The ICRC at a crossroads: Swiss roots—international outlook

Claudia Franziska Brühwiler, Patricia Egli, Yvette Sánchez

Publikation: Beitrag in FachzeitschriftArtikelBegutachtung


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has undergone a considerable transformation in the recent decades: from being driven by a pre-dominantly Swiss body of employees, it has become an organization dominated by international staff that hail from all over the world. While the leadership is still firmly in Swiss hands, the transformation has put into question to what extent the ICRC has been able to uphold its foundational values and its special relationship with Swiss culture. The strong ties with Swiss values such as neutrality, independence, consensus, reliability, work ethics, and participation used to be perceived as key factors for the organization’s continuity and success in delivering humanitarian aid in a politically more and more divided world. Indeed, from a historical perspective, the Swiss rootedness shaping the organizational culture and identity allowed the ICRC to be successful in its endeavors as a neutral humanitarian actor even in times of crises. This paper, through an analysis of interviews with ICRC staff members of different nationalities, seeks to explore to what extent Swiss values are perceived to still matter in the ICRC, its humanitarian work and how Swiss and non-Swiss staff members interpret these values. The research suggests that there are three distinct narratives, namely, an internationalist, a traditionalist, and a pragmatist. While the internationalist narrative perceives the ICRC’s internationalization as a positive development for the organization as a whole, the traditionalist is concerned about detrimental effects on the organizational culture as well as on the credibility of the humanitarian work in the field. The pragmatist narrative recognizes the benefits of strong Swiss values in the ICRC, yet highlights that current developments call for internationalization. The study extends our understanding of the importance of core organizational values and principles in a process of internationalization in order to stay a credible and successful humanitarian actor.
FachzeitschriftJournal of International Humanitarian Action
PublikationsstatusVeröffentlicht - 2019

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