Steps towards a Red Cross approach to integrating with a neighbourhood.
The discussion brought to the fore the tremendous enthusiasm that the members of the neighbourood and the IFRC demonstrated for reaching out to each other using the interface of the community park as a literal common ground. An important question that was discussed was about a proposed Red Cross approach to integrate with the neighbourhood and the surrounding community? An institution is always embedded in a local context – even if it has a global scale of operation. Sometimes it is not because it is global or local that prevents it from connecting to the neighbourhood but the fact that it is an institution itself. Many institutions define themselves only with their organizational goals and objectives fencing themselves off from the community that surrounds them. What was positive about the responses made in the brown bag discussion was that nearly all the participants voiced their enthusiasm for reaching out to the community. Some members are long term residents in the neighbourhood and had a particular inclination for this. Others felt in principle that supporting a move towards integration through the community park is a move in the right direction. The park project is opening up not only a new way of looking at the locality and the context but also asking us to look at the institution’s roles differently. One participant pointed out that the national societies of the IFRC always aim to work with communities, and the secretariat at Geneva definitely follows that philosophy of working with the communities. There was a strong emphasis on working with the environment and the community within the framework of nature-based solutions, where people become part of the process. Another participant observed that it was the first time in fifteen years that the international organisation was ready to open a part of the organisation and the building to the neighbourhood and he welcomes this as a neighbour. According to a resident participant it is important to welcome the Petit Saconnex community to IFRC, so they understand what IFRC is and what it does. It is also important for the Swiss authorities to help IFRC in this. They need to know that we are working with the community. It is very important to facilitate such conversations for future projects so that people work together.. Other ideas included having a community garden within a part of the IFRC park, to create an interface with the community. The Geneva Red Cross was cited as an example of involvement in community work within the neighbourhood. The entire exercise would help clarify the work of the ICRC and the IFRC among the public. It would also create an opportunity to build quality public relations. This would help people to know specifically what the IFRC does, beyond the generalised notion of the Red Cross. There was a need for the word of opening up to the community to be within the staff of the organisation and elaborate why it is good to open up. Also the fact that it would be very important to involve the Swiss Red Cross and Geneva Red Cross from the beginning. This would inspire other offices from around the world including the 192 national societies and their places and members from around the world. These offices already engage with their communities. The impact of the IFRC Geneva initiative can be potentially felt in its global offices too, from Brazil to North Korea from Ukraine to South Africa. Even though these contexts are extremely different there are some common principles. It is important to spread the voice to all national societies that if you open up then there will be strong benefits to the community and themselves. It will be interesting if the team involved with community engagement talks to the community of Petit Saconnex and records what they think and their suggestions. Creating such interactions with the neighbourhood is important for the international staff to help them feel more involved in the community and know more about the location of the offices. It is a unique opportunity to involve with the community. While the national societies and are already doing it, the fact that the institutional office iis also stepping in send the right signal. We need to keep having events, like the staff party - to bring in people inside the office into the library, cafeteria and of course the park. The office resources could be made possible for other community groups like schools, etc. which can be a great way to be with the community. It is also an equally good idea for the park itself to be used as a relaxed work-environment for the staff. There are a number of things that are happening in the neighbourhood that we need to listen. The community engagement team are the experts to see how we can open up our doors to the community and the first step towards that is to play close attention to understand what the community wants. The overall goal of creating a best-practice through the ongoing participatory approach to inspire offices around the world can be complemented by inputs from around the world as well. It would be worth exploring on making this happen. At the end of the day the process is the best encapsulation of the aim of ‘local action and global reach’. The perfect way to make this slogan a live expression.