Insights from the IFRC Global Innovation Summit 2023

The IFRC Global Innovation Summit 2023 was the largest summit on innovation and transformation ever held for the network. Read about some insights and highlights, and follow us for more.

Watch The Highlights of day three

Participants (on-site and online)

National Societies

views on Summit videos

“The current scale and complexity of needs and the trajectory of the humanitarian system is simply unsustainable. This necessitates an urgent and critical analysis of the manner in which response is designed; the way it is coordinated, the way it is implemented, and the way it is funded. Quite simply, we need to think and act differently”

This was one of the opening remarks at the IFRC Global Innovation Summit 2023, in Nairobi and for the digital event. During three days, participants reflected on how to develop and sustain a thriving culture of innovation, and transform their organisations and our network.

The multiple sessions and diversity of audience brought a rich quality of conversations, the knowledge and experiences exchanged allowed participants to deepen the understanding of new ways of working and thinking but also to get inspiration and adopt similar approaches in their local contexts.

Discussions were encouraged to be practical and realistic, participants shared successes but also problems, shortcomings or even failures which built everybody’s confidence and a feeling of belonging to a community.

Centred around Innovation and Transformation, the summit particularly drove into thematic areas such as the following.

Organisational Change

“Change is not just about reacting to external forces. It is also about intentionally and proactively transforming our organisations. This transformation extends beyond adopting new tools or systems – it is about evolving our strategies, our mindsets, and our ways of working.”

Central to the sustainability of our humanitarian mission is the role of organisational structures and processes in contributing to (or restricting) our capacity to adapt to ever-evolving challenges. Some examples included:

  • Costa Rican Red Cross, Ecuadorian Red Cross, Honduran Red Cross, Hong Kong Red Cross, Lesotho Red Cross and other National Societies sharing their narratives of the transformational journeys within their organisations, detailing experiments with new approaches, cultural shifts, programs, projects, and more.
  • The Global Disaster Preparedness Center (GDPC) reflecting on 11 Years of Innovation, explorations into social entrepreneurship models such as REDpreneur, initiatives to promote youth innovation, and digital and tech approaches.

Find out how some National Societies are transforming


How do we analyse and confront the structures and cultures embedded in our systems?

How can we build approaches that target multiple leverage points in the system, rather than just component driven innovations?

Can we take a step back and look at bigger issues of transformation, reimagining how we work, instead of only doing smaller incremental changes?

What strategies can we use to get past the many barriers we face in enabling transformation across the system?

Transformative Leadership

“Effective humanitarian response requires inclusive, collaborative, and responsive leadership that listens to and engages with affected communities. Their voices must be heard, and their perspectives integrated into decision-making processes.”

  • We explored the role of leadership in driving systemic changes and cultures to enhance innovation, as well as reflections on the critical capabilities needed from leaders to successfully drive change into the future.
  • There was also a dedicated track for senior leaders of National Societies to explore change within the Kenya Red Cross Society in detail and to discuss their own reflections on the challenges in driving organisational transformation.


  • The role and need for more transformative leadership and management – how can we work with leaders to create spaces that encourage a culture of innovation?
  • How can we help mentor the next leaders in our networks?

Insights from Senior Leaders at the Summit

National Societies leaders delved into the dynamics of catalysing change and the essential role of leadership in propelling transformative innovation.

They raised complex questions such as: are incremental shifts sufficient, or should we aspire to new and recharged visions for the entirety of the global IFRC network?

Conversations focused on transformation linked to structures, decision making, power dynamics, today’s global funding mechanisms and their ability to champion the cause of localisation.

An inspiring strategic vision, and well defined directions and areas of change emerged as cornerstones of impactful change initiatives.

Furthermore, it became evident that investing into attracting new talent and developing teams’ new skill sets and mindset for innovation are essential prerequisites for driving transformational efforts.

Localising Innovation

“When we support local innovators, we leverage their expertise to enhance service delivery and more effective and sustainable use of available resources. Additionally, it opens doors to stronger partnerships, increased funding opportunities, and greater recognition for our organisations’ work.”

  • Exploring Innovation Support Systems, strategies for building environments to foster local innovation, ways to strengthen our social innovation ecosystems, the benefits of private sector partnerships, and more.
  • Winners of the Global Innovation Summit Challenges showcased their local innovations and projects, exemplifying how localised approaches can drive meaningful and sustainable change within their network.


How can we support and explore ideas and ingenuity that come from local innovators within the communities we work in?

How to leverage local knowledge to build quality services considering local social and power dynamics and inequities that may hinder the quality of the understanding of the problem, and the search for best solutions? (ex. Approach to design GBV approaches by KRCS)

How can we support the strengthening of capacity of local changemakers in different innovation skills and methodologies

Foresight Approaches

“What’s most important in the coming years is to recognize that there will be evolutions in our systems that will fundamentally change the way we operate”

Jamie Lesueur (watch the video)

To continue to reach the people in greatest need when they need it most, we must fully engage with a changing world and an uncertain future. Strategic foresight is a practical approach which supports decision making and action. By generating data and human insight, analysing emerging trends, and exploring early signals of changes, strategic foresight helps organisations understand potential futures. These insights help them consider new risks and opportunities and anticipate their options for action.

