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Celebrating Concern

On 13 February, the Irish Times published a special supplement about Concern and its work. A selection of these articles is available below. In addition to this, the Irish Times published the following editorial.

It is ironic that while Ireland has struggled to combine efficiency and social justice at home, Irish-based development agencies have been able to do so abroad. Yet the 40th anniversary of Concern, which we mark in a special supplement with today's edition, is nonetheless a source of justified pride for the country. 

From its origins as an immediate response to famines in Biafra in 1968 and Bangladesh in 1972, Concern has developed into a world-class aid organisation.

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While retaining the compassion and sense of human equality that motivated its founders, it has become a thoughtful, pioneering operation whose innovations in fields like emergency nutrition have been adopted by the UN as global standards.

Concern has brought hope to millions of people in Africa and Asia whose lives have been blighted by natural disasters, poverty and injustice. But it also brings hope to Ireland. One of our great contemporary fears is that in the pursuit of prosperity, we have lost our deeper values. Concern is a great example of the way such values can be sustained even while change is embraced. Its roots are in the Catholic missionary tradition, but its founders had the foresight to make it non-denominational. That openness has allowed it not just to operate successfully in majority Islamic societies like Bangladesh, but to translate the best aspects of the missionary movement into the context of a pluralist Ireland.

This underlying continuity has enabled Concern to face change. The framework for aid has shifted from charity to human rights. There has been a growing awareness that, while emergency disaster relief will always be needed, long-term solutions to chronic poverty can only be brought about by developing countries themselves.

In an era of large-scale government aid programmes, relatively small organisations can still make a big difference. Concern's modest size and non-bureaucratic culture has allowed it to respond quickly to emergencies and to think about problems in a more flexible and radical way. People in the most extreme long-term poverty are often socially or geographically isolated, making it hard for official programmes to reach them. Concern is very good at seeking them out and giving them, not just material help, but a voice in their own societies.

This capacity to work on the edge owes much to the fact that a large proportion of Concern's funding comes from ordinary Irish people whose contributions are not tied to any official or political agenda. They give money because they have learned over 40 years to trust Concern. There could be no greater tribute to the organisation as it heads into its fifth decade.

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