IFRC


A new vision for the Americas

Published: 4 November 2015 22:55 CET

In order to be able to operate as the biggest humanitarian network in the world, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) works through its five regional offices: Asia Pacific, Middle East and North Africa, Africa, Europe and the Americas. Each regional office is headed by a director, whose responsibility it is to assist the Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies working in his region. The Americas office, located in Panama City, has been supporting the 35 National Societies in the region under the leadership of Walter Cotte Wittingan, our new Director of the Americas Regional Office, since August 2015.  

“Part of our duty is to bring happiness to the people based on our own happiness and positive attitude” says Cotte, making it clear that for him the team’s well-being is essential for effective humanitarian work.

He remembers how his career in the Red Cross started 46 years ago. Born in Cali, Colombia, Cotte joined the children’s group in his school and later, at the age of ten, became part of the leisure group of his section. There he learned skills for psychosocial support, such as puppetry, magic tricks and clown, and one day he performed in a children’s hospital for burned children.

That day I discovered why I was in the Red Cross; because it was an opportunity to be happy by making others happy. That has been very important throughout my life and it is still so today” adds Cotte.    

This experience planted the seed for a life committed to the Red Cross. Cotte engaged in volunteer work as an emergency responder and later as an ambulance driver until he finally became a Colombian Red Cross employee and developed his lifelong career in the Red Cross.

For the past 30 years, Cotte has been holding management positions in the Red Cross. He was Head of Doctrine, Head of Volunteers and Head of Operations and Disaster Management. In 2007, he became General Director of the Colombian Red Cross and held this position until 2012. In 2013, he joined the IFRC and was appointed Under-Secretary General for Programs and Operations in Geneva, Switzerland. Finally, he has returned to his beloved region to work as Director of the IFRC Americas Regional Office.

Regarding the region, Cotte points out that “…one of our main challenges is that we have forgotten the importance of the Americas in the world as an example to follow, with countries that are generating new forms of economy, more social inclusion and a great deal of positive things.”

This may be attributed, according to Cotte, to a certain stability compared to other regions. He argues that experiencing less conflict situations than other continents as well as the strong human capacity development in the region cause the Americas to go unnoticed among other regions within the Movement.

His vision for the Americas is focused on recognising the variety of risks faced by the region. Cotte emphasizes the critical effects of climate change, such as floods, droughts and wildfires in 30 of the 35 countries in the region. He also stresses the risks posed by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. However, he argues that risk factors are not limited to natural disasters. Other social phenomena such as migration, rocketing urbanization rates, and urban violence cause major difficulties for the region.    

As a result of all these pressures, his long-term vision for the IFRC in the Americas is based on efficiency. His experience as Director General of a National Society is reflected in the strategic importance he gives to strengthening the role of the National Society as auxiliary to their host state.  Cotte looks forward to encouraging Red Cross National Societies to work comprehensively in the communities, implementing programs to generate individual and community resilience capacities. 

I’m ready to help our 35 National Societies to work more closely, efficiently, and straight forward, and to focus on making a positive impact by fostering resilience. To do good by empowering people, respecting people’s rights and encouraging victims, farmers, and affected and vulnerable communities to become masters of their own destiny, that is our challenge”.

You can learn more about the Director of the Americas Regional Office and his vision on Twitter: @WalterCotte




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The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world's largest humanitarian organization, with 190 member National Societies. As part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, our work is guided by seven fundamental principles; humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. About this site & copyright