Yves Daccord: COVID-19 demands 'radical' collaboration

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Yves Daccord, former director-general at the ICRC. Photo by: Eskinder Debebe / U.N.

BELFAST, Northern Ireland — “Radical” collaboration is needed to combat COVID-19, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross’ previous director-general.

Yves Daccord, who left the organization at the end of March after 10 years at the helm, said the current pandemic could act as the incentive that organizations in the humanitarian and development sectors need to work better together.

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“What I mean by ‘radical’ is that you agree that you share services and you are interdependent much more than we are today — which is, of course, a lot of risk, but I don't think we have a lot of choice,” he said in an interview with Devex.

While collaboration is not a new concept, it hasn’t been exploited as well as it could be for greater impact. “I have the impression that in the humanitarian sector — even more so in the development sector — there is collaboration but always with a ‘but.’ [For example,] ‘I collaborate, but I don't want my organization to be changed by the collaboration’ or ‘I'm collaborating but on my terms,’" Daccord said.

The need to mitigate the impact of the virus — which has so far resulted in over 135,000 deaths worldwide — could push partnerships into new, more effective territory, he said.

“In the humanitarian sector — even more so in the development sector — there is collaboration but always with a 'but.’”

— Yves Daccord, former director-general, ICRC

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement — which is made up of ICRC, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and 192 national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world — last month launched an emergency appeal to tackle COVID-19. It calls for 800 million Swiss francs ($829 million) to help the world’s most vulnerable communities.

The Red Cross itself needs to change the way it collaborates, according to Daccord. “If I look at my own family — the Red Cross, Red Crescent family — no questions; collaboration needs to be radical, otherwise [there is] no chance of building any coalitions against the virus,” he said. In practical terms, that means having a more fluid relationship between the local Red Cross and Red Crescent societies and the international program, he added.

Daccord pointed to the “population of detainees around the world” to illustrate another example of the partnerships that are needed. “They’re extremely high risk right now, and the type of collaboration that we will have to have with families and the detainee authorities ... will be renewed and certainly of a very different nature over the coming weeks and months.”

After leaving ICRC, Daccord is set to take up a new position later this year in political research at Harvard University.

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  • Rebecca Root

    Rebecca Root is a Reporter and Editorial Associate at Devex producing news stories, video, and podcasts as well as partnership content. She has a background in finance, travel, and global development journalism and has written for a variety of publications while living and working in New York, London, and Barcelona.