Background: On December 11, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies elected a new president – Kate Forbes. The IFRC supports local Red Cross and Red Crescent action in more than 191 countries, bringing together more than 16 million volunteers for the good of humanity.
Q: When did you first start working with the Red Cross?
A: When a friend asked me to volunteer with the American Red Cross in 1981, I had no idea it would change my life. My history with the Red Cross starts out like most of our 16 million volunteers — it was local. I visited the Red Cross down the street in my Phoenix, Arizona neighborhood.
Q: What was your role at the American Red Cross?
A: In my time with the American Red Cross, I’ve served as chairman of the local board of directors, and a regional board chairman. In 2000, I served as vice-chairman of the American Red Cross Board of Governors and then the national chairman of volunteers.
Q: What organizational initiatives or disaster responses did you work on in the U.S.?
A: I saw the importance of community health programs at the local level when I worked at a Women’s Health Clinic as a young person in my community. As a Red Cross volunteer many years later, I worked to combat a surge of home fires impacting Indigenous communities in my state. By setting up a Red Cross chapter in the Navajo Nation, we decreased fires through effective community engagement. Both experiences taught me that risk reduction and access to healthcare are central to our work as humanitarians.
One of my first big disaster operations was assisting families in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in the U.S. People from across our country put on the red vest to help others in their community. Our team worked together and found such beauty in the heartbreak of this huge and devastating disaster.
Q: How did you get involved with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies?
A: I joined the IFRC in 2008 as vice chairman of the Finance Committee. Until the election earlier this week, I served on the Board of Directors and as first chairman of the Audit and Risk Commission. In this role, I increased our transparency and financial controls.
Q: Where have your international travels with the IFRC taken you and what have you learned on those trips?
A: During my four decades with the Red Cross and Red Crescent, I have traveled down the street, across my country and around the world to support our humanitarian actions. Earlier this year, while visiting Panama, I met Red Cross volunteers and staff giving medical assistance and providing aid to refugees traveling the Darien Gap — a deadly 60-mile stretch of jungle. Many refugees told staff that aid from the Red Cross was their first experience of compassion and humanity during this grueling journey.
I also recently visited Ethiopia to see the impacts of the devastating hunger crisis. It was heartbreaking and served as a rallying cry for all that we should be doing to shed light on our underfunded humanitarian crises.
I've worked with National Societies in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Central and South America, and Europe. Each encounter, story, heartbreak and sliver of hope brings me back to focus on our seven fundamental principles. Through humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality, the global Red Cross Movement changes lives. We bring hope and aid to people in their darkest hours of need.
Q: With being only the second woman to serve as IFRC president, can you share more about the importance of women in humanitarian response?
A: When I think about the role of women in the global Red Cross Movement, I am inspired. Often when we visit communities, the people we are helping are women. We can connect with them in inspiring and profound ways. Women helping women is so important to our Red Cross and Red Crescent work around the world. GLOW Red is a movement within a movement. It inspires. It elevates and it is a rallying cry for the beauty and power of women.
Q: As president, what is your strategy and vision for the IFRC?
A: We are living in turbulent times. Communities around the world are witnessing the impacts of the climate crisis, geopolitical tensions and health emergencies. More than ever, trust in the global Red Cross and Red Crescent is crucial for our work around the world. Communities in every corner of the globe rely on the critical lifesaving work we provide.
We know the challenges of our modern world demand addressing multiple issues at once. We will lean into our fundamental principles to deliver on our mission and make communities stronger. Our work at the Red Cross and Red Crescent changes lives.