Realising our potential and increasing our relevance: Functioning effectively as the IFRC

Publié: 13 novembre 2013

During the fourth plenary session of the IFRC General Assembly 2013, Secretary General Bekele Geleta presented his report on "Realising our potential and increasing our relevance: Functioning effectively as the IFRC."

As we move to the half way mark in realising S2020, we have started analysing how well we are doing in relation to the commitments we made as individual members, as a Federation and as members of a Movement.

My general assessment would be that we are undoubtedly achieving a lot by working as individual NS and together around the world. We must also acknowledge that there were several areas of gaps where we could have all done better. As I would prefer to learn from your comments and questions I thought it would be good if I concentrated on highlighting a number of major concerns or challenges I had been struggling with in the last five years and half and here they are.

  1. Over the years our National Societies have grown in confidence and in their capacities as organizations. They feel that their network partners have to all be proud for having contributed to such growth, recognize and accept them as equal partners in their relations. Changes in capacities of NS and their assertiveness to take command in addressing vulnerabilities in their respective countries are more and more real. The opportunities of other partnerships especially from outside the RCRC network are widening. But our uniqueness, what kept us together is our brand or emblem, our collective identity and our  Fundamental Principles and Humanitarian Values. Even if there could be other opportunities priority should remain to stick together. So how can we adjust the relational dynamics and how quickly could that be done?  I may have my own ideas but I would prefer to learn from your wisdom first. Could there be chance of pulling ourselves together if we explored the growth of our market share globally and in each country for broader partnerships coupled with building up inclusive decision making processes?


  1. The growing mistrust in the world of established institutions (governments and multilaterals) of what they perceive as fragmentation into regional and other power blocks and national organizations wanting to do things their way may weaken the respect for and adherence to the Fundamental Principles and Humanitarian Values. Similar worries may be entertained by some even within the RCRC Movement. But would it? It is important to discuss this openly to alley any fears or work on corrective measures not to leave our collective identity to chance existence.

For me I see more strength than weaknesses especially in national organizations like RCRC societies wanting to assume the lead role and responsibility for the affairs of all types of vulnerabilities in their respective countries. Our Brand or Emblem used by our NS is recognized, accepted and respected across the frontlines all over the world. This explains the realities of the working situations in almost all crisis countries today where most international and multilateral organizations including the ICRC and IFRC choose to work with the respective NS, example – the Arab Spring countries, Syria and Sudan, making it easier to adjust our relational dynamics accordingly if and when we so wish. Where there may be grey areas and where NS capacities are not solid enough to take the lead the members of the Movement could pull their efforts together and decide as to who should be the lead. One simple question to keep in mind, given that today’s conflicts remain in-country shouldn’t a national red crosser or a red crescent staff who belongs to the people and lived the culture be equally or perhaps even more received or trusted by all parties in conflict as one who comes from outside as far as ensuring respect for FP and HV is concerned?   I hope the debate today would help create a common understanding to share with the rest of the world.

  1. I know it is gradually changing in many countries but my question to you, are you all satisfied with the power shift and transition in leadership of your respective NS often continuingly reflected in the GB of your Federation?  Do we feel the right balance between continuity and change or new blood sufficiently enshrined in our systems of leadership to give light through the tunnel for the younger generation to hope to grow within the organization both nationally and internationally thus remaining steadfast and committed?  Let us openly and frankly express our views on how to best adjust these notions.


  1. Linked to the issues of leadership, we must examine critically whether we sufficiently include the interests of our “customers” and meaningfully involve our key stakeholders in our  decision making. Good progress in beneficiary (customer) communication but can we do better? If our investment to save lives and restore livelihood is differently looked at as helping them to become active participants in the economic life of a country or community would it be possible to spend at least part of the funds we raise on generating cooperative engagements in different business areas that could possibly include most of the beneficiaries as eventual owners? I also feel we have to look more creatively at how to engage the donors, governments including the recipients, private sector and public, to grow their confidence in the  credibility and sustainability of our systems by including them in our decision making. As this remains a fundamental change required I hope to engage in dialogue in this session and beyond. What does involvement in decision making mean to many of us?
  1. As I mentioned in my oral report to the GA we have a unique Governance system, participatory and representative, very different from the corporate Board or the multilateral UN System. Our system has served us well and kept us together for over 90 years.  This does not mean that there is no room for improvement and adjustment.  


    We must constantly ask ourselves what form of governance is best suited to protect what I have on various occasions called “the globality of the IFRC” in terms of capturing the global interest while on the one hand finding a way of giving space to local, national and regional action and coordination and on the other influencing changes to strengthen compliance with the decisions of the collective (GB). Could the concept of introducing a well-qualified Executive President contribute to taking us forward?  


  1. IFRC working relationship with the ICRC is intriguing. I do not remember in all my GB meetings where the issue of coordination with the ICRC has not been raised.  It would therefore be amiss not to consider our working relations with the ICRC.  We all celebrate the enormous achievements of the ICRC over its distinguished 150 year history.

For long the ICRC remained the only neutral/impartial intermediary in RCRC history but not anymore as with wide acceptance of our Brand or Emblem NS take the lead in their respective countries and are broadly recognized as mentioned earlier in this presentation. It is good to learn that ICRC relations with NS is growing.  But as some NS expressly share their concerns with us we should perhaps ask ourselves whether the same presence of the ICRC is needed at country level in view of the growing capacities of National Societies to themselves deliver neutral and impartial humanitarian services. Would ICRC presence be considered competitive or complementary at present especially  where they are not actively engaged in current operations as a lead or with a NS.  Put differently, don’t we have an increasing number of scenarios where National Societies can carry out much of the ICRC’s traditional work, and where the ICRC should play more of a complementary role?

  1. We must recognise that we (all humanitarian organizations) can no longer have a monopoly over humanitarian work.  Other actors such as the military, the private sector and governments have established significant delivery capacities that have made them serious competitors in a big money humanitarian industry.  I suggest that we should deal with this from two perspectives:
    1. If we not only want to maintain but grow market share, we must at least be as good in delivering humanitarian services as our competitors
    2. In some cases we must be resourceful and creative and use the capacity of these other actors for the benefit of vulnerable people.  We all know, for example, that the cooperation with the military was crucial in responding to big disasters like the Haiti earthquake or the Indian Ocean tsunami.  Many from the private sector have not only contributed money but free services and expertise to help in big and sometimes small or medium disasters.
    3. Can we proactively work on making the necessary adjustments in our approach, meaning for example, pre-negotiate with the military as there could be big unused capacity and expertise in different fields and look at how to work more closely with the private sector.
  2. We must accept that technology is rapidly changing the way we do our business and the way we work together.  The powerless beneficiaries of yesterday are no longer powerless beneficiaries today, not least as technology gives them access to information and knowledge in even the remotest parts of our globe.  We pulled together some analysis and thinking on technology and humanitarian action in this year’s World Disasters Report and I urge us to continue in earnest the journey of adapting to rapid technological advance and putting it to good use for the humanitarian cause.


In conclusion:

We can collectively do much better – in National Societies, in the IFRC, in the secretariat and in our Governance. We need to find a refined and more modern understanding of who we are and approach to what we are doing. The existing models and hierarchy may have worked well in 1919, but we need to adjust and better reflect this changing world if we are to reach the 100th anniversary of the network with our reputation and our capacities intact.

We are the Red Cross Red Crescent, but we are not too big to fail. Nobody is going to bail us out. We have to do it ourselves and we have to start now.  I look forward to forward looking debate on these and other issues linked to the way we work together as IFRC.