Elhadj As Sy Secretary General
Date: Tuesday, 9 October, 2018
Event: Governing Board
Location: Geneva, Switzerland

Distinguished members of the Governing Board, thank you for another opportunity to address you and to exchange with you.

You have already received my written report for the period January to June 2018. I will occasionally draw from it, but I hope that it stands alone.

That report of course houses a summary Section I, a tabular Section II reporting progress on our four Strategies for Implementation and seven Areas of Focus (as agreed and approved by this Board), and a detailed financial performance report in Section III.

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I would like to start my address by sharing with you some insights of our common reality, and the humanitarian context within which we operate.

The humanitarian headlines right now are in Indonesia, Haiti, the DRC, Yemen, Zimbabwe, the CAR, South Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, Bangladesh, Myanmar, the Lake Chad Basin, the floods in Nigeria ….

The list is not exhaustive, and there are many more stories that don’t make this week’s headlines, but which continue to call for our solidarity, care and support.

These contexts build our reality, but we can never get used to them, because they are not normal … when a young woman in Somalia has grown up never knowing peace; when people seeking new lives are dying in the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea; when women and girls are experiencing sexual violence in times of conflict and humanitarian crisis. It’s not normal. People living in these situations may have food, shelter and water, but they cry for peace; they strive for stability and normalcy; and they struggle to preserve what is most important to them: their human dignity.

The path to accompany them on that journey is paved by the values that are so critical for our work: trust, respect, long-term engagement and partnership.

Indeed, trust and respect are required to build long term partnership, and partnership cannot be sustained on an ad hoc basis. So, our task is to be there on the side of people in need, to accompany them before, during and after the shocks and hazards which make the Red Cross Red Crescent the true partner of choice.

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I would like to try and illustrate this through some of the experiences I gained during my travels since our last meeting.

In July, I visited Sudan, and specifically the White Nile refugee camp which is ‘home’ for 150,000 people who have fled conflict in South Sudan. Almost 2½ million people have escaped that violence since 2015, and three-quarters of a million of them are now in Sudan.

I saw a highly efficient and effective Red Crescent response in many areas. It was heartening to witness the hospitality of Sudan despite its historical tensions with South Sudan, and to see the Red Crescent rising above partiality and embodying our fundamental principles in serving people in need.

But I saw, too, that there are still major and unmet humanitarian needs. It was humbling to see that our too often sophisticated approaches and programmes may lose sight of basics such as a dignified delivery room for women, or a simple, decent, child-friendly space.

South Sudan calls for long-term humanitarian partnership, and we must adapt to that reality to remain relevant.

Then in early September, I visited Nepal, some three and half years after my last visit there in the wake of the earthquake of April 2015 which took 9,000 lives and caused about 10 billion dollars’ worth of damage.

I recall how, on my first visit in 2015, our plane could barely land for all the humanitarian traffic, as Kathmandu was overrun with aid agencies and their billboards and branded relief items everywhere. In 2015, coordination was a big challenge. In 2018, there is no coordination problem, as there is almost no one to coordinate with. The few organisations which are still there are the ones which were there even before the earthquake, including the Nepal Red Cross Society.

I visited Sindhuli, and felt so heartened by the results of the work I saw all along the continuum, from emergency response to resilience building.

So the Nepal Red Cross was there before the earthquake; it was there during the earthquake; and, as we’ve seen, it’s still there now, long after the earthquake. Indeed, it’s almost the only organization there now.

That continuous presence and accompaniment build trust and respect, and make the National Society and its Red Cross and Red Crescent partners the partner of choice for a government which is taking a hard line against civil society and foreign aid organisations.

Then in late September, I was in New York for the UN General Assembly week, alongside our President.

Our Federation won a seat at the top table, and our views were solicited on many important priorities:

… on the Grand Bargain, where we co-lead the workstream on localisation;

… on Health (where our views were heard on Non-Communicable Diseases, on Maternal, New-born and Child Health, Tuberculosis, Pandemic Preparedness, and Climate Change);

… on Education in emergency situations; on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence; and especially so on Migration.

These were expressions of trust and respect, and they call for long-term engagement and partnership.

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Board members, in my report I deliberately listed a host of humanitarian crises with which we collectively have dealt in the first six months of this year.

One case in the report – the Guatemala volcanic eruption in June – helps to illustrate one of my themes today, of long-term engagement.

