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Shared food, Rituals and Local traditions.

Article on the first brown bag discussion “IFRC HQ viewed from the field”, 23.11.2022

IFRC staff party, september 2022

The IFRC is a federation of 192 Red Cross and Red crescent societies around the world, which makes it one of the largest and most diverse humanitarian organisations. It has its headquarters in Geneva - a brand new building inaugurated in 2019 - around which the IFRC Park Project is being developed.

Transversal policies and programs are developed in Geneva, which is often perceived from people working in the field as “where things are decided”.

Participants in the discussion asserted that the core IFRC work is done on the field, where national societies coordinate the work of thousands of volunteers - sometimes working in difficult conditions to bring support to local populations. There is a strong need to strengthen the connection between the Geneva HQ and the field - and the Park project should be part of it.

Ideas quickly sparked about how to help the HQ better represent the diversity that is intrinsic in IFRC, including having regional food festivals at the IFRC restaurant - which presently represents the five continents. The theme existed pre-covid but stopped during the lockdown and didn’t start again.

Participants said that food is a strong vector of social interaction and eating specialities from different regions could help strengthen the diverse ethnic presence in the HQ.

However, beyond representing diversity itself, the real stake - and question - identified in this discussion was how to enhance unity and trust within an organization which federates such a diversity of actors? “IFRC is one”, said a participant - but this unity is often hidden by perceived hierarchies between the field and the HQ and silos between different regions. The discussion developed around the idea of having IFRC rituals - for the staff on site but also more globally.

Rituals are a means for collectives to come together. They are easier to organize in a site-specific context and are typically a live performance that helps members of collectives to bond with each other. It was suggested that new organizational rituals could be oriented around already existing social festive rituals reflecting local traditions brought from the field.

Using communication technologies today, live festive celebrations could be organized across a global scale if synchronized well. A contemporized ritual of this kind connecting the HQ to diverse localities around the world can be complemented by bringing in culinary traditions from elsewhere and celebrating them in Geneva, to create a unique collective connecting moment for the IFRC.

Some participants proposed to make a calendar of local and regional festivities and encouraged the IFRC staff to use the chalet as a community-toolbox to celebrate whatever festivity was planned. There could also be new rituals where the park could play a role : for example, if the park has fruit trees, the harvest could be one of these.

Finally, unity also comes from a common IFRC history, which could also be showcased or represented, in some way or the other, in the park.

Further brainstorming is needed to translate this into a concrete project - how can a global and diverse history symbolically converge into a local site and respect its local identity in the process?

Suggestions are welcome online too - please use the comments section freely to keep the brainstorming going!

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