Elhadj As Sy Secretary-General
Date: Tuesday, 7 November, 2017
Event: General Assembly 2017
Location: Antalya, Turkey

Mister President,

Esteemed Delegates to the General Assembly,

Colleagues and Friends of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement,

It’s an honour and privilege to be part of this community of carers, this rainbow community coming from all corners of the One Planet we share, and bound by our shared humanity.

Humanity, the mother of our fundamental principles, which always reminds us that we are first and foremost about people.

Indeed, when the plague hit Oran, Albert Camus wrote: “I don’t care about the microbe, but I care about people”. He wrote further about humility in the face of human suffering, and confessed only one certainty, namely to be on the side of people, and to accompany them to respond to their needs.

Camus’ “The Plague” had a great influence in my passion and commitment for health and development.  I kept it as a source of inspiration; but I honestly did not expect to be part of a response to a plague outbreak, and less so in 2017. Well, I was in Madagascar few weeks ago, and I am still on antibiotic prophylaxis.

Our gains in preserving human dignity and alleviating suffering remain so fragile, and that calls for permanent vigilance.

That takes me to Bangladesh and Cox’s Bazar, which I visited nearly a fortnight ago in support of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society in its response to another “unprecedented humanitarian crisis”.

It’s a place where – since August – some 600,000 people from Rakhine State have fled persecution, seeking some form of refuge, respite and even restitution.
They have walked for days – negotiating jungle and river.
They have carried their children on their backs, and as much baggage as they can bear to lift.

Among those children, is little Shahed Ullah, all of 18 months old.

Shahed broke his right leg when his mother Zaithu Nahar fell with him in her arms while fleeing gunfire on that gruelling and dangerous 8-day walk.

He has been operated in our hospital, and now his leg is in traction. He is one of 1,500 patients whom Dr Peter Meyer and team saw in their first week of operation.

He is a witness – the name Shahed means ‘witness’, and our little friend is a witness to the “Power of Humanity”, the theme of our Statutory Meetings in Antalya.

I mention Shahed because I met him just a few days ago.
I could have begun this address by referring to countless others, all over the world – people who have experienced appalling suffering, and who have come through it with our help.

Every one of us could do the same.
No doubt each of us has our own ‘Shahed’ in mind.

Our own Aylan, whose dead little body washed up on the shores of Europe, left blue spots on our souls;

Our little Omran in Syria, who is too stunned and shocked to cry;

All the little ones that move us, galvanize us, give us a reason to stay with the Red Cross and Red Crescent…

They bring us back to the essentials in moments of doubt, and most importantly they give strength and hope for the future.

Friends, little Shahed now has a future, but his future is precarious and he’s going to have to work very hard at it, in an unforgiving world.

And so will we have to work at our future in a complex and fast changing world, in order to remain relevant and be fit for purpose.

A “Federation Fit For The Future”, a coincidental alliteration, is my practical theme today.

We must learn from our past and build on our present.  And as Abraham Lincoln said, ‘the best way to predict the future is to make it’.

We must shape our future; we must act now to have the future we want.

Building on our present, let me move on to my corporate report on the state of the 2015-2020 Plan and Budget, as mandated by our Constitution.

Please look at the details in my written report. Look especially closely at all those bullet points in Section II.  Behind or beyond each, there are thousands, at times millions of stories of lives transformed.

I will now review through a future lens each of the four Strategies for Implementation, which you in this Assembly agreed two years ago in Geneva.  They are part of the 2015-2020 Plan and Budget, and Strategy 2020.

Our first Strategy for Implementation is to build the capacity of National Societies.

We only exist as a Federation because of our members – because of you, the National Societies.  Our success will lie in your strength, as first responders and auxiliaries of public authorities.

Together we have much to celebrate, and here are some highlights:

The Organizational Capacity Assessment and Certification process is progressing well. 99 National Societies have completed Phase 1.

There is a great level of commitment to the Federation-Wide Databank and Reporting System. Over 80% of National Societies have reported on all seven key indicators for the Federation-Wide Databank and Reporting System, with a 100 per cent response rate from all National Societies on at least one indicator.

Our Capacity Building Fund has already invested 1.5 million Swiss francs in supporting 30 National Societies.

