Friday, 4 December 2009

A protegee of Henrik Beer- Tadateru Konoe

Tadateru Konoe, the new President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

I was just 26 when I went to Geneva to work for the International Red Cross, in 1975. It was a snowy January when I arrived. Fresh from climbing in New Zealand, one of the first things I tried was a winter ascent of Mt. Blanc, in a weekend. I almost died as a huge storm came in and dumped almost 2 metres of snow in late January 1975. I remember struggling in white out conditions to find the tel-cabine on the summit of Aguille du Midi. My first month in Geneva was a difficult time as I struggled to adapt after working four years in the field, to an international headquarters where a suit and tie were the rigour de jour.

I was fortunate to be working with Tadateru Konoe who was Deputy Director of the disaster preparedness bureau, where I was assigned. Our immediate boss was Sverre Kilde a former Norwegian Army Officer. Henrik Beer was secretary general and a most inspirational leader, that Konoe and I had the utmost respect for.

I first met Konoe in Bangladesh in 1972 when he was leader of the Japanerese Red Cross medical team on the island of Hatia, and I leader of a New Zealand Red Cross team at Nilphamari in northern Bangladesh. This was a joint ICRC or LORCS ( Federation) operation and there were about 15 medical/refugee teams from all around the world.

So when I met Konoe in Geneva in 1975 we were no strangers. We worked well together and after about a year, he returned to Japan. I recall meeting him the next time on a field trip in Southern India, in 1981, when he had just become Director of the Disaster Preparedness Bureau in Geneva. When he visited, I was supervising the construction of 225 cyclone shelters along a 2000 km stretch of coastline in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. We travelled some days together visiting remote villages. He was a pleasant companion with an eye for detail and a strong sense of curiousity. From the Royal family in Japan, I was impressed by his gentleness and the way he displayed such courtesy, humility and respect for the culture. Then I recalled one of his colleagues in Tokyo telling me that in the olden days his family were scholars, poets, and calligraphers. Konoe had an aura about him and I enjoyed his company so much.

In late Match 1975 I was assigned to work in Nepal and I recall getting a briefing from Konoe as he had visited Nepal some years early. It was a thorough briefing. Recently I found a photo (above) depicting his visit.

We lost contact until I visited Osaka in 1987 as a guest speaker at the International Syposium on Outdoor Education and Youth Development Towards the 21 st Century which was organised by Kansai Television and Osaka School of Physical Education. There I heard people speaking of Konoe in hushed tones and with great respect. He seemed to have an aura of a living God. Some leading Japanese academics told me how Konoe was in the process of setting up and Outward Bound School in Japan.

We met many times after that and I recall in Seville in 1997 at the International Red Cross conference, having a long talk to him about outdoor education and Outward Bound. He had a real passion for giving youth opportunities to build character and self reliance. It was during the conference in Seville that I noticed a marked change in Konoe. In a tense debate where two strong opposing factions had reached an impasse, the ever maturing Konoe took to the floor and made a wise and eloquent intervention, breaking a very tense situation. That day in December 1997, an elder Red Cross statesman emerged. I knew that very moment that here was a future President of the International Red Cross. Having travelled with Konoe in the field in India on two ocassions, he really has a deep concern for the welfare of children and has done much work in Japan as a Councillor of the Japan Committee for UNICEF.

He is a born and career Red Crosser. Born on "Red Cross and Red Crescent Day" of 8th May in 1939. Joined the Japanese Red Cross Society (JRCS) in 1964, initially as a volunteer. He has visited many countries in Pacific, Africa, America, Europe, Middle East and Asia where he had witnessed the suffering caused by ideological, religious, racial and ethnic differences and conflict. He has dedicated his whole career to the Red Cross and Red Crescent work, both at home and abroad.
As a staff member of the JRCS he has worked mostly at its International Department where he built experience in supporting National Societies in the implementation of relief operations and of development projects, in settling the pending humanitarian issues of the post-war years with National Societies of the countries who had no diplomatic relations with Japan, and in representing the JRCS at different international meetings, He worked at the Secretariat of the International Federation as a staff-on-loan between 1972 and 1975 and as Director of the Disaster Preparedness Bureau between 1981 and 1985. During these periods he represented the International Federation in relief operations in different countries. His first experience with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) relief operation was in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) in 1972 when he headed a JRCS medical team to look after the cyclone and the conflict victims. Ever since, as a representative of one of the major supporting National Societies to ICRC, he has visited various sites of the ICRC operations in different countries where JRCS provided services.
After returning to Japan, he was elected Vice President of JRCS in 1991 and to the office of President in 2005. In these capacities, he has been overseeing the Society's sizeable domestic activities, including medical services, blood transfusion services, disaster management, nurse training and social welfare services, as well as the Society's support for international activities.

As of 1 April 2009, the Japanese Red Cross Society (JRCS) is run by over 56,000 paid staff, mostly involved with Medical Services and Blood Services, both of which are two of the major auxiliary functions to public authorities. Total budget of 2008 fiscal year reaches around 2.37 billion USD.
JRCS is currently running 92 hospitals and 6 clinics. These Red Cross medical institutions have a capacity of more than 38,000 hospital beds in total and treated more than 11 million in-patients and 19 million out-patients in 2008. From its Red Cross nursing schools, including 6 nursing colleges, over 1,300 nurses and 60 midwifes are graduated every year. Such continuing efforts of JRCS in the training of nurses results in the fact that 4.2% of nurses in the country are now educated by the Red Cross. 34 Social welfare institutions for elderly, children, and the disabled are also run by JRCS.
JRCS is the only supplier who is providing blood for transfusion in Japan. In 2008, more than 5 million people donated blood to JRCS which was utilized for the transfusion of 1 million patients in Japan.
More importantly, JRCS is supported by over 2 million community Red Cross Volunteers in the country. Moreover, more than 11,000 schools are members of the Junior Red Cross which promotes Red Cross youth activities.

