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Guide to Organizations Without/Beyond Borders in Social Change

Craig Zelizer

October 16, 2019

Over the past four decades, countless organizations have been formed to foster advocacy, collective action and bridge building to convene like minded professionals or individuals to work to address specific challenges in sectors ranging from health, education, conflict and others.

The purpose of this resource guide is to provide an overview of the emergence of the X beyond/without border movement (X means fill in the blank with the particular focus/sector of the organization). A brief history of the emergence of X without borders will be provided, some key questions highlighted regarding orgs with this name and a list (that will be updated thus please feel free to provide your suggestions for new orgs to add) and some recommendations will be provided.

Doctors without borders (Medicines sans Frontiers) was the first organization founded in this sphere. The organization was founded in 1971 and as Bernard Koucher explains about their goal,

It’s simple really: go where the patients are. It seems obvious, but at the time it was a revolutionary concept because borders got in the way. It’s no coincidence that we called it ‘Médecins Sans Frontières’” from DWB, website.

DWB seeks to provide health care access in societies where health care infrastructure or services aren’t sufficient often due to human or natural caused disasters without regard to “race, religion, creed or political convinctions.” The group doesn’t take sides in conflict regions and seeks to remain impartial and neutral and provide care for all.

Today MSF has offices in over 20 countries (click here These are usually registered NGOs that raise funds and send doctors and other health professionals to assist) and working in over 70 countries around the world ranging from the Central Africa Republic to Afghanistan.

The organization has reached critical acclaim and was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1999 in recognition for their work in dozens of countries and helping millions. In the acceptance speech Dr. James Orbinski eloquently explained their work “For its affirmation of the road MSF has chosen to take: to remain outspoken, passionate and deeply committed to its core principles of volunteerism, impartiality, and its belief that every person deserves both medical assistance and the recognition of his or her humanity.” “MSF is often known as “.. for often being the last group on the ground offering assistance when others have pulled out.

Although the group has received widespread praise and helped millions, they have been critiqued and also confronted by many ethical dilemmas, particularly how to operate in challenging contexts of extreme violence, or political repression. Moreover a critical issue is if the organization should stay focused on its commitment to neutrality and impartiality or if sometimes it is necessary to take sides or call for particular political actions (as the organization has done several times in its history).

Since MSF, there has been a virtual explosion of organizations using the beyond/without borders name with likely more than 100+ around the world. There are a number of reasons for this dramatic increase. The first is the incredible work of doctors without borders and the widespread impact the organization has had on saving lives and also pushing for access in many of the world’s key humanitarian crises. Second, is the name itself is quite catchy and can be an effective way of convening individuals and professionals together for collective action. Third is building on the strong brand or identity name created by Doctors without Borders can help create more legitimacy for newer efforts.

There are a number of key questions and issues to consider when examining the beyond/without borders movement.

1) Reach and Impact of a particular organization – Given that there now countless organizations using this model it is always important to investigate a particular organization to ascertain the reach, legitimacy and impact of its work.

2) Ethics – It is essential to that each organization has clear ethical guidelines that outline how the organization views its work and ethical practice in challenging humanitarian and political contexts. How does the organization deal with issues of corruption, political repression? How is neutrality and impartially operationalized? Does the organization engage in reflective practice and engage in transparent writing about ethical challenges? For example Doctors without Borders engaged in strong reflection about the nature of their work (see a recent accountability statement) that can serve as learning and guidance for the larger field.

3) Power and Representation – One of the key issues facing many organizations is are they adequately and ethically representing their diverse professions as well as the populations they seek to serve. Are they engaging in culturally appropriate and ethical communications to raise awareness about particular causes, or producing “poverty porn” that exploits others to raise much needed funds. Is the organization only engaging in North-South assistance or working in their home regions as well?

There are many other issues of ethics, power and impact that need to be explored. Feel free to suggest your own.

Below please find a beginning list of X organizations beyond/without borders (that deal with themes that PCDN addresses such as peacebuilding, development, social entrepreneurship, gender, etc.). It is important to note as highlighted above this is not a complete list (please suggest your additions) and no other organization has achieved the scope/scale of Doctors without Borders. Also, listing a particular institution shouldn’t be seen as an endorsement of their work.


1) Mediators Beyond Borders – Building a More Peace “Able” World – Has been in existence for over seven years and seeks to build local skills for peace and promotes mediation worldwide.

