4 February 2015
‘Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others – qualities which are within easy reach of every soul – are the foundation of one’s spiritual life.’
Dear Presidents and Secretaries General,
Now six months into my term as Secretary General of this Federation, which I have the honour of representing and serving, I write to share my experience during these first few months of my time with you. Six months of learning, listening and exchanging ideas. Six months during which I have spoken with so many people, with groups large and small, with the humility of a new arrival to this great Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, but also with the assurance that I draw from my past experience and my energy and determination to contribute to your work and our collective efforts in countries and communities throughout the world. When I took up my responsibilities, I set for myself a few overarching objectives:
- to help to build a Federation that is embraced as valuable and meaningful for National Societies and which dedicates itself to promoting their well-being, development and leadership;
- to strengthen a Secretariat that provides clear and tangible value in the services that it offers to its members and that serves as an effective, efficient, unified and unifying agent in leveraging the individual and collective capacity of our members, helping to address humanitarian needs at scale;
- to maximize the benefit from the complementary strengths within the Movement, promoting a dynamic of transparency, honesty, cooperation and respect between National Societies and with the ICRC;
- to embrace and advocate our Fundamental Principles at every opportunity, and promote human dignity at all times.
In these first few months, I have learned a great deal about the institutional and operational realities and the innermost workings of our organization – the world’s biggest humanitarian network. I have observed the tremendous impact of our collective work. And I have been struck by the enormous potential that remains for us to reach, together.
Taking stock of recent developments and our potential
Well before the media outcry about Ebola, I had already decided to visit as quickly as possible National Societies in West Africa that were grappling with this frightening and deadly disease. This first official mission, in my first few days in office, was a truly eyeopening experience. It gave me real insight into the way the Red Cross has absorbed and helped to overcome the shock of this health crisis from the outset. Ebola struck and we responded immediately, in spite of the difficult conditions and initial lack of resources. We were there before, we are there now with a large-scale response, and we will be there in the aftermath.
This ‘we’ includes, first and foremost, the National Societies and volunteers in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone who have been at the forefront – from the beginning in their hundreds, and later in their thousands. Their heroic role is sometimes unsung and overlooked, eclipsed as the limelight falls on international actors, when they are the ones on the ground mobilizing communities, monitoring and referring patients, providing psychological support and helping to prevent the spread of the virus even in the most remote villages. It was gratifying to witness their testimonies and exchanges of lessons learned, including from Mr Jerald Dennis, a Liberian volunteer and Ebola survivor, at the Ebola Partners Forum convened by the IFRC in Geneva on 28th January 2015.
In Guinea and Sierra Leone, the Red Cross is overseeing 80 percent of burials. Our volunteers and staff are careful to ensure respect for the deceased and the dignity of their families and loved ones, while protecting the community from the risk of contagion. We are also mourning the loss of three Guineans in the line of their duty.
Our Movement’s response in the three most seriously affected countries and in countries at risk is coordinated by the Federation with the support of more than 30 National Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). We have played a decisive part in the effort to turn the tide against this disease, work that will not end until long after the last patient is cured and the most affected communities are well on the way to recovery.
As I continued my journey across all continents, I saw at first-hand the outstanding work of our National Society volunteers, staff and leaders, radiating energy and dedication and carrying out their daily work with great expertise, responsibility and a clear sense of priority. This is the main impression that I took away from my meetings with the leaders of some 70 National Societies in the Middle East and Asia Pacific regions and from my visits to Australia, Ethiopia, France, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sweden and, most recently, to Iran, Syria, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. As I am writing this message, I am about to leave for Budapest, Hungary where I will join leaders from European National Societies to participate in the regional preparatory meeting for the World Humanitarian Summit.
I would like to express my gratitude to all these National Societies for their ideas, encouragement and hospitality. I thank all those who took their time to share with me their expectations, visions and views about matters large and small. Their principled commitment and dynamism exemplifies why so many people – from all walks of life and from all over the globe – think so highly of the Red Cross and Red Crescent and why so many wish to become active members.
Keeping the Federation on course in a changing environment
The International Federation is a network of 189 National Societies, 17 million volunteers, 80 million members and 160,000 local branches, with an overall combined budget exceeding 30 billion dollars. As a whole, the Federation and its members provide emergency assistance to an average of nearly 80 million people each year and longerterm support on a similar scale.
My ambition is to do everything I can to help promote and develop this incomparable network.
This includes intensifying our focus on results, efficiencies and excellence in the performance of all aspects of our work, to project the Red Cross and Red Crescent as the “partner of choice” in the changing humanitarian environment. And to work together with our members and the ICRC to further strengthen our Movement as a respected voice in local and national societies and in the international community, on behalf of the most vulnerable.
Our National Societies are the first to come up against the major shocks and challenges of our times, and they are usually the first to respond: protracted crises in Syria, Iraq, the Central African Republic and South Sudan; exposure across all continents to the multiple risks from climate change, environmental degradation, population movements and uncontrolled urbanisation; economic crises and growing inequality, frustration, stigma and violence.
