“You’re emotionally numb! Nothing touches you anymore!” Jouni Hemberg, FCA’s Executive Director, addresses 12 claims regarding FCA and its work.
Jouni Hemberg has seen more than a fair share of humanitarian crises, and he’s been around the block a few times as a rock musician. In our interview, he addresses some tough allegations people frequently make in FCA’s social media channels.
“It’s Finland who needs the help”
Finn Church Aid, which recently celebrated its 75th anniversary, was founded in 1947 when post-war reconstruction began. Back then, Finland was a beneficiary, not a donor. Today, war is again raging in Europe, forcing us back towards where we started.
We are not going back in the sense that we would focus our work on Finland. Our work in Europe currently focuses on Ukraine. It is tragic that a war interrupted a long period of peace in Europe, but we hope the situation in Ukraine will not escalate and that instead, we could set our sights on reconstruction.
“You get numb to suffering”
You have decades of experience in humanitarian disasters and development work. As a young man, you witnessed the horrors Romania endured under Ceaușescu’s rule in the early 90s. Having witnessed so much suffering has made you emotionally numb, and nothing touches you anymore.
No, that’s not true. Admittedly, I have adopted a more professional role, but human suffering touches me every bit as much as it did when I was a young man. My first job in Romania was quite shocking and I saw all kinds of things, but that has happened again later in my career. The important thing is to focus on your ability to do something; not being able to do anything is devastating. I have not yet been in a situation where nothing could be done to help.
“Development cooperation creates dependency”
There is no point in pouring more money into development cooperation because nothing in this world will change for the better.
Not true. On the contrary; development cooperation in its various forms is precisely what we should spend money on. There are many alternatives available. We can offer loans to companies, or our expertise and knowledge to the beneficiary countries. Development cooperation is about working together towards common goals. Cooperation in itself is something worth striving for.
Cooperation usually results in improvements and better outcomes. Although there have been occasional setbacks, we have seen dramatic improvements: extreme poverty has halved and the number of children with access to education has increased. Development cooperation is a worthwhile investment. Two out of three Finns consider it very important or fairly important.
“Finn Church Aid beg for money everywhere”
Your employees shake their collecting boxes on every street corner and call people in the evenings, asking for donations. Because of cuts in the government’s development funding, FCA is constantly begging for money.
Yes, that’s true. With so many people in need of help, regrettably our need for new donors and donations is also growing. This is our reality. We are begging for money in more ways than one, both in Finland and in international contexts. Every single donation in Finland, no matter how small, is really important because they enable cooperation with foreign funding providers, whereas monthly donations ensure our ability to provide aid over a longer term. Without the contribution of individuals, parishes and businesses in Finland we would not be able to continue our work.
“The money flows into the pockets of the privileged”
The only people benefitting from fundraising conducted by development cooperation organisations is big shots like you. Your wallet is so thick it won’t fit in your back pocket.
Haha. It is true that my wallet is thick, but only because it’s full of receipts. But to be honest, there’s very little money or anything worth any money in it. We have discovered that our salaries are low in the sense that they are not competitive with the private sector or UN agencies.
Organisations like ours have to fight for skilled labour. In fact, there is room for improvement in this area. Everyone deserves to be paid for their work, and if you are employed full-time, you need more than ideology in return for your contribution. Sadly, I receive just as many bills by email or post as the next person.
“Wells solve the drought”
FCA’s finances are subject to both external and internal audit. Of each euro donated to us, 90 cents go directly to our programme work.
It seems unlikely that money or cash assistance could solve the drought in East Africa. Digging wells would be a better idea.
It takes more than wells to solve the drought plaguing East Africa. In some conditions, a well might offer relief in the acute crisis, but unfortunately the ground water level is so low that digging wells is becoming more difficult every year. The parched fields in East Africa desperately need rain. Considering this is the fifth consecutive failed rainy season, a well would be scant comfort. We need to address climate change and help people to cope and adapt by taking action on a wide front. For all this, we need money.
“Africans need contraceptives”
You become annoyed by comments people make on social media where they downplay the importance of education and suggest sending condoms, tractors and clothes to Africa instead.
Absolutely! How would you feel if someone made comments like that about Finland? Finland’s economy is struggling, let’s send them some condoms to solve the problem? I don’t think you would appreciate that. Equality and companionship between people is important, whether they come from the north, east, south or west. People in all corners of the world are equally valuable and deserve to be treated equally.
“Finnish companies need support”
FCA keeps sending money to its programme countries even though it would be smarter to have companies go in and start a business.
We are, as a matter of fact, strongly increasing our cooperation with the private sector. Naturally it is not our job to act as a marketing channel for Finnish companies, but we have realised that by engaging the private sector we can achieve more sustainable change. We have, for instance, offered loans to small and medium-sized enterprises, which we feel offers strong employment potential and better income opportunities. The fact that we can contribute to a process that enhances corporate responsibility, tax revenues, and environmental and climate awareness, is extremely important for us.
“FCA is just a church proxy”
Finn Church Aid is an independent foundation with close ties to the Lutheran Church. In global operations, affiliation with the church does more good than harm.
That is correct, but I think we should clarify what this affiliation entails. Although we are rooted in the Lutheran Church, religion is not a guiding element but rather the foundation, or a springboard. Today, we operate as an independent foundation. Full adherence to humanitarian principles means our humanitarian work and aid provision is completely separate from religious activities.
It is also true that in global contexts our affiliation with the church does more good than harm. Although religion plays a lesser role in Europe, in other parts of the world religions still carry great social significance. As a faith-based organisation, our doors are generally open for cooperation at various levels and in all parts of the world.
“A church organisation should be for those only who belong to the church”
It is strange that Finn Church Aid does not focus primarily on helping Christians.
We adhere to humanitarian principles. That means our mission is not limited to helping Christians; instead, we want to offer assistance to everyone in need, regardless of religion, ethnicity or political position. We firmly believe that humanitarian law and humanitarian principles provide a strong foundation for our work, and we are convinced that they help us achieve positive results.
“Companies are more useful than development cooperation organisations”
You are known as a visionary and you often talk about agility. You think FCA should operate more like a company.
That’s not entirely true. I don’t think FCA should operate more like a company, but I would welcome a combination of different elements from both sectors. Strict separation of the private sector and civil society organisations makes our cooperation more difficult and complicated. By combining the best of both worlds we could increase our efficiency and agility, which would allow us to carry out our work much more effectively than we do today.
“Rock’n’Roll life is more fun than running an aid organisation”
You like running Finland’s biggest aid organisation just fine, but you would rather become a rock musician again. In fact, you have offered to play with your band, The Streets, in upcoming charity concerts.
Haha. I do love rock music. Back in 1967 I played more professionally, but for the most part music has been something I’ve done on the side, in addition to my actual career. It’s been a while since The Streets albums were released, and not all of our original members are able to participate any more. But I can see myself playing with a band in the future. Running Finland’s largest international aid organisation is a full-time job, but perhaps I will have more time for music when I retire.
Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen
Photos: Tatu Blomqvist
Translation: Leni Vapaavuori