2) MBAs without Borders -an initiative of Pyxera Global that embeds MBA’s business acumen and professional skills in local non-governmental organizations, social enterprises and bi- and multilateral development programs Through long-term technical assistance and market-based strategies, MBAs Without Borders Advisors enable enterprises, government agencies, and civil society organizations in emerging and frontier markets to acquire, utilize, and adapt the latest management tools and techniques needed to strengthen institutional capacity, improve service provision and support systemic change.

3)Clowns without Borders – offers laughter to relieve the suffering of all persons, especially children, who live in areas of crisis including refugee camps, conflict zones and territories in situations of emergency. We bring levity, contemporary clown/circus oriented performances and workshops into communities so that they can celebrate together and forget for a moment the tensions that darken their daily lives.

4) Architects without Borders –  provides ecologically sensitive + culturally appropriate design assistance to communities in need locally and abroad.

5) Reporters without Borders – Founded in 1985 has two main areas of activity, one focused on Internet Censorship and the New Media, and the other devoted to providing material, financial and psychological assistance to journalists assigned to dangerous areas.

6) Teachers without Borders – connects teachers to information and each other to create local change on a global scale.

7) Acupuncturists without Borders – vision is to foster the creation of stable, peaceful global communities through its community-based acupuncture services and training which interrupt the cycles of unresolved trauma.

8) Engineers without Borders – is a nonprofit humanitarian organization established to support community-driven development programs worldwide through partnerships that design and implement sustainable engineering projects, while creating transformative experiences that enrich global perspectives and create responsible leaders.

9) Avocats Sans Frontieresis an international NGO specialised in defending human rights and supporting justice.

10) Bankers without Borders on a mission to end abject poverty around the world by powering a global “skillanthropy” movement. We harness the skills and services of the world’s brightest minds and institutions to accelerate the progress of social entrepreneurs dedicated to connecting the poor to their potential.

11) Women Without Borders – brings together courageous and determined women to create a new female security paradigm. We advocate for a future without fear, suppression and violence.

12) Awesome Without Borders – The Awesome Foundation distributes a series of monthly $1,000 grants to projects and their creators. Do you have a zany, over-the-top, “no one will ever fund this because it’s too crazy” kind of idea? You’re in the right place! From Buffalo to Zimbabwe, we’ve supported an installation that lit up the Arizona Canal, a magazine controlled by its readers, and a street-side ball pit that encourages connectedness. There is awesome lurking in every corner. Our job is to find and fund it.

13) Curators without Borders –  mission is to design and implement dynamic and participatory educational exhibitions, outreach and advocacy campaigns for underserved communities worldwide, in partnership with nonprofits, museums and cultural institutions.

14) Libraries without Borders – strives to convey a very open and modern view of the library, at the crossroads of learning centers, fab-labs and co-working spaces. New generation libraries serve as true incubators of ideas and social projects serving the most vulnerable communities.

15) Statistics Without Borders – Statistics Without Borders (SWB) is a volunteer Outreach Group of the American Statistical Association (ASA) that provides pro bono services in statistics and data science. SWB aims to improve decision making and knowledge in efforts that promote welfare through the proper application of statistical principles and best practices, where access to such resources is limited.

16) Cultural Heritage without Borders: The foundation Cultural Heritage without Borders was founded in 1995 as an independent Swedish non-governmental organisation to work in the spirit of the 1954 Hague Conventions for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflicts, natural catastrophes, neglect, poverty or political and social conflicts. We see our work as a vital contribution to building democracy and supporting human rights. CHwB is neutral when it comes to conflicting parties, but not to the rights of all people to cultural heritage – now and in the future. CHwB currently has local foundations in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo and operates on a project basis in other countries, as well.

17) Soccer Without Borders –  Soccer Without Borders believes that the potential of soccer to make change is deeper than simply playing the game. Rather, our programs are built around the philosophy that soccer’s interpersonal environment has unique potential to meaningfully impact participants. Within that environment, youth are exposed to the benefits of soccer and team sports for their bodies, voices, and minds, and supported in the application of these benefits to their everyday lives and future goals.

18) Stories without Borders – Stories without Borders works independently and in strategic partnership with organizations to tell underreported stories and empower new storytellers.

19) Translators without Borders (TWB) is a non-profit organization offering language and translation support for humanitarian and development agencies, and other non-profit organizations on a global scale. 

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