Dear friends, chers amis, queridos amigos, asdiqayiy al’aeizza

This is my fourth and final occasion to speak to you at the General Assembly.

As President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, it is my task to open our Assembly by sharing my view on what we call ‘the state of the Federation’. Its strengths, its weaknesses, its challenges going forward.

I speak from the heart about an organisation which I cherish, and which I believe the world admires …. and which I know the world needs, now more than ever.

In reflecting on my address to you today, I reflected on previous speeches to you.

In 2009, I spoke passionately about what I called ‘The spirit of togetherness’. I knew how much that spirit mattered, but that it is nothing if it is not applied.

So please let me just share a very few of the big statistics which show how well it has been applied in the last 8 years – a period in which the IFRC has launched 874 Humanitarian Response operations (663 DREF operations and 211 emergency appeals), in support of 140 National Societies.

And to show how well we have pulled together, 144 National Societies have supported each other, to the tune of no less than CHF 1.5 billion in voluntary contributions.

The eight years from 2009 have been a period of profound humanitarian change.

In such times of change, we need to adapt, and I will come on to that. But one thing has not changed. The essence of humanitarianism is the principle of humanity itself.

From the very beginning, I was inspired by the work and commitment of our volunteers, and I remain inspired today.

I think of the bravery of volunteers in West Africa during and after the Ebola outbreak. I think of volunteers in Syria, more than 60 of whom have paid the ultimate price while protecting people affected by the conflict. I think of young peer educators in countries across the world, leading by example in creating a culture of non-violence and peace. I think of community-based volunteers travelling miles into desert or tundra to bring life-saving maternal and child health services to vulnerable women and their babies.

Two years ago, we celebrated 50 years of our Fundamental Principles, and asked if they were still valid and relevant in the face of changing humanitarian needs. The answer was an emphatic “yes”, and the conclusion was that we should put “Humanity First” in any situation.

Humanity is the core of our Movement. It has carried us for 100 years, and it can carry us for another 100.

In this address today I want to lay down eight challenges for the Federation, if its second 100 years are to be as glorious as the first. I hope there is symmetry here: eight challenges, for my eight years in this job.

1) The first of my panacea for the future of this Federation is the absolute imperative to continue to strengthen the capacity of our National Societies.

This Federation is its National Societies, because it is a Federation of National Societies. And their capacity building – whether they are resource-rich, or resource-poor – is the first of the Strategies for Implementation under the Plan and Budget of 2015-2020.

“Nothing for National Societies without National Societies”, says the Secretary General. We are working on Movement-wide mechanisms to do this, and to invest in strengthening National Society capacity.

There can be no strong International Federation if even one individual member National Society is not resilient. And we all know that many National Societies are struggling – in their staffing, in their funding, in their statutes and their ability to influence national statutes and legislation, in their relationships with government, and more.

Friends, we have a way to travel.

2) Second, I need to raise an existential threat. It is a threat to our very lifeblood – our volunteers, who are decreasing in numbers.

You may remember that in 2009 I launched the “Who we are” initiatives. Reviewing the state of our volunteering was among the first tasks I set.

The facts are that over half of our volunteers come from a tiny handful of countries, while over 100 of our National Societies account for just 1% of our volunteers.

Our overall numbers of volunteers are at best stagnating, and maybe even declining in absolute terms, perhaps by as much as 10% per year in some areas.

We have to do better. That is why – for your debate at this meeting – we have a new Volunteer Charter of our own, which clarifies volunteers’ responsibilities as well as their rights. These include

the right to a safe working environment, the right to protection, the right to information about the risks they face, and the right to insurance. We may adopt it first as the Federation Volunteer Charter, and then promote it as a Movement Charter. Ultimately, we hope to make it Global Volunteer Charter. We are articulating our common accountability, our common purpose.

I am saying that we need to look closely and critically at our greatest and defining resource.

3) So too do we need to look very critically at my third fundamental which needs addressing, which is compliance.

There can be no accountable International Federation if even one National Society does not uphold our high standards of compliance.

Strict compliance with the existing rules is the only way to safeguard our collective trust, and ensure that we keep the vital support of governments, donors and the public.

And yet every year, the Secretariat struggles to collect audited financial statements from National Societies.

At the end of July 2017, almost half of our 190 National Societies had yet to pay any of their 2017 statutory contributions, which were due at the end of March 2017, and a quarter are in arrears. That responsibility begins ‘at home’, in the Governing Board, which must lead by example.

4) My fourth concern could be my greatest: it is integrity.

Our brand is one of our greatest assets, and we are putting it at serious risk.

Ensuring the integrity of National Societies remains the big challenge for our Federation. It is the responsibility of each National Society, and it is the responsibility of the Secretariat. And we have created important new instruments such as the Compliance and Mediation Committee and the Audit and Risk Commission, in order to aid this task.

