THANOS magazine

February 5, 2024

Challenges and opportunities

Revista Funeraria, leading funeral magazine in Spain, interviewed Marek Cichewicz, president of FIAT-IFTA, who talks about the federation and its important milestones, as well as the importance of cooperation between professionals. 

You can read full interview in Spanish under this link: 
and in English below.

Revista Funeraria: What priority objectives does the entity pursue? Which ones are you working hardest on recently?
Marek Cichewicz: The Federation was founded on the initiative of entrepreneurs in the funeral sector reunited in a meeting in Monaco, April 1970 and is established as a non-profit International Federation for the funeral profession - national or international associations, companies and individuals representing funeral, thanatopraxy, crematory and/or cemetery services, funeral home businesses, funeral service companies, funeral directors and embalmers. FIAT-IFTA operates according to the principles of international corporate governance. To guarantee the high professional standards sustained by FIAT-IFTA, national representation in the Federation is assigned to a funeral directors association or a funeral home company in the absence of a national association. FIAT- IFTA provides advocacy, education, information, products, programs and services to help Members to enhance the quality of service to bereaved families in all countries.

R.F.: Since when have you been part of the FIAT-IFTA?

M.C.: I have been part of FIAT-IFTA since 2007, which is now 17 years! In 2014, I took on the position of 3rd Vice President, and over the following years, on a biennial cycle, successively 2nd Vice President, 1st Vice President and then President. This formula is a great value of the FIAT-IFTA federation - it allows to be involved in the work of the organisation for many years, to get to know the organisation and its members, and thus to be well prepared for the most important, honourable position of FIAT-IFTA President.

R.F.: You was appointed as FIAT-IFTA president during an online Convention held in Yokohama, Japan. What did this appointment mean to you?

M.C.: This was the only formula possible in times of pandemic restrictions. Becoming president is culmination of the work I have had the opportunity to do for the organization for many years now. It is a great honor, but also a responsibility to set the rhythm of change in the organization and set the direction, based on the knowledge, experience and achievements of my predecessors, in line with the changing times and the needs of the industryand the families we serve as a funeral professionals.

R.F.: What functions does this position entail?

M.C.: The role of the FIAT-IFTA president is to represent the organisation internationally. Vice presidents also perform a similar function. The president gives direction to the organisation and new ideas to implement, but his ideas must get the approval of the I.C.D. Meeting and General Assembly. The president, together with the board members, coordinates each of the committees and projects that FIAT-IFTA operates. Currently, these committees are as follows: Heritage Committee, Embalming Committee, Coffin Standardization, as well as projects related to industry education, sustainability and standards for repatriation by air.

R.F.:  What challenges have you faced since your appointment?

M.C.: Over the years, while holding positions on the FIAT-IFTA Board of Directors, I was mainly involved in the topic of repatriation trying to drive standards and good practices in this area of the funeral industry. Today, when my presidency is going to end in September 2024,I can proudly say that we have partnered with IATA (International Air Transportation Association) together with which we carry out training courses on regulations related to the transport of human remains by air. Our members can purchase The IATA Compassionate Transportation Manual (CTM) on preferential terms. This publication constitutes a manual of standards, procedures and recommended practices to assist supply chain, partners, freight forwarders, funeral directors and airlines in the transport of human remains.

R.F.:  Within your mandate, what have been the initiatives implemented that would stand out the most?

