American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)

Purpose

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) describes itself as a ‘practical expression’ of Quaker principles of nonviolence and justice. It works on conflict resolution and peacebuilding alongside issues of economic, social and criminal justice.

Origin and History

AFSC was founded by Rufus Jones and others, in 1917, soon after the US entered World War I. Its initial purpose was to help conscientious objectors contribute in nonviolent ways. Many were enabled to drive ambulances in France, often working with the Friends Ambulance Unit, created for similar reasons in Britain in 1914.

Between WW1 and WW2 AFSC helped with rebuilding Europe, and also developed a programme of work within the US. In Europe they ran several relief operations, notably the Quakerspeisung, which fed many children in Germany and Austria after WW1. Later they helped Jewish refugees to leave Germany before WW2.  In the US they helped  Appalachian miners to find alternative employment during the 1930s Depression.

During WW2 the US set up the CPS (Civilian Public Service) for conscientious objectors. AFSC ran several CPS camps. Japanese Americans were interned in large numbers after Pearl Harbour, and AFSC gave them what support they could, including helping them to get enrolled at universities willing to take them.

After WW2 AFSC was involved in relief work across the world – in Europe, Palestine, Japan, China and India, and helped many refugees. Later they did the same in Vietnam. In 1947, with the Friends Service Council (their British equivalent), AFSC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In the US they became active workers for human rights - in the civil rights movement, in the criminal justice system, for Native Americans, and immigrant workers. AFSC became active in non-formal diplomacy: it continues to finance QUNO New York, it sponsored a series of conferences for diplomats in Switzerland, and several of its worldwide offices are active in such work too.  Working with partners in the countries concerned, it has run several development projects and engaged in international mediation and community peace building initiatives.

Funding, governance and scale of operation

In 2011, AFSC’s total expenditure was over $30m. 47% was spent on work in the US, and 34% on work around the world, the remainder being spent on management and fundraising. Quaker meetings appoint members of the governing body, and a smaller board of directors oversees strategies and budgets. Every two years, meetings from all over the US are asked for suggestions about areas of future work.

Home base, physical offices, and countries worked in

AFSC’s main office is in Philadelphia, but it has nearly 40 offices all over the US, plus QUNO New York. There are 13 offices spread across Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America.

Methods of work

When AFSC engages in an area, it sets out to understand it thoroughly, so that it can be a credible and effective advocate, can develop plausible policy ideas, can educate others about the issues, and can undertake evidence-based and effective activities of its own. In determining which areas to focus on, its strategy makers look for gaps in which others are not operating but where AFSC could add real value. It works with partners all over the world, on an equal basis. Many non-Friends participate in its work.

Areas of current work

Crime and justice: restorative justice, campaigning against the death penalty, and community reintegration of released prisoners.
Economic justice: working towards a fairer global economic system whilst also helping with immediate injustices.
Education: peace education in schools, and provision of workshops and materials that foster understanding of current issues.
Human rights: the human rights of immigrants to the US, and working with partners worldwide to get the US to act upon human rights violations.
Peace and nonviolence:  youth initiatives in many countries that provide peaceful and constructive opportunities for them in their communities. QUNO and AFSC work on nonformal diplomacy, disarmament, and peaceful resolutions to conflicts between nations and within communities.
Politics: advocacy, at state and federal level, on a range of domestic policy issues, and also foreign policy issues, in areas where AFSC has considerable experience.
Relief : combining the relief of short-term needs with support for longer term rebuilding and development.