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Henry Dunant Institute: Time for renewal

Interview by Jean-François Berger

The venerable Henry Dunant Institute has undergone a metamorphosis. Founded in 1965 by the ICRC, the International Federation the then League and the Swiss Red Cross, the Institute has decided to shed its old skin to re emerge as the Henry Dunant Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. It will nonetheless retain its premises in the magnificent villa on the banks of Lake Geneva, put at its disposal by the Geneva authorities.

Since its creation, the Institute has been devoted to research and training in the Movement's main fields of activity. However, the far-reaching changes that have taken place in the world since 1989 prompted the Institute's governing bodies to reflect on how it could and should adapt.

Dr Ernst A. Brugger, management consultant and member of the ICRC's Committee, oversaw the Institute's self-evaluation and transformation. He kindly agreed to answer a few questions for Red Cross, Red Crescent.

What are the main reasons for the change and how is the transition being managed?

From the outset, the Institute's main raison d’être was research and training for the Movement. Little by little, these two functions grew up within the ICRC and Federation themselves, as part of their own individual development. This dynamic inevitably led to a loss of value and importance for the Institute. On the basis of this realization, the Institute invited me to carry out a wide ranging consultation aimed at analysing and redefining its role. The role it could play was specified in a matter of four months, thanks to surveys and interviews with some one hundred of the major protagonists on the humanitarian scene.



What will be the main priorities of the transformation?

First and foremost, we want to create a forum for dialogue between the humanitarian players themselves, as well as with other important players in the humanitarian arena. The new Henry Dunant Centre's vocation will therefore be to promote and facilitate exchanges across sectors, cultures and disciplines. To do this, we need to have two tools at our disposal: an up-to-the-minute methodology making the best use of existing analysis and expertise and the capacity to organize and manage high level debate. Discussion themes should be relevant, even provocative, but never self congratulatory, so as to elicit innovative responses and to identify the good and bad lessons to be learned from humanitarian action. Lastly, this Centre has to open up to those outside the Movement and function in a neutral and impartial manner.

The Centre will therefore be engaging new 'shareholders’. Who will you be turning to?

Mainly other humanitarian players from the UN and the NGO world, not to mention senior management from the private sector. What is important is that the choice of these new 'shareholders' is representative of all races and cultures. It's quite a challenge, given the strongly Western character of humanitarian action today. But the success of the new Centre depends on it broadening its perspective to include the South and the East.


When will the Centre become operational?

From the beginning of next year. We are currently looking for an executive director, who will be selected on the basis of a worldwide recruitment campaign that has already brought in about a hundred candidates. The director will have a staff of about ten. Legally, the Centre will convert from an association to a foundation, with a budget of 3.5 million Swiss francs, two thirds of which is already assured.

Widening the Henry Dunant Centres Circle to include outsiders will certainly not please everyone in the Movement. What will be the Movement s Place in the new Centre?

The three founding members the ICRC, Federation and Swiss Red Cross will obviously retain full membership. The Movement will no longer have exclusive use of the Centre, however, which could be perceived as a loss, but also as a gain. It should be, mentioned that every single person consulted about the evolution of the Henry Dunant Institute pleaded for greater openness from the Movement towards other parties involved in humanitarian action, in the belief that such an attitude could only benefit the whole Movement. Which goes to show that you can gain by giving.


Interview by Jean-François Berger.

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