On 14 November 2022, Craig Redmond begins his role as Relief International’s new Chief Executive Officer. Below he describes his background in aid and development, his vision for the future of Relief International and how his strong belief in communities underpins his life’s work, serving people who face vulnerability across the globe.
Why did I choose a career in the humanitarian field? The reason has always been clear; because I am passionate about the power of communities.
Like a lot of kids my age in the rural Midwest, I hired out to work for neighboring farmers in the summertime. Where I lived in Central Illinois, the deep black soil is among the richest and most fertile in the US. However, the Midwest is also prone to extreme weather patterns; from crop-destroying hail storms to tornados that sent us all running for cover. Each time after we emerged from these storms, local communities came together to help one another put things right.
There is a resilience-building power in coming together to help one another in times of need. I am drawn to that dynamic, and surely that has influenced my attraction to a career in relief and development. I am humbled and motivated by the opportunity to work directly with communities around the world, joining them in seeking solutions to the complex problems they face.
In my experience, out of catastrophic events emerge visionaries who can see how to lift their communities out of the current emergency and into a better place. These people exist everywhere in the world, and I’ve been blessed to meet them in every place I’ve worked and lived.
"There is a resilience-building power in coming together to help one another in times of need."
What if Relief International, because of its deep understanding of the contexts we work in and connections to the communities we work with, could be a catalyst for those great thinkers and dreamers and community leaders? I believe that is what these challenging times are asking of us.
In every place that I’ve worked over the past 30 years, I’ve seen inspiring community resilience. I volunteered with the Peace Corps in Central Asia after the fall of the Soviet Union, and saw community members working together to adapt to a new economy and a new political structure. I joined the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Kyrgyzstan and worked with refugees who wanted to ensure economic opportunities for themselves and establish educational opportunities for their children in their new homes.
With Mercy Corps in Ethiopia and Eritrea, I worked alongside pastoralists on herding practices that would help them be more resilient to the ongoing cycles of drought and famine that we see worsening today.
Following the catastrophic Indonesian Tsunami in 2004-2005 many communities lost everything–their lives and their livelihoods–in minutes. I was shattered and awestruck by the tremendous capacity of community members to cope, adapt, and rebuild their lives in the face of such a horrific event.
These experiences give me purpose. In my new role as CEO of Relief International, I am compelled to lead this organization in the next era of its development. I am excited to work with our global team of 5,000, across our 16 countries of operation and throughout our global support offices.
"Over 98% of RI staff members and volunteers are local nationals. This is a superpower for our organization."
With Relief International’s amazing senior management team, we plan to build on our many existing strengths. RI is recognized worldwide for empowering communities by working side by side with them, developing programs that are conceived and owned by the very community participants who will benefit from them. Over 98% of RI staff members and volunteers are local nationals. This is a superpower for our organization that not only creates greater diversity and more inclusive decision making, but allows those who will be most impacted by our programs to be invested at every level of their development.
We are also known for being specialists in fragility; for going where other organizations can’t or won’t to ensure people get access to the services they require. Being fragility specialists requires the analytical skills to identify what is needed during a crisis, and the resources needed to respond quickly. These are tools and resources that RI already has, and we will continue to refine and improve upon them so that we can support people facing crises, wherever they are located.
"We must evolve to meet the needs of the communities we serve. Doing so will ensure we can continue to partner with communities to develop the most impactful programs possible."
At the same time, our organization must also evolve to meet the needs of the communities we serve. Many of the communities we work with are currently experiencing the effects of food insecurity, conflict and climate change; complex issues that are increasing fragility and are caused as much by global events as local ones. We must be thoughtful and methodical in our interventions as the factors driving them become more complex. Doing so will ensure we can continue to partner with communities to develop the most impactful programs possible.
All of this is only possible because of the strong foundations laid down by RI’s incredible community of team members, my predecessor Ann Koontz, and the outstanding Board of Directors/Trustees. Thanks to their efforts, this organization is well placed to continue to build and deliver much-needed services for fragile communities around the world.
To do this, we must continue to develop strong relationships with our partners and donors. I see all of our donors, governmental and private, as partners in our programs. I look forward to working with our current partners to develop bold solutions to existing issues, and with prospective partners on new ideas and spaces we could explore together.
And finally, I want to express gratitude and commitment to the communities and brilliant leaders we work with in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Thank you for putting your trust in Relief International. Together, we can continue to develop new programs and services that build resilience, relieve suffering and transform lives.
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