He also served as a member of the Finance Commission of the International Federation between 1985 and 1993, as a member of the Standing Commission between 1995 and 2003, as a Governing Board member of the International Federation between 2001 and 2005 and as Vice President of the International Federation between 2005 and 2009. He has also been a member of the ICRC Finance Commission since 2003.
In his different management and governance capacities within the JRCS and the Movement, he has made field visits to about 90 National Societies on all continents. This has enabled him to gain a special insight into the challenges faced in the conduct of Red Cross and Red Crescent relief and development programs. It has also underlined for him the unique role played by Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers in fostering the spirit of humanity and protecting human dignity.

With his wealth of experience in various humanitarian fields, Mr. KONOÉ serves in different capacities at various public, non-governmental, academic and social organizations including the Central Disaster Management Council for the Prime Minister of Japan, Councillor of the Japan Committee for UNICEF, Advisor of the Japan Campaign to Ban Landmines, Advisor of Japan Center for Conflict Prevention.
Wife and one son. The KONOÉ house is the senior of five houses of the Fujiwara family whose members were eligible for the post of regent. It was established in the late Heian period (794-1185) in Kyoto. Family members served for generations as regents and grand ministers of state. Many were also scholars, poets, and calligraphers. After the Meiji Restoration (1868) and the establishment of a new peerage for the family, the head of the family was given the rank of prince.

Before finishing, I would like to quote Konoe himself were he reflects and talks of his vision for the Red cross movement.
Our Federation has a proud history of achievements over the last 90 years and rightfully has established the claim today to be the largest worldwide humanitarian network. To sustain and substantiate further this proud humanitarian record we must be better prepared to address the escalating needs of those suffering from the humanitarian consequences of climate change, physical and social insecurity, health emergencies and the world's financial crisis.

"I am firm in my belief that the member National Societies of the Federation possess great capacity and even further potential to better serve the ever growing number of vulnerable people. To reach our full potential, I believe, the Federation leadership has a key role in reinforcing the shared vision so necessary to deliver much needed services through unity of action. We need to strive to be even more efficient, not only for those who depend upon our support but also because competition and market forces in today's world demand efficiency if we are to remain relevant and a humanitarian force for good over the next 150 years and beyond.

National Societies are diverse in their history, relationship with their governments, humanitarian environments, activities and capacities.
So are their expectations of the Federation. I regard this diversity as a strength, so long as we can retain unity in our action. We need to share the "Spirit of Togetherness" by fostering the culture of working as a Federation.

In this regard, the President of the Federation must be a good listener to diverse views, particularly those within the components of our Movement.
He needs to be a consensus builder, resolving conflicting views and interests where he can. He needs, then, to be able to articulate and advocate the Federation's views to the outside world.

Having been born on the Red Cross/Red Crescent Day of the 8th May, perhaps it was my destiny to devote my whole professional career to service within the Movement. I have rich experience in management and governance, both at the national and the international levels.
As you will find in the attached personal profile, my career has allowed me to build a deep understanding about the realities faced by many National Societies.

The General Assembly in November will become a closing event of this commemorative year and also an opportunity for us all to pledge new commitments. As I proceed with my presidential campaign, I hope to meet as many leaders of National Societies as possible, including yourself of course. I look forward to a frank exchange of opinions so that I may benefit from these in shaping the aspirations I have to serve our membership as President of the Federation.

Coming as I do from one of the five founder members of the International Federation and the first ever candidate from the vast and the most populous Asia/Pacific Region, I look forward to your positive consideration of my candidature, taking into account my personal history and professional career as a born Red Crosser.

I am proud that Moriteru Konoe is President of the International Fedeartion of Red Cross for he will provide the vision and direction we need at this juncture in history. He has an exceptionally able secretary general in Bekele Gelata and together they will lead us to tackle the increasing humanitarian challenges the world is facing.

My mind goes back to a misty morning in Bhuj, Gujarat, India, when Konoe and I were having a bowl of soup together outside the Japanese Red Cross tent. He was so proud of the work the Japanese Red Cross medical team were doing for the many thousands injured by the earthquake, that killed over 25,000 people.
On that muddy school compound we had over 600 Red Cross staff and volunteers living in tents next to the 400 bed Finnish-Norwegian Red Cross field hospital.
Konoe spoke to me of this wonderful relief operation and how it must be replicated in the future. Rather than pump more money into the Japanese Red Cross, Konoe was the driving force behind the concept of and the Asia and Pacific disaster management unit, which is now well established in Kuala Lumpur, and provides a zone-wide disaster response, coordination and technical support to the whole of asia and Pacific. We have a man of vision with a history of implementation at the helm of Red Cross, and I know if Henrik Beer were alive today, he would be very proud that one of his protegees, is President of the organisation he gave so much to. Beer and Konoe have much in common: men of high integrity, men of vision and have given their lives to the Red Cross.

Check his website
Spirit of Togetherness.

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