M.C.: The first challenge I faced was organizing the smooth work of the FIAT-IFTA office. One of my goals for the presidency was to develop cooperation with UNESCO in preserving the intangible funerary heritage. FIAT-IFTA Heritage Committee is getting stronger. Specialists from China, Colombia, Mexico, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Australia, Austria, Poland, and the Netherlands are participating in the FIAT-IFTA Heritage Committee. Together they develop projects that promote intangible funeral heritage and make valuable contributions to UNESCO. In order to better coordinate its work, the Committee, at its last meeting in October 2023, appointed a Committee Secretary - Mrs. Virginia Gallardo (Mexico) and a Head of Communications - Miss Alison Crake (UK). Part of FIAT-IFTA commitment within the framework of the International NGO Consultative Status Intangible Cultural Heritage is the publication of the Funeral Heritage Report. This report helps to safeguard funeral traditions and customs associated with death, funerals and bereavement that still exist today around the world. The upcoming edition will be presented in print and digital versions in 2024 during the FIAT-IFTA Convention in Krakow (September 18-20, 2024). The publication will be translated into Chinese, Spanish and French.
We also took steps to develop the Global Education Program with the successful implementation of the first international tanatopraxia training in Barcelona in cooperation with Sortem and Altima. One of the goals of my presidency was also to increase the online visibility and recognition of our organization and to increase participation in international meetings, and we have succeeded in achieving this as well. FIAT-IFTA is actively present at trade fairs and industry meetings, as well as engaged in social media, and cooperation with media in many countries, attracting the interest of a broad group of professionals who may not have been aware of our existence before. Thanks to all these activities, the number of organization members is growing. More than 40 professionals from all over the world joined us in 2023! I am very encouraged by the fact that they are largely Active Members - those who want to actively participate in the organization's initiatives, co-create new projects and take part in initiatives.

R.F.: What is the most important challenge facing FIAT-IFTA in the coming months? 

M.C.: I think that during the coming year of 2024, the most important task facing the organization will be to update the Constitution and Bylaws to be more in line with the current times and the changes that have taken place in the organization and the funeral industry over the decades.

R.F.: Why is important a federation like FIAT-IFTA?

M.C.: Being a member of FIAT-IFTA is first and foremost an opportunity to present yourself on the international market, to establish business relations more easily. Being a member of FIAT-IFTA means trust and prestige. Talking among FIAT-IFTA members is a chance for inspiration in solving local challenges related to service standardization, for example. It's also access to an international training and education program. However, the overriding valueis relationships - it's where everything starts and everything is built on. This is why it is so important to actively participate in FIAT-IFTA meetings, to take care of your visibility through promotional activities, even as simple as keeping your business card, which every member has on our website, up to date.

R.F.: What do you think are the most important milestones that the entity has achieved since its inception?

M.C.: In the history of the organisation as a whole, a milestones was the granting of FIAT-IFTA, as the only funeral organisation, NGO status at UNESCO and at the United Nations ECOSOC. FIAT-IFTA proudly boasts the titles of NGO Special Consultative Status with UN-ECOSOC and International NGO Consultative Status UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. On the other hand, I think it won't be much of an overstatement to say that each new president's term in office on a two-year cycle marks milestones. Each professional taking on this role views the industry through the prism of his or her experiences and the culture of the country he or she represents. Recognises different values and needs. This is why an organisation can develop in such a multifaceted way, and why each presidential term is different and important in the history of the entire organisation.

R.F.: What role do Spanish associates play within the entity?

M.C.: Associations and funeral companies from Spain are very active in FIAT-IFTA. A total of 37 entities represent Spain. The National Member is Panasef, while as many as 8 companies have Active Member status. Both the National Member and Active Members participate in decisions made within the organization and can submit international initiatives, and they do. One example is the aforementioned international training on thanatopraxia in Barcelona organized by Sortem and Altima as part of the FIAT-IFTA Global Education Program.

R.F.: In your opinion, how has the funeral sector evolved in recent years?

M.C.: Recent years was very much marked by COVID pandemic. I think we have learned that none of us are indestructible. The pandemic has claimed the lives of many workers in the industry. We have also learned to be resourceful and to act in precarious conditions – in many countries, the governments were slow to introduce legal regulations to protect the workers in our industry and did not recognize them as those who were on the front lines of danger. We have learned as well that we should take care of our mental and physical health – we experienced a lot of human tragedies, we lived under stress and worked 24 hours a day. We have also paid more attention to digital solutions, and have begun to pay more attention to automating process management in our funeral companies. Post-pandemic times are a time of renewal for most companies in terms of strengthening the business through investments, and also a time of reviewing the core values of the business.