Over 40 National Societies have received sustained training and support in Community Engagement and Accountability.

12 National Societies were supported in developing their strategic plans over the last two years.

And 20 were supported in adopting new Red Cross or Red Crescent laws.

This is certainly good progress, but it may not reflect our full potential.

Our unique ‘auxiliary’ status gives us unparalleled access – to government, to business, to city administrations.

■ But how effectively do we use it?  Do we reflect the communities we serve?  And – my big question today – are we ‘fit for the future’ ?

Maybe not.  As President Konoe said yesterday, and as each of you could no doubt say at far greater length, our National Societies face big capacity challenges in building resilience, strengthening readiness, and ensuring effective response to crises.  And we also realise that we all face challenges in resource mobilization and development.

Our need for new funding for capacity-building is acute, and I am pleased that right here in Antalya, together with the ICRC, we will be announcing a new initiative to fund the sustained capacity of our National Societies.

Let me mention two other massive challenges in respect of our shared ambition.

First, our overall numbers of volunteers are at best stagnating, and maybe even declining in absolute terms, perhaps by as much as 10% a year.

We have taken good measures to address this: the new Volunteer Charter which will be discussed tomorrow; the new and virtual Volunteering Alliance bringing together over 40 National Societies.  But we have to do more.

We have to guarantee the rights and the safety of our volunteers.  Yesterday, we expressed our grief at the fact that 36 staff or volunteers were killed this year in the line of duty.

We have to strengthen and grow our volunteer base, but we need to understand that the modern world of volunteering is changing.

In the first class ‘Thematic Futures’ paper which we are discussing here in Antalya, we are challenged to take nothing for granted – to be truly in tune with our communities, with citizen-led movements, and with so fast-paced and dynamic a youth.

Our young people are already talking about e-citizenship and online volunteering. Maybe – soon – volunteers will not be counted in numbers of people, but in hits, virtual interventions or humanitarian giga or tera bytes.

Second, we have to stand up, and admit that we must recommit to absolute honesty in our work for humanity.  Absolute honesty in the way that we handle the precious financial resources entrusted to us.

10 days ago, I sent you all a message confirming that we have found serious financial irregularities in the management of our Ebola response.

Our Ebola response was one of our biggest and most successful operations, and I am very pleased that on Thursday the incomparably brave Red Cross volunteers of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone will be awarded the Henry Davison Medal.  They deserve it indeed: they risked their lives saving many lives, and demonstrated tremendous courage.

What terrible irony that the beautiful face of our incredible efforts to fight Ebola should conceal the dark heart of fraud and theft.  It is unforgiveable that money we were given to dignify death and save lives should have been so appallingly misused. It hurts deeply.

People in National Societies and in our Secretariat are suspected to be at fault, and they will be held to account.

Fraud and corruption have no place in our Federation.  No place at all. I am unwavering in this belief, and I have been encouraged by the resolute commitment displayed by many of you.

Our second Strategy for Implementation is to manage international disaster.

■  Again, you know the great achievements which, collectively, we have managed.

48 emergency appeals have been launched since we last met, seeking 219 million Swiss francs.

123 DREF operations were launched, amounting to a record 30 million Swiss francs.

There have been several Movement-wide appeals, carried out in close coordination with the ICRC.

In 2016, over 9 million displaced people, migrants and host communities were supported by IFRC through assistance, protection, advocacy and awareness raising programmes.

Last year, 39 National Societies in Europe were engaged in migration-related activities, mobilizing more than 100,000 volunteers and 13,000 staff.

In two years, some 65 of you National Societies have supported an IFRC Emergency Appeal or a DREF operation with financial or human resources.  And 35 of you have provided National Societies with Regional Disaster Response Team members.  This is magnificent testimony to the collective spirit of solidarity within the IFRC.

The three deadly Ds continue to haunt us: Disaster, Disease and Displacement.

The disasters ….
There are now 400 extreme weather events every year, four times as many as in 1970.
The earthquakes: Ecuador, Mexico.
The hurricanes of North and Central America, and the Caribbean.
The floods: Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India.
The famines: Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Yemen.

