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Seeing the big picture : partnership with Credit Suisse

21-02-2012 Interview

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Credit Suisse signed a strategic partnership on March 31, 2008. During this event, "In Focus" invited Jakob Kellenberger, President of the ICRC, and Walter B. Kielholz, Chairman of the Board of Credit Suisse, to a discussion on the common challenges facing the two organizations and the importance of the agreement. Interview by Mandana Razavi.

In Focus: The ICRC and Credit Suisse have just entered into a strategic partnership. What exactly does this mean?
Jakob Kellenberger:
The word "strategic" is perhaps slightly too strong a word for this alliance. I think I can speak for both parties when I say that both Credit Suisse and the ICRC have partners in our own respective spheres of activity with whom we have greater strategic common ground than we do with one another. However, I would prefer to say that this is a privileged partnership that contains certain strategic aspects. It gives the ICRC the opportunity to conduct a dialogue with an internationally active business enterprise. I am convinced that exchanges of views on a number of different subjects will be very fruitful for both parties. For example, we will be able to sit down and compare our expertise and our views on specific global developments and trends.

Walter B. Kielholz: Where Credit Suisse is concerned, getting acquainted with the views of the ICRC is of particular interest. For us as a globally active financial services provider, the so-called emerging markets are becoming ever more important. For example, our research units are extensively involved in assessing the situation in these countries and regions. This also extends to countries where there is a certain degree of potential for conflict. Unfortunately, it is often the case that conflicts cannot be foreseen. But the ICRC has profound knowledge when it comes to assessing conflict-prone situations. The employees of the ICRC possess great experience when it comes to evaluating whether a situation in a given region is likely to come to a head, or whether positive developments are in the cards.

Can you tell us a bit more about the practical benefits of this alliance?
Jakob Kellenberger:
Around 60 percent of our operations are conducted in Islamic countries. At the same time, we are an organization that has its roots in the West. To a certain extent, this contradiction has forced us to come to grips with Islamic culture and politics, as well as its world view. You will not receive acceptance for your work in these countries unless you are able to observe and understand these situations from the perspective of the population in question. I believe that by exchanging such experiences we can contribute something interesting on the topic of risk management, for example.

Walter B. Kielholz: Absolutely. The Middle East and the Gulf region are good examples of areas that have become very important to us in terms of growth. Unfortunately, they are anything but free of conflict. The in-depth knowledge of these countries possessed by ICRC delegates can help us incorporate other important insights into these markets and into our own analyses. Another pressing issue in the modern era is the relationship between the development of a country and climate change. Credit Suisse also has its own units responsible for closely observing and analyzing the repercussions of global warming on economies and societies.

Jakob Kellenberger: But there are also valuable things that we can learn from Credit Suisse. We are particularly interested in the expertise of Credit Suisse in the areas of staff management and training, logistics, IT technology, and communication. So you see, although we are two very different institutions, as internationally active organizations we often face quite similar challenges and problems, and in this respect mutual assistance can prove highly valuable.

As a result of this partnership, Credit Suisse will be the first globally active bank to become a member of the Corporate Support Group of the ICRC. What is the idea behind this Corporate Support Group?
Jakob Kellenberger:
The original driving force was the desire to partly diversify the sources from which we obtain finance. The ICRC is currently 90 percent financed by national governments and the European Commission. The Corporate Support Group originated initially from the desire to obtain financial support from the private sector too. However, the idea of just approaching companies with a view to requesting money is not something that appeals to me. The Corporate Support Group is designed to create a privileged partnership, whereby the focus of discussion is not just on funding alone but also on common challenges. However, the ICRC can only consider privatesector partners that meet high ethical standards.

And who initiated the partnership? Credit Suisse or ICRC?
Walter B. Kielholz:
Dialogue had been cultivated over a long period of time. But in the last 24 months - with the evolution into an integrated bank - the entire philanthropic area of Credit Suisse was restructured. The Executive Board decided to focus on certain key areas in this sphere too. Partnership with the ICRC was precisely such an area of focus and was selected as one of four global Corporate Citizenship Initiatives Credit Suisse developed in 2007. The other three major initiatives relate to climate protection, the promotion of microfinance and the education of more than 45'000 children and teenagers in developing countries.

Jakob Kellenberger: Walter Kielholz and I have known each other for many years. He has always been interested in humanitarian issues, and we have had lively discussions on precisely this subject for many years. That’s why it gives us all the more pleasure to have now established a formal partnership that provides a practical mechanism for the subjects we have discussed.



A historic moment: Walter B. Kielholz (right) and Jakob Kellenberger (left) seal the signed partnership agreement with a handshake.