Bechara Ziadé, Président sortant de MSF Luxembourg. Mai, 2024 © MSF

"Focusing on people and taking action for the climate have been the priorities of my mandate"

On Tuesday, May 7, 2024

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As his second term as President of Médecins Sans Frontières Luxembourg draws to a close, Dr Bechara Ziadé reveals the main challenges and achievements of his mission.  
Dr Bechara Ziadé (a gauche) avec Thomas Kauffmann, directeur general de MSF Luxembourg. Mai, 2024 © MSF

 Following the General Assembly of Médecins Sans Frontières Luxembourg on 4 May, Dr Bechara Ziadé stepped down as head of the Board of Directors after two years in this position. 

A general practitioner, Bechara Ziadé has a long history with MSF, as Medical Director of the Luxembourg section from 1991 to 1995, and as President from 2011 to 2013, and from 2022 to 2024. Having recently retired as Head of Division at the Luxembourg Ministry of Health for "school medicine and the health of children and adolescents", he has decided not to stand for re-election as President of the association's governing body.

What did you hope to achieve when you became President in 2022, and how have these hopes been realised? 

When I took over as President in 2022, I had several goals for MSF. Raising awareness among young people was essential, and I see that our teams in the field and in the office maintain close contact with young people, conveying the importance of our mission. Increased communication about our actions has also been a priority, and I am pleased to see our dynamic team spreading our message effectively, which is reflected in a significant increase in our financial support. Recruiting more expatriates was a challenge, but I was able to represent Luxembourg and the Luxembourg section of MSF internationally, thus actively contributing to the development of our organisation throughout the world. Putting people back at the centre of our concerns and combating the climate crisis were key points of my mandate. To this end, we have set up initiatives through the Luxembourg Operational Research Unit (LuxOR) and the MSF Foundation for Humanitarian Research to contribute to research and awareness-raising on the climate crisis.

I was able to represent Luxembourg and the Luxembourgish section of MSF at international level, actively contributing to the development of our organisation throughout the world.

As President, I have always defended the idea that we are stronger together, and that each individual contributes to the richness of our society. Despite the challenges we face and the atrocities we see around the world, I continue to believe in humanity's ability to rise towards a better future.

Are there things you would do differently if you had the time again? 

No. I don't think I would change anything if I had the opportunity. As President, there are responsibilities at different levels: national, operational and international. At the MSF Operational Centre in Brussels, for example, along with the other MSF member sections, we are confronted with global events that influence our action at all levels of the organisation.

Of course, there is always room to do better, to devote more time. As a volunteer in this association, I've always wanted to give the best of myself. I try to get involved as much as possible. 

During your second term, expectations may have been different from the first. With the experience you have gained, does a second term offer a clearer perspective and ambitions?

Actually, it's a bit of a yes and a bit of a no, because during my first term the international context was different. During my second term, a number of things have changed.

We were faced with an international context marked by the emergence of major conflicts and events. This meant frequent emergency missions, interventions during natural disasters, and increased work within MSF International. For me, representing Luxembourg meant taking an active part in the international debates within our movement and in building the future of MSF. It was a collective effort. So it was crucial for me to be present and committed. This required a higher level of international commitment, which was not as pronounced during my first term.

What would you say was the most difficult moment of your mandate?

One of the most difficult moments of my mandate was managing tensions within certain internal bodies. This is something that needs to be dealt with diligently, because for me, the very essence of humanitarianism lies in our ability to move forward together. 

The very essence of humanitarianism lies in our ability to move forward together.

Of course, our differences can sometimes create friction, but fortunately everything has been resolved through concerted work with the Board of Directors, in the best interests of Médecins Sans Frontières. We have been able to make significant progress in this area.

However, what remains most difficult are the disasters unfolding around us, particularly armed conflicts. The situation in Gaza touches me personally because of my connection with the Palestinian cause, having lived in Lebanon during my childhood, adolescence and youth. Through MSF, I have tried to help in this area.

The migration crisis is also a source of concern, for example in Sudan. The independent nature of MSF means that we are never compromised by a political cause, and that the human being is at the heart of our actions.

The independent nature of MSF means that we are never compromised by a political cause and that people are at the heart of what we do.

Dr Bechara Ziadé, président sortant de MSF Luxembourg dans les locaux de l'assotiation à Hollerich. © MSF

What advice would you give the new President to help him assume his role?

Each President makes his own mark, his own style. I'm not here to give advice, but I am available to accompany and help, if necessary, to understand this international context in which I myself am immersed. I try to understand it at every level, but everyone has their own way of perceiving it.

Fortunately, our office is united, functional and efficient. Our director is a unifier, and our teams are committed and dedicated. This is a crucial aspect. The Board of Directors, made up of volunteers, gives a great deal of itself at all levels. I'm convinced that the new president will bring his or her own stamp to the table, and everything will go very smoothly. I'm here, available if he or she needs me.

What are your current plans and aspirations?

With MSF, I'll see you soon. The commitment continues. I'm still a member, so you'll probably see me at meetings. I'll be there, participating as best I can. But after 33 years, I think that maybe at my age it's time to slow down a bit. The role of President is very demanding.

With MSF, I'll see you soon. The commitment continues, even if after 33 years it's time to slow down.

I'm happy to let the young people take over, knowing that I've had a great time. As I said, if MSF hadn't existed, it would have had to be invented. Above all, I'm proud of what MSF does. It's an organisation that I respect enormously, that I admire and that, in my opinion, has all the qualities needed to make a difference.

What memories and experiences do you take with you from your time with MSF, both professionally and personally?

On a personal level, it's above all the encounters that have marked my experience. Whether in the field during my short missions or here in the office. Despite our fatigue, we worked together and took concrete action. Those moments will stay with me forever. There's nothing like the smile of a child holding our hand - it's an image that resonates with me.

There's nothing like the smile of a child holding our hand - it's an image that resonates with me.

As for my relationship with MSF, it's a real passion. I love this organisation, not only for its evocative name, but above all for its very essence, this idea of transcending borders. It's a unique mix of dedicated people, ready to give their lives for others, whether they're volunteers or not. It's a dedication to the human cause that touches me deeply. For me, there's nothing negative about this experience. It's simply wonderful.

Any final message you'd like to pass on?

I'd like to say thank you. Really, thank you all. Thank you to the members of the Board of Directors who have supported me. Without them, none of this would have been possible. Thank you also to the entire office team, to the volunteers who give so selflessly of their time and energy. You are the very essence of MSF, and for that I am deeply grateful. And of course, a huge thank you to our donors.  

Without your support, our actions would not be possible. Thank you for your support.

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