The Future of Australian Red Cross
Humanitarian Movement, Charity and Advocate for Vulnerable People in Australia and around the World
Address by Robert Tickner, CEO Australian Red Cross, to the Public Relations Institute of Australia
Sydney, 14 June 2005
Firstly allow me to thank you, on behalf of Australian Red Cross and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, for giving me the opportunity to share with you some new and exciting developments in the work of Australian Red Cross, and the groundbreaking changes we are implementing to ensure we remain the leader in the delivery of humanitarian services and become a pacesetter for reform and innovation in the not for profit sector in Australia.
I should state at the outset that I am new to Australian Red Cross, having taken the CEO role less than 4 months ago but I have deliberately sought to set a cracking pace to work with my Board, key managers including the Executive Directors in the Divisions and other Australian Red Cross people to drive the reform process within the organisation.
I have to confess however that it was a bit of a discovery even to me to learn of the sheer scale and scope of activities of the Red Cross in Australia, and possibly even more so the strength and extent of its international network and capacity.
To give you a bit of an idea, let me paint a quick snapshot of the Red Cross for you, firstly on the global scene: the International Committee of the Red Cross, or the ICRC, was established in 1863, and its role is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and violence and to provide them with assistance. It has an annual budget larger than the GDP of some small nations, employs thousands of dedicated humanitarians, both local and expatriate, in over 80 countries and is committed to alleviating human suffering. As the Guardian of the Geneva Conventions it also endeavours to promote and strengthen international humanitarian law, known also as the law of war, and universal humanitarian principles.
The other part of our big family is the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (or Federation), which was formed in 1919 in response to the immense suffering and loss of life during the First World War. Today the Federation runs or supports development and emergency programs in 150 countries, which assist millions of vulnerable people such as victims of natural and man-made disasters, refugees and displaced people. It works to inspire, facilitate and promote all humanitarian activities carried out by its member National Societies to improve the lives of the most vulnerable people.
And then there are these National Societies, such as Australian Red Cross, which today exist in 185 countries, the youngest one being formed only recently in the newly-formed nation of East Timor. Here in Australia, the Red Cross was formed in 1914, as a branch of the British Red Cross.
Today we are a nation-wide organisation with 1,075 units and branches, over 35,000 members and 27,000 active volunteers. Australian Red Cross delivers over 60 community services in Australia, ranging from blood supplies and disaster services to asylum seeker support and youth and education services.
Some examples include:
- training people in First Aid and Safety - last year 83,879 First Aid certificates were issued to those who successfully completed their course
- the Good Start Breakfast Club which benefits hundreds of primary school kids in areas of greatest need around Australia by providing them with a nutritional breakfast
- reaching thousands of vulnerable people across Australia through our Telecross program, a free service which provides a daily telephone call to check on the well-being of clients who live alone and are at risk of accident or sudden illness.
Importantly the majority of these services are delivered by a combination of highly trained, unpaid volunteers and paid staff.
Overseas, at any given time Australian Red Cross has between 40 and 60 aid workers who carry out humanitarian programs in the areas of health, relief, water and sanitation or detention activities within our International Red Cross network. This number is a bit higher this year due to the tsunami crisis, which alone so far saw 48 Australian Red Cross aid workers deployed in tsunami-affected countries.
More often than not, they are deployed in conflict zones and they carry out their humanitarian mission at a great risk to their personal safety.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has seven fundamental principles which guide its work.
They are as follows:
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, born of a desire to bring assistance without discrimination to the wounded on the battlefield, endeavours in its international and national capacity to prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found. Its purpose is to protect life and health and to ensure respect for the human being. It promotes mutual understanding, friendship, cooperation and lasting peace amongst all peoples.
It makes no discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions. It endeavours to relieve the suffering of individuals, being guided solely by their needs and to give priority to the most urgent case of distress.
In order to continue to enjoy the confidence of all, the Movement may not take sides in hostilities or engage at any time in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature.
The Movement is independent. The national societies, while auxiliaries in the humanitarian services of their government and subject to the laws of their respective countries, must always maintain their autonomy so that they may be able at all times to act in accordance with the principles of the Movement.
It is a voluntary relief organisation not promoted in any manner by desire for gain.
There can be only one Red Cross or Red Crescent Society in any one country. It must be open to all. It must carry on its humanitarian work throughout its territory.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement,in which all societies have equal status and share equal responsibilities and duties in helping each other, is worldwide.
So, what is Australian Red Cross - just a charity, or a humanitarian movement, or a powerful advocate for the vulnerable both within Australia and internationally?
Well, it is all of the above, but even more importantly, it is going to be an increasingly professional and effective organisation in all the activities it undertakes.
For, after all these feel-good stats, let me share one sobering fact with you - Australian Red Cross revenue in 2004 was $374.5 million, and it was ranked 17 by revenue on BRW's list of the largest 200 Australian not-for-profits, second among secular organisations, after Returned & Services League Care.
I have arrived at Australian Red Cross at a very exciting time in its 90-year history. For the very first time Australian Red Cross is moving to deliver national services and programs in a much more cohesive way under the leadership of the national Board.