And yet to our great disappointment, the number of revealed integrity cases is on the rise. This may be partly because of the successful performance of improved systems for early warning and early detection. But it is necessary to improve the system further.

Even as we speak, two National Societies face the real possibility of suspension – a suspension which we dearly hope not to bring about. But if we have to, we will.

Let me now raise a number of policy and operational areas where we are strong, but we need to be stronger.

5) My fifth request is that we go up several gears on disaster preparedness.

Our own research tells us that a dollar spent in preparedness saves 16 dollars in response. “Prevention pays off.” And here we have made huge strides. It is a thing of personal pride for me that in 2011 I encouraged the Board to agree that every single one of our emergency appeals should set aside 10% of its funds for activities to increase preparedness. That is why our investment in disaster risk reduction rose by CHF 100 million between 2015 and 2016: a 50% increase from the previous year.

Disaster Risk Reduction is one of the main avenues leading to a more resilient world. It’s at the core of our “One Billion Coalition for resilience”, which has become almost a way of life in countries like Bangladesh. The IFRC led the way in setting in stone the principles and practice of disaster preparedness in March 2015, in Sendai, Japan, at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.

My concern is that we still need to do so much more. The Coalition needs to go further. The stage is set for disaster risk reduction, because the principle of localization decrees it. The Grand Bargain which came out of the World Humanitarian Summit of 2016 asks donors to commit 25% of their assistance to national and local responders as directly as possible by 2020.

6) My sixth plea is that we step up on the issue of migration.

I am immensely proud of the Federation’s fundamental belief that every person, everywhere, is entitled to protection and decency – whether they are at home or on the move, and whether they are moving of their own volition or not. I am proud of the work that we do at every point along the journey – from countries of origin, to countries of arrival and transit, to countries of destination.

And yet it’s not enough – our own work could be bigger and better, and the framework in which we operate, likewise. Hence the importance of our advocacy work and contribution to the new UN Global Compacts on Refugees and Migration. And hence the call to Action which we present to you here in Antalya.

We are calling on Governments to do more in protecting migrants from death, violence, abuse and violations of their fundamental rights along the entire migratory trail … and in guaranteeing that migrants, irrespective of their legal status, have effective access to essential services.

7) My seventh priority is that we take very seriously our new commitment to humanitarian education.

This speaks specifically to the second part of our slogan for 2020 – ‘saving lives, changing minds’. It means introducing to young minds the values of community and respect which are the foundations of strong and coherent societies, and which – in their absence – bring about such terrible damage.

The Federation has already done good work, not least through its Youth as Agents of Behavioural Change Programme. Many National Societies have also been active here in different ways. But a much more strategic approach will be required to meet our objectives.

In September 2017, our Governing Board agreed to explore adding this as an area of focus under our 2018-2020 Plan and Budget. We watch with baited breath: education is the key to the humanity with which I began this address, and to the disaster reduction with which I continued it.

8) And eighth and finally, while we must say more about the funding we do have, we still need more funding – because the cost of what we do gets ever greater.

We calculate that the Movement accounts for something around 7% of the world’s total humanitarian spending. It’s a relatively small figure, though in fact it hides a bigger figure. When you add up the total income and expenditure of all our National Societies – including the massive sums for bilateral assistance and activities like running domestic hospitals and ambulances – you reach USD 30 billion.

I make two simple points on funding.

First, as above, that we should not underestimate the strength of our market position, and should communicate this true picture to the international community to gain more understanding, more trust, and more resources.

Second, that we must be ever more creative in raising funds, because we still don’t meet our targets. In the last two years, we have raised CHF 438 million of the CHF 822 million we targeted. Clearly that’s a massive achievement, but clearly, too, it’s a noticeable shortfall.

Fundraising starts ‘at home’ with each of the National Societies mobilising domestic resources. The entire Movement should realise its potential in this, and I am pleased that this is on the agenda this week I have already mentioned new partners and new players: across the Federation, we need to mobilise them, just as we need to mobilise new tools – like social impact bonds, Islamic funding, and more. All the signs are that we are winning in this quest, but we cannot slacken.


Dear friends, I have raised eight challenges and concerns – one for every year of my presidency.

My 50 years in this Federation is just one small, individual, episode in a story that had its roots in 1859, and which officially celebrates its 100th birthday in 2019.

My topic today is the ‘state of the Federation’, and I can categorically confirm that it is healthy, dynamic, and good. But for all our collective sentimental attachment, we cannot afford too much sentiment. As the need for our services gets greater and greater, so does our own need rise, to get better and better.

Let this Federation be fully worthy of the names of ‘first responders’ and ‘champions of localization’. In so many ways we are; but we still have a way to go.

100 years of history is the source of the trust we enjoy now, but we cannot stand on the laurels of the past to meet the challenges of the present and the future. We have to strive constantly to deliver for those who need us most.

Thank you, merci, gracias, shukraan.