Empowering the network: a transformational approach to National Society Development

by Giorgio Ferrario | Jan 31, 2019 | Thought Pieces

The potential of the future

Strategy 2030 consultations highlight the challenges and opportunities that an extremely rapidly changing world poses for the Movement. In addition to the likelihood of more regular, complex, protracted and severe humanitarian crises, research highlights changing demographics, changing concepts and make up of communities, shifting power structures, unprecedented technological revolution, mobility and migration, persistent urbanisation including a proliferation of informal settlements and individuals’ trust and expectations of the institutions around them, all influencing the operating environment in which NSs and volunteers function. Current assumptions and practice around humanitarian funding, volunteering and organisational structures may all be radically transformed in the years to come, requiring all Movement components to anticipate and adapt to continue being relevant.

A global network of local actors – is our model still relevant?

The 150 years old organisational model that underpins the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is a model of a global network rooted in 165,000 villages and towns in the world, north and south, east and west, including the most vulnerable communities. The Movement shares extremely strong values (the Fundamental Principles). It focuses on community wellbeing, with volunteers coming from and part of the very communities. It speaks thousands of languages and cultures, while adhering to global standards. It adopts representative democracy as its participation model at almost all levels. Yet today, we still need to catch up with large gaps: in integrity, accountability and transparency; in financial and overall sustainability; in leading innovation at programme and service delivery; in empowering grassroot members and volunteers.

From the network: How technical and financial support are understood and facilitated The prevailing model and architecture of NSD support in place until now seems anchored in a way of working and organisational model that reiterates old models of assistance. The opportunity is to reshape NSD support in a way that is relevant to the membership and adapted to the changes in act.

“The strength of RCRC comes from the strength of its individual NS. 50% of National Societies should have local, diverse sources of funding. To assist with this, the Movement should hire and deploy the top 5 funding and fundraising experts who will in turn help NS to improve their funding level, sustainability and autonomy” Participant, Strategy 2030 consultation, MENA
“[We should look for] local solutions to local problems developing local talent.” Participant, Strategy 2030 consultation, Americas

Change to happen: leveraging our competitive advantage

Whilst acknowledging the systemic challenges we face, we have definitive advantages that position us as a potential major actor to co-shape the future. Our capacity to dialogue with communities throughout our globe and be present before, during and after a crisis alone are preconditions for balancing some of the social distortions that the technological-driven economy will continue generate.
We have a strong value based local knowledge, where neutrality does not mean disengagement. We live contradictions and navigate tensions, driven by solid principles. We channel, or could better channel, grassroot needs as evidence for global change. Our global network is possibly not a network yet – a network in fieri; but connectivity is not an excuse anymore in the third millennium. We have valuable information and data, that once properly analysed can contribute to shed some light in some of the most forgotten areas of the world – a global leverage in fieri, too.  We do not fear change. In fact, change has been taking place constantly in our organisation, adapting to the evolving needs and priorities at several levels. 

WORK IN PROGRESS  The following interlinked processes are taking place as we speak. Inputs from these three processes will be analysed together:  Strategy 2030 Consultation process Strategy 2030 helps understanding the bigger context in which National Societies will be operating and propose specific directions and actions in which they will need to develop in order to remain relevant and increase their humanitarian impact. It provides recommendations for stronger and more integrated National Society Development approaches capable of supporting the evolution of more adaptive organisational characteristics. Consultation on a National Society Development Compact led by the Governing Board Working Group on Strong National Societies and Volunteering The outcome of this process will be a National Society Development Compact to guide Movement actors on how NSD support can be effective, underpinning impactful Red Cross Red Crescent National Society Development action, operationalising the 2013 National Society Development Framework. The Compact will be presented to the Governing Board at its April 2019 meeting, with the goal of adoption by the 2019 General Assembly. Secretariat consultations on the National Society Development function The outcome of this process will be a draft secretariat Strategy, Architecture, Action Plan, Budget, and Resource Mobilization plan in the area of National Society Development for presentation to secretariat management.

A reinvigorated NSD: enabling the network

NSD is not only supporting member NSs to get stronger: it is also about helping the leadership shaping the future of the organisation (at local, national, global levels) based on the inputs and vision of the membership. The future of NSD as catalyser and enabler of change relies in our capacity to create the conditions for knowledge to flow freely in our ‘ecosystem’, and in our capacity to learn from the transactions in such wide ecosystem, feeding back such learning into the ecosystem itself. In order for this to happen, we need a transformational change of mindset for many of us. We need to move from gatekeepers to accelerators of knowledge generation. Networks effectively function around knots, not hierarchies. Knowledge will be the coin of effective NSD support in the future and enabling knowledge to flow freely will create value for the whole network, and beyond.

From the network: How National Society leadership is understood and facilitated Leadership in a fast-changing environment requires increased capabilities to read and predict the changes and adapt the organizational model and culture to the evolving context.

“The most influential schools of thought often focus on ‘the leader’ as the person – or ‘the leadership’ as being exercised by formal decision-making bodies – at the top of an organization. While formal leadership positions are important… it is the collective dynamic that takes the organization further in its development.” IFRC Global Red Cross Red Crescent Leadership Review, 2015

NSD and the future

The question that we will have to address remains: as a collective, how can we leverage on the extremely valuable knowledge of our volunteers so to multiply their impact manifold? where is the path of transformational processes towards being indeed a network of efficient local branches in a different and more complex world?

Needless to say, the changes in the external world are much quicker than our slow path. Not all changes are good, but changing is, most times, healthy and generator of added value. Priming and exploring, ambitious innovation has been at the foundation of our movement: have we lost this vital breath?

Giorgio Ferrario


  1. Mohammed Deda Aliye

    To my understanding and experience of the RC this document is very powerful and transforming the NS from the current conventional thinking to new global innovation thinking .

    • giorgio ferrario

      Thanks for your comment, Mohammed. I agree, transformations will happen in all cases, with an increasing speed. The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement can indeed accompany and shape some of the future deep transformations, priming principled action and a respect for human dignity. In order to do so, we need to embrace real and deep change ourselves.

  2. Janot

    While the animating principles of the RC movement are as if not increasingly relevant today, the structure and function of the RC movement is a reflection of the global society out of which it was formed; the challenge is to harness the power of humanity in keeping pace with the growth in human and institutional potential, in embracing technologies that enable us to learn from our own and from each other’s practical experiences, and to facilitate self-organizing to meet the needs of the vulnerable at the most locally appropriate level. This is asking a lot. It means embracing transformational change as a new way of working. New ways of working are inherently risky. How can the movement embrace risk? If we don’t, how can we unleash our full human potential? With integrity, humility and commitment to elevating human dignity as the values we cultivate in our movement. ThankYOU for helping us come to grips with transformational change!


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