In Guatemala’s case, I said in my report that the target for our long-term work was to reach 500 households (some 3,000 people) with unconditional cash transfers, and special livelihoods programmes for farmers. Today I am pleased to report that, 3 months later, we have already achieved 75% of what we set out to do.

In the report, I also mentioned long-term crises which are still, of course, very much with us.

I highlighted Syria, where – since June – we have seen escalating tension focussed on Idlib.

I mentioned Bangladesh, where – since June – we have passed the 12-month anniversary of the last refugee influx from Myanmar. Our Red Cross field hospital is still the only 24/7 facility among the 17 different camps which comprise Cox’s Bazar. With the support of our Federation and its members, the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society is the main actor in Cox’s Bazar, and Jagan Chapagain will present more detail on this later.

He will also address and important query you raised in our last Board, about how we compare with others. He will look at the complexities of trying to measure that.

For me, the key issues are trust and access: the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society is the only organization which has been in in Cox’s Bazar since 2013, and the Federation in turn is its longest-term partner, since 1993. The BDRCS is a great example of best and biggest practice, especially in Water and Sanitation, and Health. It is seen to be the key local and international organization.

And in my report I also mentioned the DPRK, which – since June – has been badly struck by both heatwave and flood. Also – in mid-August – the Korean Red Cross, under the leadership of Professor Park, organised emotional reunions of separated families. And the two National Societies of the Korean Peninsula were explicitly mentioned in the Panmumjom Declaration, as key actors in the rapprochement between the two countries.

Again, the features of this work are Trust, Respect, Engagement and Partnership.

And since we met at end-June, we have witnessed a second Ebola outbreak in the DRC – it’s bigger and more complex than the first in May, in large part because North Kivu is a conflict area. The outbreak continues, and we remain an integral part of both the local and the international response. Our volunteers continue to risk their lives but also to save lives by carrying out safe and dignified burials, and breaking the chain of transmission.

I must also make mention of the two double-disasters we have seen in Indonesia.

First there was Lombok, and then there was Sulawesi. And – within Sulawesi – first there was earthquake, and then there was tsunami.

The Palang Merah Indonesia, the Indonesian Red Cross, is the perfect illustration of the themes of Trust, Respect, Engagement and Partnership today.

It has been named by the government of Indonesia as the main entity through which all non-governmental organizations should channel their funds and goods.

More than that: foreign governments and UN agencies are also looking to the PMI to provide leadership. DFID, USAID, the NZ government, Australian Aid, Global Affairs Canada, embassies, WFP, UNICEF are among them, as are search and rescue teams.

We have collective cause to be proud of the PMI and its 400 volunteers, of our own Emergency Response Unit and Field Assessment Coordination Team members in the region, and of the Italian Red Cross which is setting up a base camp as we meet today.

We have seen a phenomenal response to this disaster – from governments and peoples, and also from within the Movement, such that our revised Emergency Appeal for CHF 22 million now has commitments of 75% of this amount. The Appeal takes the long-term view: the work it funds will run until at least March 2020, and will include a heavy component to ensure disaster preparedness. And it is currently being revised to respond better to the growing needs.

Let me now highlight some achievements through the lens of our four building blocks: our support for National Societies; our operations; our advocacy; and the way we maintain and strengthen our Federation.

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Building strong National Societies is the Federation’s primary purpose.

So my report showed the progress we have collectively made in the disciplines of Organizational Capacity Assessment & Certification, Branch Organizational Capacity Assessment, and the new Preparedness for Effective Response.

I would like to update you on three important initiatives for National Societies today.

The first is the National Society Development Compact, which is a simple set of principles and guidelines to ensure coherence in everything we do for our Members. It is of course an initiative of one of the Working Groups of this Governing Board: it’s a golden opportunity for you to lead and for the wider membership to respond from the moment the consultations start in October, and all the way to its intended adoption at the 2019 General Assembly.

The second is the National Society Investment Alliance, which is an ambitious new collaboration between the IFRC and the ICRC. It will create a pooled funding mechanism for flexible, multi-year financing and support for organisational development in National Societies.

In early 2019, the fund will allocate 3 million Swiss francs to the first round of successful projects. It’s going to be launched very soon on 18 October. And that will be followed by an event to introduce the fund to donors, to be hosted by the Swiss Mission here in Geneva, most likely in November.