The Red Cross and Red Crescent is an extraordinary wellspring of humanity and capabilities to provide responses and solutions in emergencies and in the longer term.
An important example of the ability of our National Societies to adapt to the needs of their people in a changing environment may be found in Syria. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent is providing 80 per cent of humanitarian assistance on the ground in their country, with the support of the ICRC, the Federation and other partners, in an extraordinary demonstration of perseverance and courage. The price paid has been high: our entire Federation grieves the loss of 45 volunteers since the crisis began.
We also have a crucial role to play in preventing disasters from recurring, by preparing communities to cope and by helping them to recover wherever they are. Over these past six months, I have been impressed by the wide range of services provided by National Societies: emergency response, first aid, management of health facilities, social services for the most vulnerable, blood donation services, training services, ambulance services, income-generating activities, access to water, food and health care, among others.
This wide range and diversity bears witness to an ability to adapt to needs in different contexts. All in all, it is a reminder that the Red Cross and Red Crescent plays a powerful role in supporting communities and people in becoming resilient, enabling them to lessen risks and to reduce vulnerabilities. This is the goal that we hope to help achieve in the coming years with the ambitious initiative to bring together one billion people in a coalition for resilience.
Facilitating, coordinating and unifying
What is expected of the Federation Secretariat over the coming months?
As noted in the recent joint message sent to you by the President and myself, we are at the start of a very important year for the Federation and for our Movement as a whole. Our 2015 calendar already anticipates a number of major events and opportunities for us to galvanize our collective capacities to inform and influence the global agenda: the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (Sendai, Japan, March 2015); the UN summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda (New York, September 2015); the UN Conference on Climate Change (Paris, November-December 2015); and, of course, our International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (Geneva, December 2015). The World Humanitarian Summit is scheduled to take place in Istanbul in 2016.
We look forward to a number of key statutory meetings, including our biennial IFRC General Assembly in December. The first of our 2015 Governing Board meetings is scheduled to begin on 29 April.
In all of these opportunities, support by an effective and efficient Federation Secretariat will be crucial to the impact that our members and our organization can achieve. The Secretariat will be guided by the Governance Specific Priorities identified by the President, endorsed by the Vice-Presidents and the Governing Board, and discussed at the Governing Board meeting in November of last year. The relevance of the five priorities – building the capacities of National Societies; bringing the Secretariat closer to National Societies and strengthening its effectiveness and efficiency; strengthening Governance and the leadership of the Governing Board; maximizing Movement coordination; and engaging in dynamic humanitarian diplomacy and fundraising – is fully consistent with my initial vision and has been validated by my observations and experience with you over these past six months.
In taking forward these Governance priorities and carrying out its overall work, the Secretariat will work to clarify its identity and achieve greater cohesion in the way it works: working as “One Secretariat”, optimizing its value to members and operating in a manner which can be embraced by all member National Societies. As I have said many times and will continue to repeat, the Secretariat exists to support our Federation of National Societies: “nothing for National Societies without National Societies.”
We will, of course, respond to requests by members for our action; take initiatives with them, coordinate and ask for their support for our coordination; provide them with information and tools; monitor integrity and play our role to help with corrective measures as needed. And we will do much more, side by side, with National Societies. But the Secretariat will not plan and implement programmes on its own.
This year we will draw up and present for approval the Secretariat’s plan and budget for the next biennium (2016-17). This process will be informed by our discussions in various forums over the past months: results-based planning and budgeting in place of a budget based on sources of funds; holistic planning along the continuum of often simultaneous, concurrent and recurrent needs from development to preparedness and resilience, to crisis management to emergency response; supporting rapid and meaningful action through greater flexibility in the use of financial resources; and finally, continuing in the direction of greater budgetary clarity and simplicity.
I would like to thank the President and Vice-Presidents and all of you who have already contributed to the planning for the mid-term review of Strategy 2020. Following consultations with Governance, terms of reference for this review have been completed and have been posted on-line. The mid-term review will provide valuable insights for our plan and budget for 2016-17 and a key opportunity to make the necessary adjustments and adaptations as we move forward in the last half of the decade.
I look forward to presenting to you at the May Governing Board meeting further details of my proposed roadmap, management goals, institutional priorities and adjustments to the Secretariat’s organizational structure.
We have inherited this Federation from its founders. As we approach in four years’ time the centenary of this great organization, I count on you to continue to intensify your support for one another – each one teaching and each one learning – as I have pledged to support you
. I look forward to doing my part to revitalise the ties that bind us and, together with you, strengthening the pact of trust between us: a pact that goes beyond the emblems and principles that forge our common identity and raison d’être, a pact that each National Society undertakes to sustain and enrich, on an equal footing, as both a partner and recipient, as both a donor and a beneficiary.
In my six months with you, I have already witnessed how, together, we can make a difference in the lives of the people and communities who count on us, especially the most vulnerable, defending human dignity and promoting our Fundamental Principles in all our actions.
Allow me to conclude where I began, referring back to the quotation at the top of this letter, the immortal words of Nelson Mandela which will continue to inspire me as I carry out the challenging tasks with which you have entrusted me. Thank you for your confidence and support.