The world could be forgiven for assuming that the mission of the Organisation Internationale de La Francophonie (OIF) was to preserve and promote the French language around the globe, after all the term Francophone is used internationally to describe those who use the French language as a mother tongue. The mission of the IOF is, however, much broader and deeper than the shared language of its member states.
Formed after a convention of 21 member states in 1970, the original Agency for Cultural and Technical Cooperation (commonly referred to as La Francophonie) was created as an intergovernmental group to help promote coordinated efforts on a number of matters that affected French speaking countries and regions around the globe. While the shared common language of French connected these original member states, the goal was to increase cultural connectivity, cooperation, and advancement among the member states on a level that would benefit the greater world.
During its four plus decades of existence, La Francophonie has grown to include 77 members representing the world’s five colonized continents with members stretching from France to Canada, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Currently, La Francophonie boasts 57 member states and governments as well as 20 observer states.
On a Mission for Good
The organisation was formed to enhance the bond of nations and cultures around the globe that shared the French language and embraced the humanist values of the French language. Representing over 890 million citizens worldwide, including 220 million francophones, the stated goal of La Francophonie is to “organise political activities and actions of multilateral cooperation that benefit French-speaking populations. Its actions respect cultural and linguistic diversity and serve to promote the French language, peace and sustainable development”.
For La Francophonie, this means helping organise and fund projects around the globe to promote economic growth, sustainable development, education initiatives, and cultural improvement. Over the years La Francophonie has found success on each continent it operates on and continues that mission today.
Cultural and Linguistic Diversity
Without question, the primary mission of La Francophonie is to promote the French language as an international language during this time of globalisation, while still promoting cultural and linguistic diversity. As economic globalisation has increased in the 21st century, so too has the drive towards uniformity that often threatens native cultures and languages with marginalisation.
As a result, La Francophonie and all of its member states actively work to promote not just the French language, but also the preservation of cultural and linguistic identities in the face of globalisation. Despite successes, the group faces uphill battles still amongst member nations from Africa (in particular) where the French language coexists alongside tribal and native tongues.
In these settings, La Francophonie strives to promote solidarity at the national level while helping governments find ways of preserving native tongues in a manner that allows various languages to coexist with French.
Peace and Human Rights
As countless international incidents in the past three decades have shown, political instability puts the ideal of peace in harm’s way and can quickly lead to human rights violations that marginalise segments of the population or even lead to genocide. La Francophonie works tirelessly with member states to promote democracy, stability, peace, and observance of human rights.
In order to achieve this goal, La Francophonie makes available to all of its member states not only the financial means to tackle political and human rights initiatives, but also the knowledge to create sustainable growth in these areas. This includes providing member states with access to intergovernmental, institutional, and academic networks that provide the knowledge to assist in improving national capacities, maintaining political stability, and resolving conflicts with a focus on sustainable results.
Education, Training, and Research
Part of the organisation’s primary mission to promote and preserve French and native tongues among its member nations, La Francophonie has a strong focus on providing education, training, and research to all citizens across its member nations. This means not just access to primary education for children, but the ability to improve educational systems, training for careers, and research to advance national and cultural initiatives.
A recent example of this work would be the Francophone Initiative for Long-Distance Teacher Training. The pilot phase for the programme was launched in 2008 in four member states (Benin, Burundi, Haiti, and Madagascar) and featured Internet access for hundreds of primary school teachers in order to enhance the quality of materials available for training teachers. Since its pilot phase, the programme has grown from its four pilot nations to provide even more computers and Internet access to, now, thousands of teachers. The project has expanded to include the Democratic Republic of Congo as a participant.
Sustainable Growth and Development
Last, but certainly not least, it is the group’s mission to help member states with sustainable growth and development measures. La Francophonie is deeply involved in promoting anti-poverty and resource preservation and management initiatives among its member states with the stated goal of ensuring that development and growth (economic and otherwise) is achieved through sustainable means.
Among member states in Africa, desertification as a result of poor land management is a great concern. Without proper land management initiatives, exhausted land can fail to hold back the advance of the desert and rob member states of usable land for crop growth.
La Francophonie’s Sustainable Land Management and Desertification Partnership is one such initiative. As part of a larger economic development project, La Francophonie seeks to aid member states in focusing on economic and development initiatives that have the proper governance in place to ensure land management for crop use and growth that is sustainable.