The Empress Shôken Fund (ESF) is named after Her Majesty Empress Shôken of Japan who – at the 9th International Conference of the Red Cross – proposed the creation of an international fund to promote relief work in peacetime.
The fund is administered by the Joint Commission of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which maintains close contact with the Permanent Mission of Japan in Geneva, the Japanese Red Cross Society and the Meiji Jingu Intercultural Research Institute in Japan.
The imperial family, the Japanese government, the Japanese Red Cross and the Japanese people revere the memory of Her Majesty Empress Shôken, and their enduring regard for the Fund is evidenced by the regularity of their contributions to it.
The Fund has a total value of more than 14 million Swiss francs and supports projects run by National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies that benefit the communities they serve in many different ways. The first grant was awarded in 1921 to help five European National Societies fight the spread of tuberculosis. Since then, more than 15 million Swiss francs have been allocated to 171 National Societies. The grants are announced every year on 11 April, the anniversary of the death of Her Majesty Empress Shôken.
Increasingly, the Fund encourages new and innovative approaches with the potential to generate insights that will benefit our International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
2023 selection process
The Fund received 51 applications in 2022 for the 102nd distribution of income, covering a diverse range of humanitarian projects run by National Societies globally. The applications submitted featured more innovative proposals than in previous years, further confirming the need for the ESF to support innovation and experimentation within National Societies.
This year the Joint Commission agreed to allocate a total of 367,187 Swiss francs to 13 projects in Albania, Belgium, Burundi, Eswatini, Fiji, Guinea, Honduras, Indonesia, Paraguay, Sudan, Syria, Thailand and Uruguay. The world’s current crises have impacted the performance of the fund, and ESF Joint Commission members have adjusted the process accordingly.
This year the projects selected cover a variety of topics, including first aid and rescue, youth, disaster preparedness, health, and National Society development (NSD).
The 2023 grants by theme
The Fund continues to encourage new and innovative approaches, and this is clearly reflected in the selection of proposals to receive funding. Some National Societies are incubating and testing their innovative solutions and experimenting with a host of ideas and approaches. With their pilot methodology, they could potentially scale up and implement their initiatives with the support of other funding sources. In this category, the selected grantees are as follows:
- The Honduran Red Cross has taken an innovative approach to volunteer empowerment and engagement. The goal of its project is to establish a fund that supports innovative micro-projects developed and led by local volunteers. This will help forge stronger links between the National Society and the communities it serves. It has designed a pilot with 12 micro-projects, responding to an identified need to grow activity at the branch level.
- The Uruguayan Red Cross is focusing efforts on improving mental health resilience among young people by providing training in schools, creating psychosocial support mechanisms and forming youth brigades. There is a growing need for youth mental health support, and this pilot in two schools will give the team an opportunity to learn and adapt their approach.
- The Indonesian Red Cross Society will pilot a community-based approach to environmental awareness and food security. A renovated community learning centre will be used to launch the pilot, which will engage over 100 stay-at-home spouses and 30 children. The project aims to tackle emerging issues, such as climate change, while building stronger community connections.
Many National Societies have prioritized innovative solutions to combat the challenges of climate change. In this category, the selected beneficiaries, in addition to the Indonesian Red Cross Society, are as follows.
- Flooding is one of the most devastating natural hazards. The Belgian Red Cross will engage and empower young people impacted by floods to express and share their feelings on climate change through digital story telling. Simple to replicate and scalable, this initiative has the potential to give us tremendous insight and allow for powerful messages to be shared.
- As a means of addressing the challenges of climate change, the Burundi Red Cross will engage in implementing activities such as tree planting and promoting improved city waste management. The project is a youth volunteer-led initiative that will reduce youth unemployment. This comprehensive approach will result in significant learning opportunities.
- The Paraguayan Red Cross will develop a mobile app that will serve as an early warning system and educate communities on how they can respond to flooding in seven community districts. This solution is scalable, innovative and a sustainable approach to addressing community needs.
Finally, the last group of beneficiaries will use their grants to address issues related to disaster preparedness, health and youth. In this category, the selected grantees are as follows.
- The Baphalali Eswatini Red Cross Society will improve data management processes for effective decision-making during emergencies in Eswatini by 2025. The main idea is to integrate and mainstream a mobile phone app dashboard into the existing National Society information management system and increase community participation (affected communities) in information sharing and management.
- Thailand is prone to natural hazards, which often cause devastating damage and loss of lives. Therefore, the Thai Red Cross Society aims to improve disaster readiness, mainly for earthquakes, by training children and young people using virtual reality simulation.
- The Sudanese Red Crescent will use the funds to support flood-affected women, providing them with cash, grants and livelihood tools to allow them to start their own business. The aim is to build resilience and longer-term recovery contexts for current and future crises by empowering the most vulnerable in a self-sustaining way.
- The Red Cross Society of Guinea will focus on developing a mobile health app to comprehensively improve the quality of basic emergency obstetric and neonatal care, especially for complex deliveries, with a view to reducing maternal and newborn mortality.
- According to figures on human trafficking, Albania is a primary source country and the non-EU European country with the second highest number of victims. To address this threat, the Albanian Red Cross will use the grant to train staff and volunteers, with a view to activating peer-to-peer prevention in high schools. The National Society will reach out to other sister National Societies to build a strong network of certified trainers who will raise awareness through peer-to-peer activities.
- The Fiji Red Cross Society aims to overhaul its current volunteer programme, using the grant to implement end-to-end digitization to enhance the onboarding experience and increase the quality and cost-effectiveness of volunteer management. The idea is to also include community-level training that will generate meaningful learning and be easily replicable elsewhere.
- At present, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent has more than 18,000 staff and volunteers across its local branches who support it in carrying out its humanitarian mission. With a view to scaling up branch development by complementing other initiatives, the National Society will use the grant to digitize its policies for online courses that can be freely accessed at any time, making training more convenient for its network of staff and volunteers.
ESF and learning
The Fund constantly strives to generate insights from the projects implemented for the benefit of the whole Movement and to diversify its learning materials. Later this year, the Fund will join with the stakeholders of the other NSD funding mechanisms, namely the Capacity Building Fund (CBF) and the National Society Investment Alliance (NSIA), for a learning event, with the aim of sharing lessons learned and experiences from grantees across the different funds.
It is important to recognize the diversity of National Societies within the network and the wide range of NSD support that is needed. The ESF and the other funding mechanisms (which focus more on NSD) operate in a complementary way, and together they have the capacity to meet this array of NSD and learning needs and support a broader transformation in our network.