The Federation General Assembly of 1999 bringing together the 176 member National Societies took some big decisions: a new constitution with greater authority for the governing board; a new strategy setting new directions for the National Societies working together as part of the Federation; and a new Secretary-General to lead the implementation of these changes. In addition, governments at the twenty-seventh International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in OctoberNovember 1999 agreed a Plan of Action complementing many of the ideas of Strategy 2010.
In building Strategy 2010, a massive effort has gone into analysing the past, consulting the constituency, and agreeing a vision for the future. The first months of 2000 saw the beginnings of major change at the Federation as the new Secretary-General, former banker Didier Cherpitel, set about implementing Strategy 2010 with the support of the governing board.
Strategy 2010 in a nutshell
Strategy 2010 defines a new mission for the Federation: to improve the lives of vulnerable people by mobilising the power of humanity. It describes three strategic directions to guide the Federation: National Society programmes responsive to local needs; well-functioning National Societies with effective governance and strong implementing capacity; and working together effectively through programme cooperation, sharing of knowledge and resources and more active involvement in advocacy.
To respond to the increasingly diverse services that the Red Cross/Red Crescent is providing, Strategy 2010 calls for a focus by all National Societies on four core areas: promoting humanitarian values; disaster preparedness; disaster response; and health and care in the community.
Not business as usual
For the new Secretary-General, and for the organisation as a whole, 2000 has been about change to achieve implementation. The process started with a look at the operating environment. Governments are expecting more of the voluntary sector, but there is less government money going into development assistance, and there are more and more players. The possibility, therefore, for donors to ask for more in terms of effectiveness, accountability and visibility is great. In business terms, a donor-driven market.
For the Federation, this meant that its big National Societies were no longer interested in simply providing resources to multilateral operations in case of major disaster. They needed to be directly involved in delivering services in order to be able to provide direct feedback to their own publics. Their requirements of the Federation had changed more than the Secretariat had realised. For large sudden-onset disasters, the requirement for the Secretariat has become strategic coordination of programmes managed by the different donor National Societies, rather than operational management of a traditional multilateral type.
In addition to the imperatives of disaster response, the Federation has an opportunity that it has not fully realised, namely to capitalise on its special characteristic of being a network of nationally based and nationally integrated organisations. With governments pulling back from direct service delivery, the scope for service provision by the National Societies network is growing. Building local capacity in this network is critical. But to do this, the Federation needs to redesign itself so as to become more effective in sharing the knowledge and resources of the National Societies in responding to day-to-day needs.
Redesigning the Federation Secretariat
A critical challenge for the Federation Secretariat has always been to clearly define its own role. The 176 National Societies, each with different priorities, will always generate far more demands than the Secretariat can manage. Over the years, the Secretariat has moved back and forth between being a strong leading and operating entity, and being more of a post box facilitating communications between National Societies. In an attempt to reconcile these dilemmas, the new mission of the Secretariat is to be the Federations serving leader. Almost a contradiction in terms? Not so, says Didier Cherpitel. The Secretariat must always remember that it is there to serve its members the National Societies. But if it only serves the individual National Societies, it adds only a part of the value it can to the Federation. The Secretariat must also work with the Federation governance to lead and inspire the Federation, setting directions for the whole Federation, establishing and monitoring the implementation of policies and standards, and representing the National Societies internationally. The new structure is built around these ideas and, beyond the structure, there are new ideas of how the Secretariat should work. These include developing a matrix organisation, emphasising teamwork, identifying best practice and building a performance culture.
But the change process is not only about the Secretariat. It also poses tough challenges for the Federation as a whole. How can it deal with issues of performance by its individual members if these are outside agreed policies or below standards? Can it get better at capturing and sharing information about best practice in different fields? And can it more assertively advocate in health and disaster areas where it has global expertise? Time will tell. This is a process of change which aims to harness the capacities of National Societies working together in new ways within an evolving Federation.
Stephen Davey is Under-Secretary General, IFRC, Geneva.
For more on Strategy 2010, see the IFRC website: http://www.ifrc.org/who/strategy.asp.