha Agreement, 2006

1 This paragraph refers to three motions sponsored by MSF Sweden members: Pediatric Care in the Field (2014), Prevention and Management of Harassment and Abuse of Power (2017), and Growth and Evolution of MSF (2018).

2 “MSF Sweden exists to save lives and alleviate suffering through delivery of MSF’s social mission. We stand up for our principles. We inspire, and are inspired by, our members in order to make positive changes as an active partner section in the Movement. We influence Swedish society to help us achieve better outcomes for our beneficiaries. We strive to ensure that MSF Sweden is consistently the leading medical humanitarian organization in Sweden.” 

3 Board members Katrin Kisswani, Sophie Graner, Jessica Svefors, Mikael Mangold and Jon Gunnarsson as well as Association Coordinator Ana Chaurio. Former Board members Anna Bergström and Lina Gustin also took part in the working group

4 MSF-Nordic Association Strategy Paper (For approval at the Nordic Board Meeting 2016/02/07). Available upon request. 

5 MSF Southern Africa: Board and Association Strategy 2018-2010. Available in upon request.

6 The consulted paper is a draft from October 2017. The final document can be shared when available and upon request.

7 Data source: HERO, March 2018.

8 According to Article 6 (2; section C; §II and III) of the MSF International Statutes: “one third of its members have international experience of working in Operational Projects; and iii. one third of its members have a Medical Background and it strives to have a majority of its members with a Medical Background”. MSF International Statutes are available here.

9 Data collected for the 2017 International Structural Analysis. Sources: Bisnode-Charity and HERO. 

10 An ”inactive” member is the one who has not participated in any associative event for more than a year.

11 Refers to Full-Time Employee. The Department has one full-time employee (Association Coordinator) and one parttime employee (Board Support), while the President’s remuneration is also included in the budget. In the 2017 budget, the salary of a temporary position as General Assembly Coordinator was included. 

By: Rebecca Cederholm