And the third is the question of how we preserve our treasure: our volunteers. I want to draw attention to further good work from the Volunteering Alliance which now has 64 National Societies as members. It has developed a superb new website on best practice, and a new ‘iMotivate’ tool allowing us to analyse and meet volunteer expectations.

I’d like to pay tribute to the Spanish Red Cross for its leadership and support, and I am sure we’ll have passionate discussion on this vital issue on Thursday morning.

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Another illustration of long-term engagement and partnership is the way we embarked on a new approach to planning our global operations. In it, we seek to link our emergency response programming in protracted crises to more proactive planning. We have started by looking at 23 countries across our five regions which reflect both the greatest and the longest-term needs, as well as the best potential for building new partnerships. All countries of course benefit from the common good, but we still have to look closest where the needs are greatest

Colleagues, while we are discussing our Operations, I would like to draw your attention to three areas in the report where we clearly lead in the humanitarian ecosystem.

First, in May we launched the Forecast Based Action window within the Disaster Relief Emergency Fund.

Since then, the German Government has committed 3.5 million Swiss francs for the next three years to support the fund, and there are now 20 National Societies (up from 15 when I last reported) to whom the Fund will be open.

Most recently, Forecast Based Action was triggered in Peru, 10 days ahead of the State’s declaration of emergency, to protect the lives and livelihoods of 400 families in the Andes region facing extreme cold and heavy snowfall. And last week, in Geneva, the Federation brought together 170 people from 40 countries – from Governments, to Meteorological Offices, to UN agencies and NGOs – to discuss how to take it further.

Second, I mentioned the increasing use of cash transfer programmes, of which you had a detailed session at the last Board meeting. The core of cash is dignity and choice.

My friend David Peppiatt at the British Red Cross tells me that in 2017, the Movement distributed cash in excess of USD 800 million, and reached more than 5.9 million people in need. It’s another great example of good partnership, and shared leadership with the British Red Cross, which hosted a conference in London last month looking both at the transformative power of cash, and at how we need to transform the ways in which we deliver it.

A personal memory of the power of cash was a teary-eyed woman in Antigua and Barbuda telling me that cash had allowed her to buy a pair of ear rings for her little daughter’s birthday. I don’t think the IFRC would normally distribute ear-rings – but here, they were investing in dignity.

Yesterday I discussed developing both forecast based financing and cash transfers with the UN Under Secretary General and OCHA Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock.

And third, I would like to mention today the launch of the GO platform just a few weeks ago. It was developed with the support of several National Societies. It is a new web platform which is transforming the way we connect and understand information about emergency operations.

GO also allows the smooth sharing of information with humanitarian partners, and it will help us answer your previous question by allowing comparisons between donors, actors and partners. It’s a quantum leap forward in our global coordination of emergency responses, giving us real time information at all our fingertips. We hope to show it to you live over the next few days.

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And we have continued to advocate and use our humanitarian voice to best effect.

There is no more long-term or important challenge than the record numbers of displaced people in the world. The Federation has never lobbied for or against migration: it sees it as a natural phenomenon which needs to be managed, and a journey which needs to be accompanied. That’s why our constant call has been for the dignified and humane treatment of migrating people – something which is in severe jeopardy the world over.

And here there has been no more passionate and sustained a voice than that of our President, Francesco Rocca. And it was he who led us in a major migration advocacy initiative in New York in July, in the very week in which the text for the final draft of the Global Compact for Safe and Orderly Migration was finalised.

That was when we launched a new report entitled: ‘The New Walled (w-a-ll-e-d) Order: How barriers to basic services turn migration into a humanitarian crisis’. (Some tell me the word should be Disorder.) The report makes a clear case that the denial to migrants of health care, shelter, food and legal assistance – something which, it says, is done for many and complex reasons – is bringing great suffering.

And we will continue to project our voice in the lead up to the adoption of the Migration Compact in Marrakesh in December, and also in the run-up to the adoption of its sister Compact on Refugees in New York, later that same month.

Another step on ‘The Road to Marrakesh’ will be the appearance in November of a new IFRC research publication on the issue of sexual abuse among refugee minors and unaccompanied children. Again, we are highlighting the humanity and the endangered dignity of those on the move. The report’s title says it all: it calls these vulnerable people ‘Unseen and unsafe’.

On climate, the Federation has been asked to sit on the new Global Commission for Adaptation convened by the Netherlands, and steered by Ban Ki Moon, Bill Gates and Kristalina Georgieva. I will attend its first meeting in The Hague next week. Again, we see trust and respect.

