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Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) was founded in 1971 by four organizations from France, Sweden, England and the USA.
Today's federation of 74 groups grew from annual meetings of environmentalists from different countries who agreed to campaign together on certain crucial issues, such as nuclear energy and whaling.
In 1981, a small International Secretariat was set up, initially staffed by volunteers, which rotated from country to country. By 1983, the organization had grown to 25 members, and an Executive Committee was elected to oversee the issues worked on between meetings.
In 1986, the Annual General Meeting (AGM) was hosted for the first time by an organization from the South, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (FoE Malaysia). At that time, the federation had 31 members from all over the world which were fully involved in the environment and development debate, and clearly recognized the need to change lifestyle and consumption patterns in the North.
In the meantime, in 1985, the European members of FoEI set up a regional coordinating body of their own, FoE Europe, with an office in Brussels. Among other work, FoE Europe has been responsible for a pioneering program to strengthen the environmental movement in Eastern Europe.
The 1994 AGM decided that international cooperation should be further intensified through the development of an 'agenda' that presents common points of view within a coherent framework. In the past years, this agenda has been further clarified and implemented in a variety of publications, projects, campaigns, and international fora within the framework of the Sustainable Societies Programme.
There are now 74 Friends of the Earth member groups which are campaigning internationally, nationally and locally to protect the environment and create sustainable societies. They are united by the common conviction that environmentally sustainable development requires both strong grassroots activism and effective national and international campaigning.
By 2008, the combined number of members and supporters of Friends of the Earth groups was more than two million, and the FoEI umbrella united more than 5,000 local activists groups. Together, the 74 FoE groups employed approximately 1,200 staff members.