This reform process, creates for the first time the concept of 'national functions', and will mean that although the important work of State/Territory Divisions will continue, in respect of the national functions (ranging from fundraising, marketing, communications, national community services, human resources, finances and many others) we will be speaking with one national voice. This will mean a more powerful national voice for the organisation as a whole and a capacity to deliver more effective services on the ground.
In the last 18 months the process of streamlining the rest of the organisation was accelerated under the stewardship of our Board Chairman, Mr Greg Vickery.
So what is the incentive to effect change within Red Cross, apart from being able to speak with 'one voice'? Well, it is all about those we aim to assist.
All organisations involved in the not-for-profit sector and delivering critical services to vulnerable people have an obligation to relentlessly drive efficiencies in our organisations. We must not just be champions of high ideals and advocates for those in need, we must also be pace-setters in good management practice to ensure that we ensure that the highest level of resources are available to benefit people on the ground.
I see this as the biggest challenge for our sector - keep true to our ideals, our mission and our principles, be compassionate and humanitarian in our service delivery, but at the same time ensure that we are a professional, efficient, transparent and accountable organisation in everything we do.
Already, Australian Red Cross is definitely a leader in the not-for-profit sector in transparency and accountability in all the work we do both in Australia and overseas.
But I seek to take the organisation to even higher levels of achievement and recognition in this area. And never has this been as important as it is now.
I have joined the organisation at a time when we have just conducted the largest fundraising effort in the history of Australian Red Cross as part of the largest global humanitarian relief effort.
The public showed, yet again, that they trust the Red Cross - after all, this organisation raised most funds from the public of any Australian aid agency, some $105 million.
With this unprecedented generosity comes the responsibility to spend the money appropriately, where it is most needed, in the most effective way, and with the transparency and accountability that donors expect.
I want all Australians to continue to be confident in knowing that when they donate to Red Cross, the funds do make a difference on the ground to those most in need.
And we are not just relying on the media to tell our story - my teams are working on communicating what is happening with the funds raised on a regular basis to all the key stakeholders:
- for personal donors with email contact, we are providing regular updates
- for those with only a mailing address, they have so far received two communications about the progress of our work and they will receive a third report on the occasion of the 6-month anniversary
- we provide regular briefings to key government departments
- we are continually communicating with corporate donors, and providing them with updates
- our special tsunami section on the website is continually refreshed with new information
- last but not least, we are part of the AusAID-initiated process of regular quarterly reporting on tsunami expenditure and programs by the five top agencies.
I should also add that Australian Red Cross has adopted a conservative approach to allocating costs to the Tsunami Appeal in deciding not to allocate fixed costs to the appeal. We apply an 'overarching test' that requires that in order for a cost to be claimed as administration to the appeal, then this cost in its entirety must be a new cost incurred as a result of the tsunami occurring. Thus ARC does not charge against Appeal funds any cost recovery of its normal activities operating expenses.
So as I have stressed, accountability and transparency are keys to ensuring the trust of the public is maintained.
My other commitment is to continue ensuring even greater efficiencies in the work we do. As I have stressed a key objective of mine is to grow the reputation of Red Cross as one of the most highly efficient not-for-profit organisations.
Together with my colleagues we will be undertaking a comprehensive review of our operations Australia-wide to find more effective ways of delivering our work.
One example I could give you is the way in which Red Cross is increasingly working more cohesively across state borders, further reducing costs and sharing best practice.
Red Cross is an organisation which places great reliance and importance on the work of our trusted volunteers. Indeed the voluntary based nature of the organisation is enshrined in one of the seven key principles on which the work of the organisation is founded.
Yet despite this, when I came to Red Cross there were eight separate volunteer policies based on different States and Territories.
Within months, the organisation will have adopted and be implementing one national policy based on best practice for working with our volunteers across the country.
There are hundreds of reforms and efficiencies of this kind which will transform Australian Red Cross into an even more formidable force for good both within Australia and internationally.
We will continue to work with and reinvigorate the wide-ranging Red Cross networks - branches, Red Cross shops, volunteers, school groups and corporate partners - to ensure we reach deep into the community.Increasing our national capacity will involve the strengthening of our community linkages at every level.
We also want to become much more outward looking in our work and that is why , for the first time in 90 years, Australian Red Cross will hold its first major national conference to which we will invite leaders of government, corporate partners and potential strategic partners in the not for profit sector.
Australian Red Cross will also be taking decisive steps to open our doors to new relationships with the corporate sector. We have to acknowledge that not enough has been done in this area in the past and until now we have largely left these relationships to others in the sector.
Australian Red Cross has however much to offer corporate Australia as we have one of the most loved and respected brand names in the country. In this context, our commitment to neutrality is particularly important.We are unique because we do not engage in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature and I believe this is a very important consideration for potential corporate partners.
Finally we have a raft of programs and initiatives both within Australia and internationally which are well suited to corporate partnerships. In short, Australian Red Cross is open for business for ethically driven partnerships with corporate Australia.
Finally, I want to make sure that Australian Red Cross continues to be an evolving organisation. Our key mandate is to alleviate human suffering wherever it occurs on the planet, including vulnerable people in our own communities.
As the needs of people change, Australian Red Cross needs to adapt to meet the new challenges as it has done over the past 90 years. And with the support of the Australian public, we can continue to be a humanitarian force for years to come.