The diseases …
… which are so often the collateral damage of disaster, like the cholera crises in Yemen and Somalia.
And they are often health emergencies in their own right, like zika in Latin America and the Caribbean; yellow fever in Brazil, Angola, the DRC; Dengue, Chikungunya, Lassa Fever, Marburg, Plague.
Are we prepared? Is our globalised, interconnected world prepared?

And displacement …
… with the UN reporting that 66 million people are displaced – 44 million within their own countries and 22 million outside
Over 2 million in Lebanon, over 3 million in Jordan and Turkey.
500,000 migrants have arrived in Italy in the last two years, and one million in Greece.
Migration is a feature of the future. If we think we have a migration crisis now, then our young leaders are going to be dealing with something on a totally different scale in 2030.

■  So again we should ask: are we ‘fit for the future’?

Even though we have seen our disaster risk reduction investment triple since 2009, and even though projects were implemented by over 120 National Societies, reaching more than 30 million vulnerable people, it’s still not enough.

We often know where the floods and the hurricanes will strike, and we have the evidence that our anticipation saves lives.  Yet almost every time there is a shock or hazard, we seem to be affected the same way. Do natural hazards have to become disasters? Our level of preparedness, our early warning and early alert systems, our early action – or the lack of it – will answer that question.

Colleagues, so much is already in place:
the ‘Risk Watch’ service;
the ‘GO’ digital emergency operations information platform;
the strengthened health and WASH teams;
the new Cash Roadmap.
We need to bring them all to scale.

Perhaps the initiative which most epitomises strong but insufficient progress is The One Billion Coalition on Resilience: our best vehicle for multiplying our collective impact.  It’s an important path for bringing new approaches to scaling, partnership, and measurement to our work.

I want to applaud those National Societies who have already joined us and taken on shared national mobilisation targets as contributions towards the goal of engaging and building resilience among 1 billion people.

Perhaps I may mention the pledge by the Kenya Red Cross to ‘deliver’ the first million people strengthened in their resilience;
… or New Zealand’s ‘Ready Communities, Ready Families, Ready Business’ campaign to reach every household;
… or Bangladesh’s integration of 1 BC into their national strategy, backed by a pledge of support from their government;
… or Singapore’s ‘spiral’ model for scaling services, drawing on volunteers and even blood donors;
… or the Asia Pacific region’s recent launch (with the Prudence Foundation) of the Safe Steps First Aid campaign, with a target of helping 200 million people to learn first aid.

I call upon many more of you to join.

It’s the same with our innovation work.  Everything is in place, but too much moves too slowly.

We are using technology, not least with the brilliant Mobile Volunteer application, but we need to scale up.  Yesterday I toured the superb ‘The Future is Now’ exhibition just outside in the foyer – one thing it does is to explore the way technology can affect the future of humanitarianism.  For instance, it showed how we can use artificial intelligence to analyse big data in predicting crises and disasters and mobilising response.  And it showed how blockchain technology can be used as an open and transparent platform for verifying information like payments or digital records.

And all this costs money.  We must redouble our efforts to raise funds for operations. We develop budgets based on needs and capacity, and we should have high expectations not only to meet, but to exceed those budgets.

But around the world, the 77 emergency operations which the IFRC secretariat is currently supporting are only funded at 75%.  And this number actually overstates our funding, since 44 of the 77 are DREF operations, so they are fully funded.  So that means that 33 operations are seriously under-funded.

It is not the sole responsibility of the Secretariat to raise this money: each National Society should be asking what is it doing, what can it do, to raise funds to meet the expectations of our members and vulnerable communities.

Our third Strategy for Implementation is to lead in the field of humanitarian diplomacy.

We continue to contribute in shaping the global humanitarian agenda.

We co-chaired and co-led the ‘localisation’ workstream, one of the outcomes of the World Humanitarian Summit held here in this very country, in Istanbul, in May 2016.  We have made progress in moving it into the mainstream, and the National Society capacity building investment fund, which I mentioned before, is a concrete example of this commitment.

Meanwhile the leadership and tireless efforts of our President in advocating for the prohibition of nuclear weapons were not in vain.

We all welcomed the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first multilateral legally-binding instrument for nuclear disarmament to have been negotiated in 20 years.

