ICRC Director-general: "Innovation is key to remaining relevant"

The icrc's yves daccord (right) talks to the panel's moderator, sam worthington (center) and fellow panelist, thomas gass (left),  about today's most pressing humanitarian needs.

The icrc's yves daccord (right) talks to the panel's moderator, sam worthington (center) and fellow panelist, thomas gass (left),  about today's most pressing humanitarian needs.

The ICRC’s Director General, Yves Daccord, is visiting Washington D.C. and San Francisco this week to discuss the intersection of innovation and humanitarian action.

As Yves explains in an opinion piece he wrote for the World Affairs Council blog, the unprecedented suffering we're seeing in the world today requires new ideas and bold thinking.

He points out that conflicts and humanitarian environments are becoming increasingly complex, while the needs of populations are simultaneously growing. The ICRC often finds itself on the front lines of humanitarian action in places other aid agencies can't reach or don’t dare to go, resulting in higher budgets, organizational growth, and the strategic challenges (and inherent risks) that come with delivering aid in hotspots around the globe.

“We work in the world's most perilous places with some of the most dangerous groups and people. This ‘work environment’ is more challenging than ever,” he writes. “The number of conflicts is staggering and civilians are suffering more than ever.”

One of the key messages of Yves’ visit to the US is that now - more than ever - it is imperative that we find the most efficient and effective ways of reaching and providing assistance to those affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence. “We have to be innovative in order to remain relevant,” says Yves.

This was one of the points he drove home on Monday morning at the opening session of InterAction's annual forum in D.C., which brings together leaders from nonprofits, governments, philanthropic circles, corporations, and civil society to “advance collaboration, effectiveness, and innovation in an effort to end poverty and move toward a more sustainable and equitable future.”

The opening panel, moderated by the President and CEO of InterAction, Sam Worthington, explored the question, "What is the next change we need?" Yves shared the platform with Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs at the UN.

The panelists discussed the prevalence and proliferation of humanitarian crises in the world and the challenges the international community faces in responding to and mitigating such crises, while building local resilience.

Yves told the packed auditorium that as crises multiply and take on a more regional and even global dimension, "people will become more demanding of aid agencies and expect more in the future." He added that responding to people's needs is also going to become more difficult over the next five to ten years - at a time when an increasing share of countries' resources are “likely to go towards national security instead of development or humanitarian action."

Yves’ day-long visit to D.C. on Monday also included meetings at the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration and USAID's Global Development Laboratory.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Yves will be in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, where he'll meet with major tech companies, academics, and thought leaders to explore new and better ways to bring life-saving services – health, medicine, water – to those who need them, while improving communication with local communities, and increasing protection for civilians.

On June 23, Yves will speak at an event at the World Affairs Council, which will be live-streamed from 6:30 to 7:30pm Pacific Standard Time. 

Innovation and the ICRC

Though the ICRC has a long history of finding solutions to humanitarian problems, such as creating the industry standard prosthesis for victims of armed conflict, we continually seek new ways to protect and assist the victims of armed conflict and violence.

In recent months, the ICRC's Global Partnership for Humanitarian Impact and Innovation (GPHI2) has launched several pilot projects. The first is a virtual reality tool that makes our international humanitarian law (IHL) training available to internal and external audiences and leverages the exponential growth of both the military and video game sectors. The tool simulates battlefield planning in order to provide a more interactive and realistic, yet neutral, medium for teaching IHL. The idea has the potential to change the nature of our IHL training for members of the armed forces and increase both its effectiveness and efficiency around the globe.

A second pilot project that we’re currently testing is a new type of body bag that was the result of a "hackathon" organized by CERN last November. While it may be a grim topic, the ICRC purchases roughly 55,000 body bags per year and the novelty of this new generation of bags is that they delay decomposition, thus prolonging the amount of time that forensics experts have to identify and document the remains. This, in turn, could help bring closure to a greater number of people whose loved ones may have died or disappeared during a conflict or disaster.

The ICRC is also crowd-sourcing ideas from within its own community via a new portal, called “Red Innovation” which allows Red Cross and Red Crescent staff and volunteers to share the needs they see on the ground and exchange problem-solving tips.