The organisations were honoured for the continued contribution of the Quakers, as the members of the Religious Society of Friends established in 1647 in London were ironically at first called, in humanitarian work and contribution to world peace.
The Friends Service Council (FSC), established in 1927 by the amalgamation of other 19th-century Quaker organisations, was transformed into a committee supervising the humanitarian activities of Quakers from the United Kingdom, Ireland and other countries.
In the activity of this extreme English puritan faction established in the 19th century, missionary activities, international service and relief work are closely interwoven, which – according to Quakers – epitomises their beliefs that focus on the internal experience and leadership of God and demonstration of the direct action of God in human soul. Their missionary activities initially focussed on India, Madagascar, the Szechuan Province, West China, Ceylon and Syria. Quakers arranged and maintained schools, hospitals in the regions, and formed new Quaker groups.
The second area of activity, international service, consisted in upholding peace and mutual understanding. Quakers organised institutes and centres providing a neutral and friendly platform for sharing information and opinions between people of various nationalities; they also aided in peace negotiations.
FSC still cooperates with AFSC and other Quaker institutions in arranging conferences for diplomats, seminars for young leaders and maintaining international affairs representatives in key cities in different parts of the world and at the United Nations.
Relief work, the third area of Quaker activity, was organised on numerous occasions in the 19th and 20th centuries: during the Great Famine in Ireland (1847–1848), in Finland after the Crimean War, in 1914–1923 in France, the Netherlands, Russia, Germany, Austria and Poland. In the inter-war period and after the outbreak of WWII, Quaker committees helped refugees from Germany, Spain and Polish refugees in France. Between 1940 and 1948, one of the committees, which later became the Friends Relief Service in 1943, operated in the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Greece, Germany, Austria and Poland. Quakers also joined relief programmes in the Middle East, in North Europe, India, China, and similar committees sent their workers to Korea, Kenya, Algeria, Vietnam and Nigeria.
The AFSC, established in 1917 by American Quakers as an organisation for peace and social justice, was aimed at helping young Quakers and other people objecting to military service for religious reasons by giving them an opportunity to perform a “service of love” in wartime. Over the years, the AFSC has become known mainly for assistance provided to war victims.
In 1917, upon AFSC’s initiative, young people travelled to France where they worked with British Quakers, caring for refugee children, founding a maternity hospital, helping to rebuild homes and offering help to returning refugees. In 1918, AFSC activity was extended to include Russia, Poland and Serbia, as well as Germany and Austria, where Friends established orphanages, helped to rebuild agriculture and cared for undernourished children. Later on, AFSC helped refugees in France and victims of London bombings.
Following WWII, AFSC spread its relief efforts also to India, China and Japan. In 1948, Quakers helped Arabs fleeing the Gaza Strip, then they helped victims of other conflicts in the world: the Korean War, the Hungarian Revolution, the Algerian War, in 1966 they took care of Vietnam children and veterans; they helped both sides of the Nigerian-Biafran War.
The AFSC gradually turned its attention to programmes aimed at relieving tensions that provoke wars. Following WWII, the Committee focussed on social and technical assistance in developing countries; in the US, Quakers were involved in matters concerning American Indians, Mexican-Americans, migrant workers, prisoners, the black and the poor.