Key note speech by Dr.Barra: The Rome Consensus

From: “XV ERNA General Meeting” Day 3, September 25 – Debeli rtič

Dear friends and dear colleagues from the Red Cross and Red Crescent International Movement,
I had several times the opportunity to speak and highlight the effectiveness of our activity. Now we have grown enough to interrogate ourselves on what we have been doing. Have we served? Have we complied? Have we put too many/few resources in this enterprise? Can we be proud of anything that we have done? The only thing I can tell you for sure is that nobody will respond to these questions except our conscience.

Being confident that no one of us is relieved by such a circumstance, I will then try to retrace our story in a non emotional way.
The first ERNA meeting was held in Rome in 1998. Representatives from 12 National Societies active in the fight against HIV and TB decided to unite to tackle such challenges together.
At first there were resistances among them. Some people said: “such problems are quite different from the RCRC traditional fields of action”, others said: “Maybe it’s not our competence”. But we finally decided we had to do it. In this context a solid professional background and sensitivity are needed.
Another important role was played by the people from the IFRC Europe Zone Office. In the beginning they were somehow reluctant. I still remember of a meeting in Bratislava not attended by the Budapest guys…because they had other priorities! But now their attitude has changed.

In few years ERNA has revealed power tools to allow reinforcing National Societies’ capabilities and find resources by themselves, by using their privileged channel, represented by their auxiliary role to public authorities.

The ERNA’s peculiar capacity to transfer knowledge has also enjoyed from the organisational structures of the National Societies being part of it, which truly represent kind of “big families”, where all members, having equal dignity, same rights and musts, work together to share resources, attitudes and experiences.

In 2011 we may say that ERNA, relying on the membership of 40 National Societies, unanimously represents a reference network for the humanitarian community in the field of HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Sexually Transmitted Diseases and drug addiction; thanks to its activities the IFRC is often the only cited NGO in relevant UN documentation concerning these matters.

Told as such, ERNA story may appears as a success one, but we intimately know how relative could be this judgement. ERNA activities are being jeopardized, which makes it vital for us to get more funds to further tackle these problems.

We know that we have to develop our skills to be better partners and ask for funds more strategically.
I am not in a position to give a solution, but I will try to explore possibilities by depicting the evolution of a network similar to ERNA: the Rome Consensus for a Humanitarian Drug Policy.
As many of you already know, this network aims at bringing drug policy to the forefront of social concerns, acknowledging the suffering caused by drug use and current drug policies to more than 200 million people, their families and communities and advocating for a comprehensive public health, harm reduction and humanitarian approach to drug problems.

The Consensus, promoted by the Italian RC and the Senlis Council, was first signed by the IFRC, ERNA and 20 National Societies in December 2005 during the European High Level Seminar “Bridging the Gap between Public Health and Drug Policy”. In 2008 it was presented in Geneva to the Health, Youth and Development Commission and then to the Governing Board of the Federation.

The Consensus now commits 121 National Societies from Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Middle East, Central Asia and Oceania.
Like ERNA, one of the main limitation currently encountered by the Rome Consensus’ activities is represented by lack of money and sometimes of political will.

Nothing new under the sun, someone of you could say, but here we come to an aspect of the Consensus’ attitude which could represent a lesson or, at least, a possibility for ERNA.
The Consensus faced the financial restraints by systematically seeking network with actors external to the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, so acquiring fresh resources as well as different levels of skills and knowledge which can help national Societies in carrying out their activities on the ground. This attitude results from the Ultra-Movement nature of the Consensus, genetically aimed at further broadening its membership not only to other National Societies, but also to institutional actors and civil society organisations.

In this remarkable effort, for example, the Consensus has been in the past selected by the European Commission as a privileged partner to promote a public health based drug policy in Europe.
In other words the Consensus works like an umbrella under which new entities can find place for adding new energies in the struggle against drug addiction. This happens without corrupting the Red Cross Red Crescent identity of the Rome Consensus, because any “embedment” comes after a careful evaluation of compliance to the 7 principles for potential partners.

We, in the RC/RC Movement, have always considered the possibility to work side by side with actors external to the Movement as a risk of breach of either the 7 principles or the relevant international/national regulation.

But now I think that time has come for us to consider such a possibility in a more detached way. We know that opportunities and challenges in engaging with external actors have been explored in different Movement fora, including a 2009 Council of Delegates workshop, and we also know that the Strategy for the Movement covers specific guidelines for cooperation with political and military actors.
We cannot therefore ignore anymore that in our contemporary world cooperation is a must: who stays alone is on the road to nowhere!

I am persuaded that we must look at the NGOs working in our field: many of them, having gathered excellent skills and experiences in particular sectors, could represent very useful partners for Red Cross structures which, instead, cannot spare resources in research activities. This know how could be compensate, in a partnership framework, by the political weight that the Movement would ensure to these NGOs.

In my view, this is, at the end of the day, the main reason why the cooperation between the Senlis Council and many RC/RC National Societies has finally resulted in a success story: without such a strict relationship, the Rome Consensus would not have been so strongly developed at the international level and, probably, its Manifesto, instead of representing a solid reference for the Civil Society, would have remained something ephemeral, unavoidably doomed to oblivion. (Segue alla pagina successiva >>)