To explore how strategic foresight can support our humanitarian work, there were numerous sessions and workshops available:

  • Experimenting with how to strategically explore potential future scenarios and their implications on humanitarian need and action. (Click here)
  • A masterclass on Future and Foresight also provided specialised training for a select group of participants to support them to utilise these approaches in their NS.


What are the potential barriers to embedding foresight methodologies within our National Societies’ existing structures and operations?

How can we ensure continuous learning and updates for our personnel, ensuring they remain at the cutting edge of strategic planning?

How can we identify emerging trends early and generate useful insights which will help us anticipate new risks and opportunities?

How do we support leaders with scenario planning during complex crises and as we design our response to emerging challenges?


All NS are facing complex challenges and many recognise that the future will demand different kinds of services, different ways to connect with communities, and offer new opportunities as science, technology and partnership bring new tools and ideas to the network,

Creative approaches to strategic foresight stimulate new ideas and deepen engagement

Sharing our insights and ideas from around the world can help strengthen local decision making as we learn from our colleagues and the challenges their NS faces

Strategic foresight is seen as a key tool for humanitarian organisations as we tackle the complex, multi-layered problems that will shape the world

Innovate to Navigate: How the Network Changes in the face of crisis

“These last years we’ve seen an increase in the utilisation of digital payments and remote interactions certainly during the COVID-19 response, the piloting of digital identities for people with no official IDs to ensure that no one is left behind, and to enable the continuity of care for people on the move. We’ve seen remote engagement with affected people through the use of self-registration apps and online messaging tools such as WhatsApp in response to the Ukraine crisis…”

National Societies and the IFRC Secretariat shared examples of highly innovative projects they developed to address new and emerging challenges, or to tackle intractable challenges in new ways. Presenters explored how the innovations were developed, their impacts and how the organisation’s culture, processes and systems either helped or hindered their progress. The role of exogenous factors were also explored in particular, the opportunities that arise when a crisis unfolds. Some examples included:

  • Volunteers from Kenya Red Cross Society explained how they innovated during the Pandemic and how these changes are here to stay. Hear about Mohamed, who advocates for more inclusive and accessible crisis response. Watch the video
  • The fully virtual hospital of Saudi Red Crescent Authority that employs remote training through video conferencing and augmented reality alongside remote diagnostics, advanced coaching of health professionals and rapid triage and assessments. Watch the video
  • The Austrian Red Cross presented PANDEM-2, a pandemic surveillance and reporting program, and a training product that can help prepare for future pandemics. Watch the video
  • The Global Disaster and Preparedness Center’s website works as a knowledge management hub for disaster preparedness practitioners around the world, and during the Pandemic quickly came up with the COVID-19 Resource Compendium. Watch the video


    How can we ensure that it doesn’t take a crisis to drive change at scale, how do we build the momentum and urgency for change agendas?

      Tech, Data and Digital Transformation

      “It’s not to replace people, it’s not necessarily to replace processes, it’s to do more with what we have, help the people who more urgently need it”

      • Japanese Red Cross partnership/collaboration with local organisations (such as Toyota) to develop a highly sophisticated hydrogen powered ambulance. Watch the video
      • The Kenya Red Cross established a Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) unit in 2019, utilising drones for a wide range of applications including search and rescue missions, risk mapping, videography, imagery, and cargo delivery. Read more
      • APDRC and the Hong Kong Red Cross have developed VR-based disaster preparedness education content for teenagers using the Metaverse Platform. Watch the video; and Ecuadorian Red Cross shared Consentidos Project, which is enhancing public mental health care using Virtual Reality technology. Watch the video
      • There are many opportunities brought by data and digital solutions and much to talk about AI-driven solutions. Topics ranged from demystifying AI to considering how AI could be used to support community health workers to applying it for large data collection projects. The result is more support for an IFRC AI working group. Practitioners using Chatbots in humanitarian contexts shared their experience, too – Watch the workshop “Chatbots: Are They Digital Litters?” and access the Research report from IFRC, The Engine Room, and the Global Disaster Preparedness Center. 
      • Watch Michael Mawdsley’s studio interview about his journey and experience at the intersection of technology and blood services
      • 510, an initiative from the Netherlands Red Cross, shared how data and digital solutions can help answer some of the networks’ challenges, from cash assistance to Community Engagement and Accountability and blended solutions.


      How can we ensure that the tech and digital solutions we develop are designed by communities and accessible to all, including populations experiencing vulnerability, and do not create new disparities?

