Our history

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Our history

For 50 years, Concern has worked with the most vulnerable people in the world’s poorest countries to help reduce suffering and combat hunger and poverty. Our mission remains true to the organisation’s roots and the vision of its founders.

Our foundersJohn and Kay O'Loughlin with President Mary McAleese on the 40th anniversary of Concern's foundation. Photo: Concern Worldwide.

Concern Worldwide was founded by John and Kay O’Loughlin-Kennedy in 1968, in response to the famine in the breakaway province of Biafra in Nigeria. The widespread conflict that followed Biafra’s attempt to secede from Nigeria, caused the displacement of millions and a blockade of food, medicine and basic necessities by the Nigerian authorities. At the height of the crisis in the summer of 1968, it was estimated that 6,000 children were dying every week.

Concern’s first Executive Director

John’s brother, Father Raymond Kennedy, a Holy Ghost Priest, had returned to Ireland from Nigeria with news about the ongoing crisis. In the run-up to Christmas in 1968, John, Kay and Raymond held a press conference in the Shelbourne Hotel to raise awareness and funds. This allowed them to send the first ‘mercy flight’ to Biafra. Some weeks later, Africa Concern was founded with Father Raymond serving as Executive Director and the fundraising continued.

From humble beginnings to major aid operationsColumcille ship leaving Dublin for Biafra, 6 September 1968. Photo: Concern Worldwide.

On 6 September 1968, Africa Concern sent a 600-tonne ship named the Columcille to Sao Tome, a Portuguese island off the coast of Biafra, filled with vital supplies of powdered food, medicines, and batteries. At night, to avoid the authorities and circumvent the blockade, the supplies were flown in and distributed the following day by Holy Ghost missionaries, including Concern visionary figures and brothers Aengus and Jack Finucane. With their ongoing commitment and that of a growing team of volunteers, Concern Africa’s operations materialised into one flight a day over a period of 11 months.

Becoming Concern

Over time, it was not just aid that was delivered, but Concern volunteers—responding quickly with pragmatic and effective solutions—whose work became the impetus for taking the organisation in a new direction. In 1970, a huge cyclone hit East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, and the public was asked to respond. From these small beginnings, and equipped with practical and visionary leaders— Concern Worldwide was born.

Formative visionary leadersFr. Aengus Finucane. Saidpur, Bangladesh, 1998. Photo: Concern Worldwide.

The late Finucane brothers were instrumental in shaping the organisation’s vision out of its formative beginnings. The brothers from Limerick led relief efforts in the world’s most challenging humanitarian contexts throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and each of them continued to play an active role right up until their retirement. On a personal level, their commitment and courage inspired legions of Concern volunteers and workers.

Looking forward

Hunger and poverty continue to devastate lives in the developing world and we continue to respond. Unfortunately, Concern’s work is needed now more than ever. We focus on the following areas: emergency, health and nutrition, education and livelihoods. Our work is funded by members of the public, the government and institutional and private donors.

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