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Crisis Action makes a big noise using quiet citizen diplomacy

Crisis Action acts like a coach or talent scout for humanitarian and other citizen groups – but always behind the scenes.

By Staff Writer / February 17, 2012

Crisis Action supported Amnesty International in organizing a global day of action on Egypt (here in London) in February 2011. The tiny nonprofit works behind the scenes to coordinate the efforts of nonprofit citizen groups.

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Crisis Action likes to avoid the spotlight.

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The nonprofit group considers the work it does to be like that of a football coach, an orchestra conductor, or a talent scout, says executive director Gemma Mortensen. Its job is to help the groups it works with – including some of the most well-known humanitarian aid organizations – be more effective by working together. Crisis Action works to "create a dream team" of experts and organizations to attack a particular problem, Ms. Mortensen says.

But, welcome or not, today Crisis Action is suddenly better known. Yesterday (Feb. 16) it was named by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as one of 15 groups who will receive the 2012 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. The awards, in amounts ranging from $350,000 to $2.5 million, recognize "extraordinary organizations [who] demonstrate exceptional creativity and effectiveness" and whose "impact is altogether disproportionate to their size,” says MacArthur President Robert Gallucci. (Click here for a press release and a list of award winners.)

That's certainly the case with Crisis Action. Founded in 2004, it has a tiny budget of about $2 million a year and just over 20 employees situated in seven key locations around the world: Cairo; Nairobi, Kenya; New York; and Brussels, as well as in France, Germany, and Britain.

Crisis Action, together with its nongovernmental partners, has played an influential role in swaying the policies of governments on Sudan, Congo, Gaza, Afghanistan, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Libya, and Syria, MacArthur says. "Among other achievements, Crisis Action has coordinated joint campaigns to: secure one of the largest UN peacekeeping forces for Darfur; bring those accountable for mass rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo to justice; secure the first ever UN Security Council Presidential Statement on Burma; and support hundreds of Arab NGOs to convince the Arab League to respond to mass violence against civilians in Libya and Syria," a statement from MacArthur says.

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