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Seven — Tell us a story!

By Robert Dempfer

Telling stories about what humanitarianism actually means instead of teaching the history of the Red Cross and Red Crescent: an idea that brought together media, companies and the Red Cross in Austria for the project SEVEN.

Stories explain our world and provide the cement that binds it together. In the 19th century, colonial interests linked North and South, not least through stories of discovery and conquest. It is no coincidence that this era saw the birth of organizations like the National Geographic Society and its prestigious magazine. Twentieth-century stories recounted the battle of two superpowers. This extended into popular culture, with the likes of James Bond waging proxy warfare in exotic climates. But in the 21st century, the "age of globalization", we appear to have run out of stories. Talk of the "global village" has been revealed as so much hot air, with the world once again segmenting into zones of affluence and zones of danger. Nothing, it would seem, connects one with the other.

If one is to believe the Canadian writer Michael Ignatieff, this chasm is bridged by no more than sympathy, universal humanitarian ideas and their heralds, the aid workers.


In Georgia the conflict is currently "frozen" as well as forgotten.

The husbands of each of these women died of HIV/AIDS. Zimbabwe, 2003.

SEVEN — the rationale

It was thoughts like these that sowed the seed of the SEVEN project in May 2002 at the Austrian Red Cross. Luckily, 2003 was to be the 140th anniversary of the ICRC, and anniversaries are always good for a bit of publicity. This "bit of publicity" consisted of seven reporters, reporting from seven crisis zones on the day-to-day application of the seven Fundamental Principles that guide the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement's work with the victims of war and disaster. Seven media outlets were to publish or broadcast the reports over a seven-week period. Starting date: International Red Cross and Red Crescent week in May.

The only thing missing was the money.

What did not exactly harm the project was the burgeoning trendiness of corporate social responsibility, even in central Europe. It is currently clever to say, "There's nothing different about our product or price — but we do behave well." SEVEN gave seven companies a chance to showcase their support for the humanitarian ideal. Only this time, there would be no photos of cheque-presentation ceremonies. The companies were going to provide airtime and newspaper space to highlight the value of Red Cross and Red Crescent action worldwide.

Only media and programmes that targeted national leaders and decision-makers were to carry the reports themselves. TV and print advertising to promote the project included companies congratulating the Red Cross and Red Crescent. Radio commercials focusing on the 140th anniversary were carried by mass media, such as the leading Austrian radio station. The payoff for all was that seven stories became a series, seven media became "coverage" and seven advertisements and commercials became a campaign.

Finding the money

For the companies involved, ideals were backed up by hard facts. Projections showed that 5.5 million Austrians would see the SEVEN commercials. This represents 82 per cent of the population. The seven reports would be read, heard or watched by 2.3 million, and specialist media would carry reports about SEVEN to over three-quarters of the top 600 Austrian companies. Who wanted to hear the SEVEN stories? Everyone who was "curious about a life that goes beyond putting rubbish in the right bin, travelling by bike and eating organically grown vegetables". Or everyone who does not want to live simply because "life is a habit that's hard to break".


Identifying missing people is a long and painful process for relatives. Kosovo, 2003.

Robert Dempfer
Robert Dempfer is in charge of corporate sector relations for the Austrian Red Cross in Vienna.

SEVEN — the reports

Das Leben selbst [Life itself], (Michael Freund, Der Standard): International Federation water and sanitation delegate Thanh Le helps regions of south-east Asia under continual threat of flooding (cooperation with the International Federation).

Im Gefängnis der Gedanken [Prison of the mind] (Robert Dempfer, Wirtschaftsblatt): Four years after the conflict ended, thousands of Kosovans are still waiting to resume their previous lives or start anew. Not knowing the fate of missing relatives makes new beginnings impossible (cooperation with the ICRC).

Haus des Lebens [House of life] (Heike Obermeier, Kurier): How the Helga Treichl Hospice nd the mobile Red Cross hospice in Upper Austria help people to die with dignity.

Tätersuche im kleinen Gras [Manhunt under the village tree] (Christian Brüser, FORMAT): Nine years after the genocide, the entire population of Rwanda is to establish a justice system based on customary and modern law in order to help reconciled survivors and perpetrators in front of thousands of village courts. To many, a decent burial for their relatives is the first step.

Der Fluch des Wassers [The curse of water] (Claudia Neuhauser, Austrian Broadcasting Corporation, TV): Viet Nam's Mekong Delta has no shortage of water, but the inhabitants have little idea how to keep it clean. Starting with 1,000 model families, the Red Cross is working to change this (cooperation with the International Federation).

Hilfe im Bürgerkriegsland [Aid in the land of civil war] (Gertrude Roten, Austrian Broadcasting Corporation, radio): Sudan is a land divided. A civil war has been raging there for 20 years. Millions are suffering, 4 million have been displaced. The ICRC is trying to help (cooperation with the ICRC).

Der Tod lebt in Shurugwi [Death lives in Shurugwi] (Tatjana Halek, Die Presse): Africa is losing an entire generation. The causes: disasters and epidemics, especially AIDS. The aged and the orphaned remain (cooperation with the International Federation).

Reiner Riedler, one of central Europe's best-known documentary photographers, has taken a series of photos to go with the SEVEN stories. Red Cross and Red Crescent publications can use the photos free of charge. Please contact the ICRC Library and Research Service or the Austrian Red Cross (

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