with Tadateru Konoé, newly elected president
of the IFRC
Since joining the Japanese Red Cross Society
in 1964, Tadateru Konoé has dedicated his life to
the Movement. For more than 45 years, including eight years
at the IFRC secretariat in Geneva, he has responded to nearly
every major conflict, natural disaster or health crisis of
his era. Since April 2005, he has served as president of
the Japanese Red Cross Society and in the same year, he was
elected vice president of the IFRC. Red Cross Red Crescent
recently caught up with him to learn more about what drives
him and his vision for the Movement’s future.
Red Crescent: You describe yourself as “a born Red
Crosser” because you were born on Henry Dunant’s
birthday. When you joined as a volunteer, what motivated
The extent of my awareness as a child was that my birthday
was the same day as World Red Cross Red Crescent Day. It
wasn’t until I was older that I learned about Dunant.
But 8 May also marks the day that Coca-Cola first went on
sale, and I suspect my friends would have respected that
more. I discovered what the Red Cross Red Crescent actually
did quite by chance, from a photojournalism book. It had
a special report on the Red Cross, and I was very moved by
this organization that did such amazing work, even in the
midst of wartime. After that, I grew very aware of the Red
Cross Red Crescent.
The cold war was on for the entirety
of my student days; everything was weighed on the ideological
scale, with a serious clash between the left and right in
Japan, and war breaking out in a number of places overseas.
Even in times like this, the Red Cross Red Crescent was everywhere,
always acting, always non-partisan, and I started to feel
drawn to it.
Do you remember when you first felt the urge
The Red Cross Red Crescent had a particular
prominence in Japan, our country having lost diplomatic ties
with a number of nations following the Second World War.
The Japanese Red Cross Society was frequently at the front
and centre of negotiations in resolving humanitarian disputes
with those nations, filling in for the government. In addition,
due in part to my adopted father’s experience with
the Red Cross after the war, the organization grew to be
a familiar presence in my life.
On my way home from a period
of studying abroad, I travelled to a number of places where
the East–West standoff was playing out and armed conflicts
were taking place. I decided to volunteer for the Japanese
Red Cross when I got back, until I found a job. I had no
intention of working there due to the low salary offered,
but my father knew the organization and encouraged me not
to discount it as a full-time occupation. He didn't offer
to make up the pay, however.
Now that you are president of
the IFRC, how has your perspective and motivation changed
I have always believed that even between the
most rancorously opposed nations, peoples, faiths and social
forces, there are shared interests and that chief among those
is humanitarianism. What keeps driving me is the idea that,
even if the dream of humanitarianism and peace is unattainable
for the human race, why not follow that dream as long as
it exists? What I hope to achieve, before any other goal,
is dialogue, reconciliation and solidarity within the Movement.
How has the Movement changed over the years?
spirit of humanitarian ism is the same, now or 150 years
ago. What has changed in recent years is the environment
that surrounds humanitarianism. Humanitarian interest is
high for conflicts or disasters, whether the issue be the
natural environment, popul ation movements, healthcare, welfare
services or poverty. But whatever we do, it is becoming harder
to distinguish ourselves in a way that strikes people as “only
with the Red Cross Red Crescent”. There are more players,
The strength of the Movement is in the
world wide network of National Societies, recognized as an
auxiliary body to governments and active in a wide range
of areas, at the grass-roots, national and international
levels. We have three unique strengths: the synergy that
comes from the joining of a diversity of activities, the
scale of activity and the advantages of a network. When these
three things are leveraged, we can actualize the power that
you get “only with the Red Cross Red Crescent”.
In terms of the most recent example, we have the Haiti earthquake
disaster. Even as the security situation and complete dis
- ruption of government services posed an incredible challenge
to relief activity, the Haitian National Red Cross Society,
on the strength of the trust it had built up with local residents
and the government through its consistent community-based
volunteerism, lived up to its full potential and more. The
other National Societies, from the Americas and beyond, backed
their efforts. Where there is much solidarity, there are
You have spoken of the need for the IFRC to
become more unified and efficient. What are some of the key
ways it can do that?
First of all, we are too ignorant, too
often, about what individual National Societies are working
on. We cannot create effective partnerships this way, whether
we are giving or receiving assistance. What I would like
to emphasize above all else is to know who we are. When it
comes to major international relief activities, if individual
National Societies act on their own reasoning and methods,
and their activities are not backed by sufficient coordination,
redundancies and waste cannot be avoided and it is doubtful
that we will be able to see the big picture in terms of the
Movement’s activities and prevail in international
“I have always believed that even between the most rancorously opposed
nations, peoples, faiths and social forces, there are shared interests and
that chief among those is humanitarianism.”
IFRC President Konoé with Haitian President René Préval.
IFRC President Konoé with Michaèle Gédéon, President
of the Haitian National Red Cross Society, in Port-au-Prince on 20 January.