Empress Shôken Fund

For the past 100 years, the Empress Shôken Fund has continued to build the peacetime activities of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world. The fund has helped improve the quality of life and resilience of vulnerable people through disaster response operations, as well as long-term development programmes such as disaster risk reduction, disaster preparedness, health and other community-based activities.

2022 allocations

The Fund received 52 applications in 2022, covering a diverse range of humanitarian projects run by National Societies in every region of the world. This year the Joint Commission agreed to allocate a total of 471,712 Swiss francs to 16 projects in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Jordan, Libya, Mongolia, Niger, Portugal, Serbia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Yemen.

The projects to be supported in 2022 cover a number of themes, including first aid and rescue, support for young people, disaster preparedness, health, social welfare and National Society development. The Fund continues to encourage new and innovative approaches with the potential to generate new insight and learning that will benefit the Movement as a whole.

Read more about this year’s allocations

Each year, the Empress Shôken Fund  supports a wide range of initiatives, from tuberculosis programmes to first-aid training, from blood banks to community projects.
IFRC President (2009-2017) Tadateru Konoé

The Empress Shôken Fund is named after the Japanese Empress who, in 1912, inspired the Movement to create an international Fund in order to support the peacetime activities of National Societies.

This unique fund is jointly managed by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and International Committee of the Red Cross Joint Commission which, acting under its agreed rules of procedure, assesses grant applications from National Societies and announces its decisions on 11 April, the anniversary of the death of the Empress.

Empress Shôken Fund timeline

The fund was established in 1912 and currently supports projects around the world.



Born in Kyoto in 1850, the Empress Shôken was the youngest of three daughters of Tadaka Ichijo, a nobleman at the imperial court of Japan, who later bore the title of prince.

She was first named Fukhi-himée, then Sue-himéa, and during her husband’s reign, she was called Haruko. She was the first imperial consort to receive the titles of nyōgō and kōgō (literally, the emperor’s wife, translated as ‘empress consort’), in several hundred years.


The Japanese Red Cross Society (previously the Philanthropic Society) was officially admitted into the International Committee of the Red Cross.

This was also the year in which the Society began its first disaster relief operations during an eruption of the volcano at Mount Bandai.


Throughout the turbulent Meiji period, the Empress was perceived as an “outstanding woman in action and a determined character”, who was responsible for initiating a reform of the imperial court.

One of her main concerns was women’s education, which led her to support a teacher training college for women.


The Empress Shôken Fund was originally established in 1912 with a donation of 100,000 Japanese gold yen to support peacetime activities by the Red Cross. In 1934, a second gift from Empress Kojun and Dowager Empress Teimei increased the fund to 200,000 yen.

The fund was further increased by a gift of 3.6 million yen from the Empress of Japan on the occasion of the Red Cross centenary in 1963. Over the years, the Japanese imperial family has made further generous contributions.



The First World War resulted in a significant increase in Red Cross membership and in the range and scale of activities. National Societies wanted to maintain this momentum and retain the professional skills its members had acquired during the First World War.

The First World War also led to the creation of a new international body, federating the National Societies in peacetime. Just like the Empress Shôken Fund, the newly created League of Red Cross Societies promoted the peacetime activities of National Red Cross societies.



The International Conference of the Red Cross of 1921 formally adopted the statutes of the Empress Shôken Fund. As the newly created League of Red Cross Societies was not yet officially part of the Movement, ICRC was responsible for administering the fund.

At a time when the International Red Cross Movement had largely shifted its activities from war to peace, ICRC – with its mandate for operating in armed conflicts – had the additional instrument of the Empress Shôken Fund to support its own activities and influence the peacetime activities of National Societies.


By the time the League of Red Cross Societies was taking a role in the administration of the Empress Shôken Fund, the world was heading towards a new world war. National Societies found themselves, yet again, having to start preparations in peacetime for war-related relief work.



Throughout the Second World War, grants for peacetime activities were distributed to National Societies which were clearly prioritizing assistance to war victims. Moreover, allocations to National Societies of warring or occupied countries showed the problems of attempting to carry out peace-related activities in the midst of a global war.



National Societies found themselves, yet again, having to start preparations in peacetime for war-related relief work.

By requesting reports on how grant allocations were being used, the Joint Commission started to professionalize the administration of the Empress Shôken Fund. It also gradually shifted its focus to award allocations to non-European countries.


It soon became clear that the world’s most vulnerable people were in developing countries, which were often rife with internal conflict. As a result, the growing number of newly created National Societies in the developing world became the focus of the Empress Shôken Fund.


In the absence of a coherent development policy, the Empress Shôken Fund made a significant number of grant allocations for vehicles, many of which were an integral part of wider National Society programmes.



For decades, the Empress Shôken Fund had been allocating funds to developing countries, mainly in Africa. In November 1989, the Berlin wall came down, economies collapsed, and ethnic and nationalist tensions led to conflicts in central and eastern Europe. National Societies were adapting to a post-communist world and many countries made a painful transition from a planned economy to a free-market economy.


The Strategic workplan for the Nineties, approved in 1989, and the Framework for Development Cooperation provided the League and the Empress Shôken Fund with a framework that allowed them, for the first time, to allocate funding to develop National Societies as organizations, rather than just fund their projects.


The regulations for the Empress Shôken Fund were adopted by the International Conferences of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. The Joint Commission – with its members drawn from ICRC and the IFRC – is responsible for administering the fund and distributing its revenues. Within the limits of the regulations, the Joint Commission has significant flexibility in how it applies the grant allocations policy.

The future

Today, an average of 40 National Societies apply each year for grants from the Empress Shôken Fund. The fund systematically links projects with capacity-building and organizational development, which is encapsulated in its visionary statement: ‘Helping National Societies respond today, plan for tomorrow’. What is clear is that building local capacities, and investing in people and organizational development is crucial.


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International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies