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Newly elected as President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Dr Astrid N. Heiberg is the first woman to fill the post. She brings to the job all the skills and experience that she has acquired in the course of her multi-faceted life.

Federation’s first lady

Astrid N. Heiberg looks like a warm and loving grandmother. And she is — to a two-year-old girl named Hanna and a new-born named Peder, both of whom the Federation President says are adorable. According to one of her daughters, Dr Astrid Heiberg is a good listener and a warm and attentive mother with a great sense of humour. A colleague at the Norwegian Red Cross would use much the same words, adding intelligent, energetic and a good team leader with an immense working capacity. Both agree that she is a woman who knows what she wants and can be tough and determined.

Her energy and working capacity have always meant that she has had much more on her plate than just her role as professor of psychiatry. In the 1980s she was a conservative member of parliament, junior minister of social affairs and cabinet minister of family and consumer affairs. Among many other activities, she has been a member of Women in Political Leadership. She observed elections in Georgia and Zambia and she was a member of the European Council’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture. Dr Heiberg has been President of the Norwegian Red Cross since 1993 and was elected to lead the International Federation by the General Assembly in Seville in November 1997.


Second family

The 61-year-old Norwegian is looking forward to spending time with her second family, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. She is very committed to the programme on which she was elected. One of her main aims is to strengthen National Societies and the regional delegations.

“I would like to encourage the use of more local resources for developing National Societies,” says the new President.

As an example she mentions her visit to West Africa where she met the Secretary General of the Sierra Leone Red Cross working as a delegate in Liberia. “I would like to encourage things like that to happen in many more places,” she says.

Asked if it means anything that she is the first woman ever to head the Federation, she answers:

“I guess my way of management is demo-cratic. It is very important to me to get as many people as possible activated.” She adds that she wants to use experiences from the whole world in the leadership of the Federation. “I’ll need to work very closely with the Vice-Presidents. To learn from their experiences and bring that in is important”.

She also hopes to improve the cooperation between the ICRC and the Federation.

“The new agreement is an important step towards a better relationship between the two organizations and I already have good relations with the ICRC President, Cornelio Sommaruga. But there are still some communication problems about the sharing of tasks in areas where war and peace overlap — for instance, in the former Yugoslavia,” she says.

The Federation can expect to meet a good team leader. “Astrid knows that she can’t do everything herself and is very good at using the strengths of the people she works with. At the same time, she is a person who demands your attention. She can be tough and you can’t sleep at the back of the classroom when you work with her,” says Sven Mollekleiv, the Secretary General of the Norwegian Red Cross.

Heiberg will remain President of the Norwegian Red Cross, but is planning to scale down her job at the university to fulfil her two presidential positions.

Her busy life may mean that she cannot spend as much time with her family and friends as many others, but when she does it is, according to her 31-year-old daughter Lise, quality time. “She is a very good listener and is very attentive when she is there,” she says. “And you can count on her. We have always known that if we really needed her, she would come whatever she was doing.”

Helge Kvam
Helge Kvam is a press officer in the Federation’s Media Service.

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