On 1 November, we will launch the 2018 World Disasters Report. You will hear more about it in a special session on Thursday.

It’s ingeniously titled Leaving millions [crossed out, and replaced with …] NO-ONE behind. The subtitle is a call to action: The international humanitarian sector must do more to respond to the needs of the world’s most vulnerable people.

Averages hide huge disparities, and millions are left behind. The report looks at how and why this is so. It examines those who are ‘out of sight’ (unmapped and unregistered), ‘out of reach’, ‘out of the loop’ (those whom others often don’t see, like the elderly and the disabled), ‘out of money’ (or at least underfunded), and ‘out of scope’ (amidst the crises that are often ignored by the global humanitarian community).

Tomorrow, we will be discussing Strategy 2030. I am pleased with its progress into the second phase of consultation with National Societies, in which it has identified seven core areas of either aspiration or concern. These will be further refined as we go on.

Those seven cover ‘Organizational Model and Culture’ and ‘The Imperative for Change’ … as well as specific topics like Integrity, Technology, Volunteering, Services to be provided, and Financing.

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There is one further element of building for the future which I need to discuss, and that is ‘building the Federation of the future’.

To begin with, that means having a sound financial footing. Andrew Rizk will tell you more after this session, but I would like to highlight now both some good and some less good news.

The good news is that so far in 2018 we remain financially healthy. At 119 million Swiss francs, our voluntary contributions from donors are 9.6% ahead of this time last year, and our projected year-end Regular Resource working capital is 4 million Swiss francs above target. This will leave us sufficient room for the capital investment we hope to do. We also continue to carry forward 185 million Swiss francs for programming in future years.

Continued good news is that 79% of our active Emergency Appeals are funded. But when I look at the list of those which are poorly funded over a significant time period, I see a concentration in Africa.

One of our most recent appeals is to support the Nigerian Red Cross address the devastating floods to communities and farmlands, which has led to the death of almost 200 people and affected approximately 1.4 million people. This appeal has been largely forgotten – with only about 15 percent of the appeal committed.

Other forgotten and seemingly orphaned crises are Ethiopian, Somalian and Kenyan droughts, Sudanese and Ugandan population movements (the world often forgets that Uganda hosts over a million refugees), Kenyan floods, a mixture of complex emergencies in Niger, and even the two Ebola outbreaks in the DRC this year. We need more equity, and we need more flexible and less earmarked resources to support these orphaned crises.

A piece of less good news is that 96 members have not fully paid their current year statutory contributions three months before the year-end, while 41 are still in arrears. The Finance Commission will tell you more.

A specific question on our finances relates to the way we treat unused funds, funds which are at risk of being lost to fraud.

For the unused funds … we have calculated that our returns of funds and write-offs of deferred income are small, at below 1% of voluntary contributions and donations.

For 2018, to date we have returned approximately 500,000 Swiss francs. While we still haven’t benchmarked this figure against other institutions, we do however know that it presents reputational risk.

We know that we need to improve our planning, and be more realistic about the challenges we will face in delivery, in terms of security, access, capacity and more.

We also need to reduce the level of earmarked funds, and this, as you know, is one of my strongest messages in my dialogues with partners and donors. The less earmarked the money, the earlier the money is pledged, and the less likely is any reimbursement and the reputational risk that comes with it.

And for the funds which are at risk …

We face the fact that fraud is real – in our Federation, as in any organization.

That’s why, for instance, my report shows how we continue to train staff (well over 1,000 to date) in our ‘triple line of defence’ fraud protection measures.

I confirm that, if required, I waive the immunity of the organization and its staff to ensure that any fraudsters – if they are ‘ours’ – face justice. That is why cases are being referred to the relevant authorities in Madagascar, Sierra Leone, Guinea and here in Switzerland, where someone who committed a fraud is now in jail.

We are absolutely serious about countering fraud where we find it, and I have convened an extraordinary Donor Advisory Group in November to have a broader conversation on fraud risk.

Let me share some figures, to give perspective. Since 2015, we calculate that up to 18.2 million Swiss francs may be at risk, in 43 fraud cases. That amounts to 1.8% of the 990 million Swiss francs we have disbursed in that period. However low this is, of course it’s too much: the figure must be zero.

Of the 18.2 million, we have recovered or were refunded 1.57 million, and we could potentially recover 3.6 million in insurance.

It is clear that we need to continue to be vigilant and strengthen our risk management, so that in turn we can continue to deserve trust and respect.

