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International Committee of the Red Cross
Frequently asked questions
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What is the ICRC Special Fund for the Disabled?

The SFD was established by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in 1983 to help ensure the continuity of its projects on behalf of people affected by conflict or war, and to support physical rehabilitation centres in low-income countries.

In 2001, the SFD became an independent foundation under Swiss law. It is governed by a policymaking Board, consisting of ICRC and other members. Operational decisions are taken by the SFD Executive Committee and its director coordinates the day-to-day activities together with the heads of its regional field offices.

The SFD maintains a standard reporting system based on that of the ICRC and its accounts are examined yearly by an external auditor. SFD projects are regularly assessed by internal and external evaluators.

The SFD has a distinct identity and responsibilities of its own. However, close links remain between the ICRC and the SFD, notably in such matters as operational policy, project implementation, human resources and training.

What is physical rehabilitation?

Physical rehabilitation includes the provision of assistive devices (prostheses, orthoses, walking aids and wheelchairs) and appropriate physiotherapy. Physical rehabilitation is a means of integrating physically disabled people into family, community, employment and education. Restoring mobility is the first step towards enjoying such basic rights as access to food, shelter, education, job/income, equal opportunities and equal citizenship.

What is the SFD’s link with the International Committee of the Red Cross?

The ICRC Special Fund for the Disabled (SFD) was established by the ICRC in 1983 to ensure the continuity of former programmes of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on behalf of the war-disabled and to support physical rehabilitation centres in low-income countries. At the beginning of 2001, the ICRC Assembly turned the SFD into an independent foundation and its Board was opened to members of other organizations. The ICRC maintains a majority position within the SFD Board, which is presided over ex-officio by a member of the ICRC Assembly.

The SFD has a distinct identity and its own responsibilities and it operates with a certain degree of independence. This includes its management, administration and fundraising structure. There are, of course, close coordination mechanisms between the ICRC and the SFD, notably concerning operational policy, project implementation, human resources and training.

For the most part, the SFD adheres to ICRC norms and procedures, thus avoiding duplication and reducing its administrative costs.

Where does the ICRC Special Fund for the Disabled work?

The SFD operates mainly in countries, where the ICRC has no permanent activities. (As a general rule, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) physical rehabilitation projects address needs in countries where the context has led to a permanent operational presence of the organization).

Where necessary, the SFD provides assistance to people with disabilities who were formerly assisted by the ICRC. The SFD’s involvement thereby contributes to bridging the gap between the time when the ICRC withdraws – in conformity with its mandate – and the moment when the government or local institutions can take on full responsibility for the physical rehabilitation centres.

In low-income countries, the SFD may also support physical rehabilitation projects that have not previously been assisted by the ICRC, provided that its criteria for doing so are met.

How does the SFD help people?

The SFD combines people-oriented support for individuals with structure-oriented support for the institutions providing the services.

By using the standards, technology and strategies developed by the ICRC, the SFD offers support that is adapted to the needs of each assisted centre. This helps the centres consolidate or even expand their services. The SFD also aims to render the centres autonomous.

Its people-oriented activities aim to promote access to effective and quality rehabilitation services by:

  • reimbursing centres for the services they provide to people with disabilities,
  • supporting referral policies and information campaigns to inform people of the services available, and
  • covering the costs of transport, accommodation and food for people with disabilities during the rehabilitation period.

Its structure-oriented activities primarily aim to promote capacity building by:
  • providing centres with financial and material support,
  • developing local skills and capacity to provide good-quality devices and services in an efficiently run setting, through technical and managerial support and training, and
  • supporting national bodies responsible for physical rehabilitation.

How to apply for SFD support?

Physical rehabilitation centres in low-income countries without a permanent ICRC presence can contact either SFD headquarters or one of its field offices. (see “How to contact the SFD?”).

Each new request is subject to a standardized procedure, involving a questionnaire, consultations between SFD heads of regional projects and ICRC heads of (regional) delegations, a project visit by the SFD, the assessing of the selection criteria, and a project proposal including a budget, addressed to the SFD’s headquarters in Geneva.

What are its selection criteria?

The SFD intervention criteria include the needs, the partner’s performance, the context, and the SFD’s funding capacities.

The requirements of the population in need of physical rehabilitation services are compared to the capacity of the existing providers.

An essential criterion is the partner’s performance. The centre needs to function at an acceptable level of technical and management autonomy, adapted to the local circumstances, and should have a potential for improving mutually identified points. The partner's financial autonomy should be such that the centre does not overly depend on the SFD. It is also very important that the partner organization demonstrate transparency with regard to the way in which it operates. The collaboration between the requesting organization and the SFD is based on mutual trust.
The context of the region and project should also favourable to long-term action.

Last but not least, the SFD's ability to fund the project depends on the costs and the estimated duration of the project.

What is the duration of SFD support?

The duration of SFD support is directly linked to the ability of the local partner to develop its capacity to provide services to the population, and to its ability to become completely autonomous. Like other development projects, SFD projects can stretch over several years.

How are projects monitored?

Assisted centres are required to provide regular information to the SFD regional office, including patient statistics.

Centres are visited by SFD specialists at least twice a year for a few weeks or months. On these occasions, people with disabilities who received treatment with SFD support are systematically interviewed. The action plan drawn up to implement the objectives of the cooperation agreement is reviewed together with the partner. Partners systematically receive a full copy of the visit report and ensuing recommendations. The implementation of the recommendations or lack thereof is the basis for the initial and the final discussion with the partner during these regular follow-up visits.

Besides ensuring standard reporting (yearly Appeal, Annual and Mid-term Report), the SFD has its financial accounts reviewed yearly by an external auditor and its projects are regularly assessed by independent evaluators.

What are the key factors for a successful, autonomous centre?

Although many skills, activities and cooperating mechanisms are required to maintain a well-functioning rehabilitation centre, experience from successful projects has shown that two specific factors are indispensable.

First of all, each successfully autonomous centre always has at least one local "driving force" who leads the project. This can be the manager of the centre, or a higher placed person. The SFD's training policy helps increase the pool of such potential "driving forces".

The second indispensable factor is the degree of political support and ownership for the project at local, regional and national levels. Where required, the SFD supports the partner in its attempts to increase the level of political support.

How is the SFD governed?

The SFD's Board exercises the overall surveillance of the SFD and determines its general policy. It meets twice a year and can count up to 11 members, of whom at least six shall be ICRC representatives.

The Executive Committee, composed of four members of the Board, ensures the implementation of the SFD’s general policy and meets eight times a year.

The SFD Director is responsible for the day to day activities of the SFD, coordinates the field staff and implements the decisions of the Executive Committee.

Besides ensuring standard reporting (yearly Appeal, Annual and Mid-term Report), the SFD has its financial accounts reviewed yearly by an external auditor and its projects are regularly reviewed by independent evaluators.

How is the SFD financed?

The SFD relies exclusively on voluntary contributions to cover the costs incurred both in the field and at its headquarters. Its donor base consists of governments, Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies, foundations and private donors. The SFD aims to obtain funds from sources complementary to those of the ICRC.

The ICRC, besides its initial donation of 1 million Swiss francs in 1983, still provides support in a number of respects: office space and other facilities for the SFD-staff working in the field and at headquarters in Geneva, including training of staff, and logistical and administrative support.

Why support the ICRC's SFD?

The SFD’s main strong points are: its long-term commitment to persons with disabilities and centres providing rehabilitation services; its reliance on local partners with a minimum number of SFD expatriates and its low administrative and production costs. Moreover, the SFD's projects contribute to the fulfilment of the Millenium Development Goals and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

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