Meet Yves Daccord, Director General of the International Committee of the Red Cross – 2nd Part

June 24 2014 by Alix Vazeux

GCF4-ICRC-logo-150x150pxHear what Yves Daccord, Director General of the ICRC has to say about the challenges of their work in the Middle East and how this affects their recruitment.  It’s a fascinating interview – we highly recommend you read it and then decide whether or not you have what it takes to work for the ICRC…


What are the characteristics that you are looking for and that make a successful member of the ICRC team?

We are looking for people who have a double intelligence – academic and technical but also “human intelligence.” To be effective, they have to be good with people. This is not about being extroverts – they have to be able to connect with and read people. Most of their role will be in forming connections.

They also need to know themselves well and have a mature approach so they can manage stress, pressure and uncertainty. With this they need wisdom, the sagacity to make sense of a particular situation – everyone who comes to our organization has excellent and diverse skills and training, but they need to be able to apply this well – to have a combination of flexibility and clear boundaries to know when to put their feet down.


The Middle East is very much in the news at the moment and a key focus area for your organization.  How do you tackle today’s complexity in the Middle East, operationally as well as in terms of security? 

We see huge areas of concerns right across the Middle East – both at national and regional level. We try to make a difference by trying to engage all the parties in the conflict – including the most challenging people. We focus on critical values based on the Geneva Convention, respect, dignity, health, access to hospital, right to be treated decently, to protect prisoners, to find missing people and help displaced people.

We are tackling it by firstly admitting how big the challenge is. We are just seeing the first chapter – we don’t know where it is going. This will last for years. It will massively impact on the social fabric of the Middle East – with relationships with power, religion, with national identity, with significant periods of instability.

The best way for us to deal with is to be in close proximity. To take risks to stay close – to connect both with those who need help and to those who are setting the agenda. We have to be committed for the long term.


Regarding security, how do you assure in such environments the security of your own staff?

The final decision always lies with the people on the ground. We equip them, give them the means, sometimes challenge them, but they have to decide the right approach.

We have a culture of risk management embedded in our culture but we don’t make it onerous – intuition, is part of security management.

A critical element is acceptance – we agree that we are not in a world that is ideal – you cannot force humanitarian aid on people. Sometimes you have to negotiate your presence, to find ways of being accepted. This is why we don’t have bodyguards and expose ourselves to the people. Little things like taking your sunglasses off when you get to a checkpoint so the guards can see your eyes can make a big difference.

We also have to invest in building and maintaining our networks – connecting with many parties. This gives us the ability to engage people – they may not love you, but they will be willing to negotiate with you. When we move from Damascus to Aleppo we have to negotiate. There are many stakeholders and we have to connect with all of them.

And you have to ensure that people understand what we stand for – the only way to do that is by demonstrating it through our actions.


Are such reflections an issue when it comes to recruitment and how do you measure such criteria during the recruitment process?

Firstly, it’s a joint evaluation – we want people to make a choice to come to the ICRC – it’s a demanding organization and job. It’s a choice for life, anybody who works at ICRC will always feel part of it. You will not be the same after having worked for the ICRC because of the type of work you will be doing.

We try to grasp what the person is bringing as a human. People do not work alone – they have to work as a team, so we are also evaluating their ability to work together as a team. We also enjoy diversity – it is critical for our work, both gender and other types of diversity. It allows us to have a more subtle and relevant response.

Once they have joined, our people have to go through serious training before they go into the field. This is also a period of evaluation to ensure that they are really ready for the field.

To determine whether or not people have these qualities, we have a classical recruitment day where we evaluate how people interact. The training then allows us to fine tune our perspective about the person. In general, our training and recruitment process is well developed. It is rare that we are completely wrong.

I really need to have people who can connect, who have their own way to explain what this organisation stands for and who feel empowered. This is critical to their ability to succeed in the field.