Interview to Development Workshop France

John Norton, Co-Founder and Managing Director of DWF Photo: DWF

“To achieve results, you need to gain, build and maintain the trust of communities".

Interview by Esther Fletcher & Jesus Cordero | London, July 4th 2017

Development Workshop France (DWF) is a French NGO, and provides support and technical assistance to small communities, specifically in the context of human settlements, housing, construction, and planning in developing countries. A member of GNDR since 2008, DWF believes in the power of networking and that promoting respect for local action for DRR and development is very important. At the beginning of the month we had the opportunity to interview over the phone John Norton, Co-founder and Managing Director of DWF. 

John established DWF in France in 1989, and has been a key part in the success and achievements of DWF. Development Workshop France has received many awards including in 2009 the UNISDR Sasakawa Award Certificate of Distinction for Disaster Reduction.

John, what does DWF do?

Development Workshop works with some of the poorest communities in the world, developing local capacities to improve lives and livelihoods. For over 40 years we have provided support, training and technical assistance to enable local people to deal with social, economic and environmental challenges including risk reduction in more than 30 countries.

What is your role in DWF? What does it entail?

My role as Managing Director includes helping the development of strategy, project development and in varying degrees management, fund raising, research, publication and visibility and more, like designing cartoon strips and scenarios for puppet shows!!! But none of this would eb possible without the very important collaboration of our field staff, some of whom have worked with us for many years.

How would you describe DWF role as part of civil-society?

DWF achieves its objectives through a variety of roles. DWF is an Implementer, a Capacity Builder, a Connector, a Knowledge Sharer, an Advocate, and a Promoter of solutions based on indigenous knowledge and local potential, capacity and resources.

What do you think are DWF’s biggest achievements as an organisation?

  • Achieving sustained and sustainable results in our programmes through very long term presence in our core regions, listening to, learning from and working with local communities that have assisted people to address existing and emerging problems, challenges and risks. Examples are the Woodless Construction programme or our support to thousands of women potters in West Africa. Also the promotion of locally adapted approaches to disaster risk reduction in the context of natural and man-made hazards, including in the last 25 years our actions in Vietnam and neighbouring SE Asian countries;
  • The impact of our locally driven actions have enabled us to influence both local and national strategies and policies, for example being invited by the Vietnamese Government to help revise the national standards for safe housing in flood and cyclone risk areas of Vietnam, and working to strengthen the collaboration between local authorities and civil society in Burkina Faso on locally collective actions to prevent was a great achievement;
  • Since 1973, promoting respect for indigenous knowledge as a building block for development, proof of which is our publication in 1976 of a exhibition on Indigenous Building and the Third World, presented at the first UN Habitat Conference in 1976, Vancouver.

Why did you join GNDR?

We joined GNDR because there are clear synergies between our work and mission and those of GNDR. At DWF, we believe in the power of networking and that promoting respect for local action for DRR and development is very important.

Could you name 3 benefits for your organisation of being a GNDR member?

  • Participation in innovative projects that promote the voice of civil society
  • Learning from other CSOs’ experience, issues and actions
  • Collaboration in field projects

If you could change one thing in GNDR, what would this be?

Better management of the flow of internet-based information and messages; sometimes messages are rather overwhelming (thus not read), and occasionally not pertinent (but getting better).

What should GNDR do to sustain or increase members’ engagement or participation?

Initiatives like the one that GNDR is planning to do right now with the recategorisation of its membership;

If you want to contact DWF, please email John Norton at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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