We have pioneered forecast-based financing, and we have contributed in depth to the UN processes of drawing up global compacts on both migration and refugees.

There is still a way to travel to be fit for the future.

As neutral actors, we are uniquely challenged in a highly polarized world, where even the most basic expression of support for shared humanity can be seen as a political position.  We must be politically savvy without being political, and not be afraid to speak out for the voiceless, the vulnerable and hardest-to-reach.

Our fourth Strategy for Implementation is to create a strong IFRC.

■  Again, we have made enormous strides.

Our Secretariat change process is well under way with a lighter structure: four USGs and 22 Divisions have been streamlined into three and nine respectively.

Our new Global Service Centre opened in Budapest in July of this year.  It houses the bulk of our IT operation and brings savings of 2 million Swiss francs a year.  It sits alongside the Europe Regional Office in new premises granted by the government of Hungary.

Meanwhile the construction of our headquarters in Petit-Saconnex in Geneva is on time and on budget, and our temporary offices on the top of IKEA is an excellent deal.  We are aiming to move into our new building in the third quarter of next year.

In a number of key areas, I believe we are heading in the right direction.  We need to press on to be fit for the future.

We strengthened our audit and investigation capacity, and transparency and accountability will remain at the mainstay.

207 million Swiss francs of our 2015 expenditure have been audited by independent international auditors, while we ourselves have audited 120 of our own projects.

Standard Operating Procedures to handle Integrity Cases are in place.  We have strengthened our defence mechanisms with new checking and enforcement measures at each line of fraud prevention defence.  450 of our staff have been trained in fraud and corruption prevention, and such training will become mandatory for all staff.

Kate Forbes, our esteemed chair of the Audit and Risk Commission, will give us her perspectives on this.

A staff survey carried out in late 2016 showed the extent to which staff are proud to be part of this great enterprise – and also the extent to which they continue to call for continued strengthening of leadership and management skills, ethics, inclusion and teamwork. We will continue to follow up on the results of staff surveys to be fit for the future.

In all this, our finances are in good shape.  You have seen the Secretariat’s audited financial accounts for 2015 and 2016, and Dr Abdulkader Husrieh, our esteemed Chair of our Finance Commission, will speak in much more detail on this.

And where finance meets operations, we trust that the revised Plan and Budget for 2018-2020 – presented in the document before you – is appropriate and pertinent.  It confirms that the parameters we established two years ago were correct, and it puts before you three noteworthy changes for final approval.

First, we are adding the cash programming dimension to our Livelihoods work.

Second, two Areas of Focus are merged into one under the heading “Protection, Gender and Inclusion”.

Third, we are introducing “Humanitarian Education” as an area of focus.

Esteemed Delegates, Friends and Colleagues, I am as proud of all that we have achieved, as I am impassioned about how we must and will achieve more.

My friend and colleague, Yves Daccord of ICRC, and I have just written a piece on ‘the future of humanitarianism’, calling for greater localisation and withit complementarity, greater community engagement; and greater innovation.

Friends, principled humanitarian action is a journey, a long and tortuous journey ….  The paths we tread are bumpy.  They take us to the last mile where there are children but no schools; epidemics but no doctors; and a cry for citizenship but no government.

That last mile is our first mile, because that’s where the needs are.

We walk the first mile, armed with the Power of Humanity, under the leadership of extraordinary people.

Esteemed President Konoe, you are one those extraordinary people.  Working with you, I understood the meaning of gracious leadership.  On your side, I understood that one can be silent and be heard; I learnt that you can let people shine without feeling overshadowed; you can be humble without being weak.

Thank you, Sir, for the privilege of being your fellow traveller over the last three years, and on behalf of all the staff of your Federation, thank you and the distinguished outgoing members of the Board for your generous guidance and support.

President Rocca, congratulations, and we look forward to continuing the journey with you and the new members of the Board.

Friends and colleagues, the journey is a perpetual one; we get off at one point in time and others get onboard.

We pave the road for the next generation and prepare them for a bumpy ride.

A ride from despair to hope.

With the next generation of Red Cross and Red Crescent leaders, the future is in good hands … oh, pardon on good feet!

We are proud to serve Humanity!  Thank you very much!