R.F.: How do you see the sector in 10 years?

M.C.: Let’s look at the world we currently live in: global, mirrored (intensive and constant transfer of life at all possible levels – social, political, economic and even biological – to the digital world), progressive digitization and growing interest in AI and the metaverse. Above all, we live in a complex and uncertain world where resilience and agility are the essential skills. However, they would be nothing without the ability to build relationships between us, entrepreneurs and between the entrepreneurs and the Families to whom we serve. Relationships are of crucial importance.
Many contemporary phenomena are seemingly mutually exclusive, for instance: reindustrialization and deindustrialization of Europe, i.e. the disappearance and development of heavy industry, mainly in connection with the raw materials crisis. An example from our industryon the one hand, consolidation, globalization and takeovers, i.e. a certain standardization, and on the other hand, the development of niches related to special wishes, personalization, non-religious and non-standard funeral ceremonies. We live in a complex world, and it is an "and-and" world, not aneither-orworld.
Our world is losing social cohesion, it is subject to deglobalization, it is defined by the increasing number of conflicts / crises. We are struggling, among others, with economic, health, climate, raw material crisis, the crisis of relationships and geopolitical crises. In addition, the progressive technologization of our lives, algorithmization, excessive use of social media, which cause a sense of loneliness, and finally the struggle for resources in the world of polycrises make modern societies lose social cohesion necessary for proper functioning. The polarization is clearly visible in virtually every area of our lives. As a consequencede-globalization and anti-democratic activities are intensifyingit becomes impossible to establish a common vision of the problems that we as a society and the world have to face, maybe not directly as an industry, but we and our customers as people.
Our funeral industry may not feel these phenomena acutely. We operate in a certain bubble of constant demand, but it is worth having in the back of one’s head that the world around us is changing. However, we are also partly affected by some of these phenomenafor example, gas prices in the context of crematoria.
We should certainly pay attention to the global phenomenon of demographic change. Along with technological progress and broadly understood development – social and economicon the one hand, the length of human life is extended, and on the other, the number of children born in the world is decreasing significantly. This has huge multidimensional consequencesboth short-term (e.g. three or four generations or more work together in one company, which gives rise to natural conflicts) and long-term (the need to determine how to build an economy in such a society, since the aging society gets sick more often and longer; social issues such as building a hybrid society composed of people and social robots).
We cannot turn our backs on the issue of climate transformation and thinking about how to join it to make burials more environmentally friendly. The specific solutions in this trend include: transition to a circular economy, low- or zero-emission economy (responsible management of resources, investments in low-emission technologies, RES, electric cars, filters in crematoria, changes in the funeral culture – promotion of natural/biodegradable materials).

R.F.: The FIAT-IFTA usually has presence at the most relevant sectoral events, as is the case of the last edition of Funermostra. Why is it important for you to attend these types of meetings?

M.C.: Relationships start during meetings. Relationships are where business begins. Participation in funeral events is an opportunity to open up to international relationships, to establish a presence on the global market. Our presence at Funermostra gives the opportunity to get to know us better and take on new challenges. We will certainly also be present at the next edition of this event in 2025.

R.F.: Would you like to highlight anything else?
M.C.: This year we have an important event ahead of our organization, the FIAT-IFTA 2024 Convention taking place in my home country, Poland, in one of the most beautiful cities - Krakow. I hope to meet there with a large group of current and potential FIAT-IFTA members to discuss the future of the organization, build international relationships, expand the horizons of industry knowledge and also to honor the end of my presidency and celebrate the new president, Mr. William C. Wappner from USA.

Global members

FIAT-IFTA is the only internationally governed funeral Federation with National, Active And Associate Members in more than 80 countries.

Find a member nearby Become a member