Empress Shôken Fund: helping National Societies respond today, plan for tomorrow

In 2009, the Empress Shôken Fund will grant more than 148,000 Swiss francs (US$130,000 USD/€98,000) to four projects carried out by Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies on four continents. The awarded projects range from health and care in the Comoros Islands, community-based risk reduction in Panama, cultural orientation of migrants in Malta and strengthened financial systems in Kazakhstan.

The Empress Shôken Fund was established in 1912 by Her Majesty the Empress of Japan to support Red Cross and Red Crescent activities worldwide. Since then, it has grown thanks to contributions from the Japanese government, the Japanese Red Cross Society and the Imperial Family.

The annual allocation of grants traditionally takes place on 11 April, the anniversary of the Empress' death.

The projects are selected by the Joint Commission of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Preference is given to applications from National Societies in greatest need or from those that have least benefited from the fund in previous years. A reasonable regional balance is also maintained. Despite the global financial crisis, this fund continues to support new Red Cross and Red Crescent activities to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable.

Here is a brief description of the projects supported by the Empress Shôken Fund in 2009.

Supporting blood donation in the Comoros Islands

The Comoros Red Crescent Society will receive support in order to build their capacity in the area of blood donation and programmes to avoid blood shortages at the islands' three main hospitals. The National Society will create blood donor clubs throughout the country, and aims to recruit up to 2,000 regular blood donors by training 30 facilitators, who will work closely with the Ministry of Health to develop the project.

Helping migrants in Malta

In recent years, the government of Malta has been facing increasing challenges linked to a steady rise in the number of migrants arriving on their shores, both asylum seekers and undocumented. In response to the difficult situation these migrants now find themselves in, the Malta Red Cross Society has decided to provide educational and cultural support to the most vulnerable so that they can become part of the Maltese community. This project aims at promoting cultural understanding between both the previous and new residents of the country.

Preparing for disasters in Panama

The Red Cross Society of Panama has responded to many disasters in recent years, including floods, landslides and earthquakes. The humanitarian impact of such disasters is compounded by a high population density in urban areas, poor territorial planning and persistent social and economic problems. In an effort to save lives as well as livelihoods by ensuring that communities are aware of the risks that they face, and are prepared to respond to their own needs as well as those of neighbouring communities, the Red Cross is initiating an education programme on disaster preparedness and risk reduction. The programme will include learning how to assess vulnerabilities and capacities, school protection workshops and disaster response courses for the community.

Strengthening finance management in Kazakhstan

The Kazakh Red Crescent Society has decided to develop a new approach to fundraising and to the use of its resources in order meet the ever-increasing needs for humanitarian assistance of the most vulnerable communities. The leadership has recognized that they must have strong, transparent systems in place to manage its funds and be accountable to donors for their support. Over the coming year the Red Crescent will upgrade its financial management systems and will also carry out its first-ever external audit. The recommendations of this report will provide the basis to develop new financial capacities.

For further information, or to set up interviews, please contact:

Marie-Françoise Borel, Information Officer, IFRC, Tel: + 41 22 730 43 46 / + 41 79 217 33 45

IFRC Media Unit Duty phone, Tel: + 41 79 416 38 81

Florian Westphal, Head of Media Services, ICRC, Tel: + 41 22 730 22 82 / + 41 79 217 32 80