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‘Keeping our house in order’ is of course an even broader and more varied operation than surveying our finances. It is about both protecting and empowering our institution and its human and financial resources.

That is why, for instance, my written report highlighted how we have not only updated our own PSEA – Protection against Sexual Abuse and Exploitation – policy, but we have also committed to working with all our National Societies to develop their own.

And it’s why we continue to put gender equality at the core of what we do. Last time, I reported to you how near we are to gender-parity in total numbers both of employees and specifically of Senior Managers. This time, I can report the ways in which we strive to achieve proper process in pursuit of that goal, for instance by moving towards gender-balanced interview panels.

Recruitment is of course at the core of our forward planning, and I am pleased to report that in order to attract and retain the best talent – and give ourselves and our candidates flexibility – we have recently piloted a Talent Pool recruitment for a number of key positions (including Regional Deputy Directors, Heads of Country Office, and Heads of Country Cluster). This is open to candidates from our National Societies and Secretariat, and the process of testing and interviewing candidates is ongoing.

Also in the report, I mentioned our progress against an expanded set of organization-wide management indicators which we launched in January. We will have to wait until end-October for the next set of results, but in what I wrote for you, I was able to signal significant progress.

For instance, in a reduction in the time it takes to launch an Emergency Appeal, and in an increase in year-to-date implementation against available funding.

For thematic funding, I quoted its rise to 85% in the second quarter from 51% in the first quarter. And for humanitarian response, the rise is from 43% to 89%. I will continue to report to you on these figures.

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And as I talk about the Federation of the future, I feel this is the moment to update you on the Federation’s headquarters.

For today is a milestone: it’s our last Governing Board meeting down here in the basement at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. In April 2019 we will welcome you into our fine premises in Petit-Saconnex, where the sixth floor is reserved for you our Governors. It offers a spectacular view and is conducive to visionary guidance.

The work on the project continues to go well: it’s on time and on budget. The keys will be handed to us on 30 November, and we will install furniture and equipment in December. Our physical move will be in the last week of the year, and we will start afresh in new premises on 2 January 2019.

There is enough space to accommodate all IFRC staff, and some space rented to the ICRC. And the remarkable fact is that the running costs of the new building will be about the same as those of the old, despite the new building being twice the size. We estimate savings and additional income worth 860,000 Swiss francs a year, with half a million francs of rental income.

So we very much look forward to welcoming you there.

We want it to be a human space, buzzing with the humanity that runs through our Federation.

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At the centre of that humanity is dignity. It’s what I sometimes call the last scrap of clothing that people wrap around themselves in the nudity of the multiple deprivations they face.

The thrust of our migration work, for instance, is to fight against the way that migrants have been deprived of this most precious thing: their dignity.

Like my fellow Africans who stake their fortunes and lives on a journey across desert and sea to begin new lives … and so often lose their lives in the process. Over 1700 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean this year, and some of you may have read my piece in Jeune Afrique last week calling on African leaders and citizens to address migration in the country of origin and not stay indifferent to the plight of so many desperate young people. We feel we can make that call, as we are present along the migrant journey from countries of origin, transit and destination.

And the thrust of the ‘safe and dignified burials’ that our brave volunteers carry out in the fight against Ebola in the DRC is exactly the same. It’s the dignity of the dead, and of the bereaved.

The primacy of our task to care first and foremost for human beings makes me think back to a small but significant milestone during the reporting period, when we celebrated World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day on 8 May. The theme that day was simply ‘Smile’. The British and Australian Red Crosses have run similar campaigns on the theme of ‘kindness’. And so on 8 May our humanity itself took the form of hundreds of individual smiles as we asked staff and volunteers to say to camera what brings a smile to their faces.

We ended up celebrating their own smiles, and – even more so – the smiles on the faces of those they help. We saw smiles in the face of terrible hardship and difficulty; smiles of resilience and courage that help us all to connect and understand; and smiles born of hope and which build hope.

It’s that hope in which we go forward. It’s the hope that underpins our Strategy 2030 consultation exercises which you will discuss tomorrow; and it’s the hope that underpins all the long-term planning and actions which I have shared with you today, as an organization approaches its 100th birthday and looks forward to starting on its second century.

In Trust, Respect, Engagement and Partnership,
Thank you!

Speech data

National Societies

Themes

Climate Change, Disaster management, Disaster/crisis, Population movement

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