In several areas around the world, we have seen National Societies delivering assistance in violently divided societies. Often they have to balance their relationship with government and opposition groups. What lessons should we learn from how National Societies have responded? No National Society is an island. It has to work within a system and with the government that is in place, respecting the rules and the laws of the country. But at the same time, the National Society should impress on government officials that the state signed the Geneva Conventions and the elected governments created the law by which National Society was set up. So now the government has to respect those laws and agreements. There should not be a compromise on that. And I am happy to say that many Red Cross Red Crescent societies do not hesitate to say “no” to their respective governments when necessary.
How well are we preparing National Societies for potential conflict?
We have all been working with governments during peaceful times. That’s why the International Conference is so important. It’s a sensitization process to raise awareness within governments of our role. That is why, in Syria, [President] Assad could accept the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and why the opposition in the most part has accepted them as well. This has to be worked on whether you are in the United Kingdom or the United States, you have to work on it continuously.
With all the humanitarian actors out there these days, how does the IFRC maintain its relevance in a world of younger, smaller, more agile NGOs?
This is a good question. There is also strong competition from government, from civil defense and military agencies that have organized themselves for this task, as well as from the private sector.
Where we can have a clear advantage is our global connectivity. If the Federation, the ICRC and partner National Societies get organized in a coordinated manner and work with the national organization as the lead, then we have an advantage. No other organization has this kind of global to local link. And no one has the same level of organization we have, other than civil defense agencies and the military. Many international donors, meanwhile, would prefer to work with the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement than with civil defense or military forces.
You spoke earlier about how technology is creating a civilizational transformation. How well are doing in terms of making that transition? In many ways, aren’t we still locked in mode where donors give money for projects that National Societies implement?
I believe the entire structure is going to change. I don’t think the donor-centric flow is going to be a major part of the role down the line. Out there in the developing world, where there are big vulnerabilities, the economies are changing and growing. We are pushing National Society’s to integrate into the economic life of their growing economies. The external organizations will also have to fit in by working with these economies. It’s going to be a very different role.
Former IFRC Secretary General Bekele Geleta
Photo: ©Devon Krige/IFRC