Joint opening ceremony, 6 November 2017

Your Excellency President Erdogan, our Turkish hosts and friends;

distinguished guests from across the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement ….

…. in the International Committee of the Red Cross,
…. in the 190 National Societies,
…. and in the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies which serves them all, and of which I am proud to be President,

…. thank you for this platform to address you today.

Ladies and gentlemen, this morning my message for you is about the merits and demerits of age, and the primacy of moving with the times.

It comes from someone who has been with the Red Cross and Red Movement for over 50 years: someone who cherishes this organization and all that it stands for; and whose first principle is the mother of all principles – the principle of humanity.

It comes from someone who takes an overwhelming pride in the things which define the Red Cross and Red Crescent: the power of its brand, the immutability of its fundamental principles, the legacy of its work over 100 years of the League and the Federation, and even more years of the International Committee and some of the individual National Societies.

All these things stand for everything we are, and all that we must be as a Federation and a Movement as we shape up for the 21st Century.

I am so proud of so many of the responses that have happened on my watch.  Not just the headline makers – Haiti, Fukushima, Ebola, Zika, Syria, the floods, the hurricanes, the phenomenal support to migrants in so many parts of the world – but the daily, painstaking work in communities all over the world.

And yet, of course, there is a ‘but’.  Because these wonderful things may not mean much if we do not adapt to a fast-changing world, and the threats which it brings not just to those whom we serve, but to us as well.  There is a romantic view of the Red Cross Red Crescent with which I identify.  It is a precious thing, but it is not – in itself – enough.

I will talk a little now about each of those challenges and threats, but – in a sentence – they are: first, our unity; second, our strength in depth at the level of National Societies; third, the strength and the size of our volunteer base; fourth, the way  we manage the resources entrusted to us; and fifth, the quality and quantity of the work which we do before – not only when, and not only after – disaster strikes.

Dear friends, these are truly critical issues.

Our magnificent Federation, which touched the lives of 160 million vulnerable people last year, must address these issues as it starts to map its future for the next decade, with Strategy 2030 and more.

And I am sure that President Maurer would support me in saying that they apply across our Movement.

So – first, our unity.

It has often been said that the millions of needy people we serve make no distinction between any of the component parts of the Movement, and what each of them does or doesn’t do in respect of conflict or disaster.  They see solely the Red Cross and the Red Crescent. It’s there – often embedded in their own communities – to help them.

Our particular reality, of course, is that man-made and natural disaster cannot always be separated, and indeed that we cannot be separated.  That is why I welcome the good cooperation that we do have – and especially the joint appeals which we have launched  in Nepal, Haiti, Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia, Myanmar, as well as ourjoint humanitarian diplomacy in areas such as nuclear weapons and migration.

It’s why I welcome the way we have worked together on Thursday’s  ‘RC2’ forum, and on the Council of Delegates in which we will conduct our business on Friday and Saturday. We are stronger when we work together.

Second, I raise the issue of our strength in depth at the level of our National Societies.

Many National Societies are strong – and as many, first and foremost by their own estimation, are less so.  Some are well-funded; some are seriously under-funded.  Some are of superb capacity; others don’t reach the same levels. Some are internationally active, and yet domestically sluggish.

It is perfectly natural that not all National Societies perform at the same levels, but it is categorically imperative that we all help each other, and that the Federation enables and supports a process which belongs to the Societies themselves.  National Society Capacity-Building is absolutely our first priority.  Again, it is of the greatest importance that we collectively pursue this task.  We cannot make the boast of having a national presence all across the world if it does not bear scrutiny: we are only strong if all are strong.

Third, I refer to the strength and the size of our volunteer base.

We always debate its size: we say it’s ‘up to 17 million’. There is a case for it being higher, if we include every possible volunteer in every situation.  And there is a case for it being lower, if we examine the diminishing numbers of volunteers, and the unevenness of their spread.

Colleagues, are we in danger of losing our precious lifeblood?  Volunteers define us, and we must halt the slide in their numbers.

We know, too, that our challenge goes beyond mere numbers.  We must do a better job of nurturing the commitment of volunteers.  We must support them in their  rights and responsibilities which are in the Volunteers Charter which is due for debate in the Federation’s General Assembly.

And what is more, dear friends, we must protect them.   Far too many of them – more than 30 already this year – have given their lives in the service of humanity.  Those people and their loved ones are always in our hearts.  We call again for the protection of humanitarian workers, and the respect for International Humanitarian Law.  Let’s all repeat the hashtag #NotATarget.

Fourth, I highlight the issue of the way we manage the resources ntrusted to us.

We are funded primarily by individual citizens who believe in us, and by Governments who believe in us.  Some governments have arrangements whereby whatever monies the people raise, the government matches it.  It is an extraordinary affirmation of trust and good intent.

We must all – every one of us – strive to protect our precious resources and ensure that every penny, every cent and every gift goes to those who need it most.  We must stand firm as we commit – every one of us – to 100% integrity.

At the core of our brand – and our acceptability in the role acknowledged by the World Humanitarian Summit last year as champions of localisation – is our integrity.  That trust is absolutely crucial.

And fifth and finally, I would like to raise the quality and quantity of the work which we do before – not only when, and not only after – disaster strikes.

In the last few years we have built in disaster preparedness as at least a 10% component of every emergency appeal we have launched.  Disaster preparedness may sound like an old and perhaps tired refrain – but the reason we repeat it is that, even though we do markedly more of it than we did before – there is still much more to do.

The fact is that we know most of the answers to famine, to disease, to flood, to earthquake, to the movement of people – and yet we are still not always ready for disaster, and too often the answers are not put into effect.  We cannot wait until our next International Conference in two years to resolve this – it must be done now.

I shall revert to some of these points this afternoon when I give my address on the state of the Federation.

But right now I am simply saying that all the great things that have happened so far will count for little unless a younger generation embraces the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement and makes it fit for the future.

Hundreds of millions of our fellow human beings need us – let us be all that we possibly can be, for their sake, for our sake, and ‘for the power of humanity’.

Thank you.