      How can we design inclusive digital and hybrid spaces to connect our distributed network and support our climate agenda?

      How do we plan to ensure the long-term sustainability and potential scalability of these digital solutions?

      How are we safeguarding the privacy and security of sensitive data collected through these solutions, and how can we mitigate potential risks of data breaches or misuse?

      Watch This Conversation

      “As we continue on a digital transformation journey and we collect more data into systems, we are going to really have to stay ahead of them in terms of safeguarding data privacy and data security, ensuring that we’are maintaining the public trust”

      Michael Mawdsley (short interview)

      Redefining Volunteering

      “In light of the rapid changes in our world, it is essential that our volunteer efforts also evolve. Accepting change is not only about keeping up with the times, but also about ensuring that our service remains sustainable, resonant, and innovative.”

      • Exploring new ways of volunteering within our network and understanding global volunteering trends. Both emerging technologies and the role of volunteering in a humanitarian context.
      • The Kenya Red Cross Society shared its support with communities affected by Gender-Based Violence and the integration of the hearing-impaired community into volunteering, utilising shared community resources. Watch the video
      • The Red Crescent Society of the Islamic Republic of Iran introduced a volunteer management platform with gamification and AI, addressing modern challenges like climate change.
      • GIS Innovative Volunteering Challenge Winners from the Philippine Red Cross, Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, and Red Cross Society of China showcased their innovative volunteering projects happening within their respective National Societies. (Click on each National Society to watch their video).


      How can we better use foresight approaches to understand shifting trends and patterns of volunteering around the world and the implications for our models going forward?

      How do we ensure we keep doing what we do well in volunteering management while at the same time experimenting with completely new approaches?

      How can we build better inclusion in our volunteering particularly for those marginalised from our current approaches and systems?

      What are the implications for our whole service model going forward given the transformative shifts happening in volunteering?

      Given the organisation-wide implications of shifting volunteering patterns, how do we engage and gain support and momentum for transformation of our volunteering work across the system?

      Is it time to go beyond solely framing volunteering as a local action and develop more cross border and international collaboration?

      New forms of Financing

      “People can see the benefit not just only for their own commercial business lines, but also for the good of humanity, the public good”

      National Societies are developing different forms of sustainable financing such as diversified fundraising strategies, blockchain and crypto, social enterprises, insurance-based mechanisms, public-private partnerships and a range of innovative financing mechanisms.

      • Several Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies around the world have engaged in social enterprise activities to support their humanitarian missions. Kenya Red Cross fully owns commercial companies such as E-Plus Medical Services, Switch Media, Boma hotels, the Boma International Hospitality College among others? . Watch the unique method presented at Australian Red Cross Humanitech Showcase
      • In Kenya, the Community Inclusion Currencies project is a blockchain-based initiative to strengthen the resilience of marginalised communities by reducing liquidity shortages

      The HIFHUB helps the network explore innovative finance models such as blended finance, results-based finance, crisis risk financing, funds and facilities, debt, equity, insurance, and impact investing. Watch the video


      How can we ensure that vulnerable and marginalised populations are not excluded from the benefits of new forms of financing, and how can these be embedded in their design and implementation?

      What potential risks are associated with the chosen financing approach, and how can we effectively mitigate them while ensuring accountability?

      How do we build support and momentum across the organisation for new forms of financing particularly given their systems-wide implications of these models on our entire value chain?

      What strategies are in place to ensure the sustainability and adaptability of the financing mechanism over the long term?

      The need to learn from and collaborate with each other as a network

      “This sharing of knowledge and experiences has not only enriched the overall conversation but also deepened our understanding of new ways of working and thinking”

      Participants reported that they made significant connections through the conference to help with future endeavours.

      • Korean Red Cross Society and Hong Kong Red Cross Virtual Reality technology and disaster management – are exploring ways to work together in developing these approaches in the future
      • Japan Red Cross Society connected with the Saudi Red Crescent authority’s virtual hospital – they discovered that they had similar lines of work and  interest.
      • Kenya Red Cross Society Innovation Lab exploring ways to help the Ecuador Red Cross scale its project on Positive Deviance in Childhood Bereavement.
      • American Red Cross and 510 connected to explore future data collaborations.
      • A special foresight working group was formed with interested practitioners from the network to share experiences, seek advice and develop new mechanisms to collaborate.

      Final Reflections

      “This summit connected us with other innovators, experts and change makers, so we could build sustainable networks for the future, generating new perspectives and fresh ideas to transform the way we think and operate as humanitarians.”


      We will follow up with participants at the 3 month mark to elicit their reflections on the impact of the Summit.  

      Many Sessions were also filmed and published on our YouTube channel @SolferinoVoices, alongside interviews and discussions and submissions from participants on their innovative projects and approaches. These videos appear to have continued to resonate with others from the network around the world. To date there are over 75,000 views on these videos collectively on YouTube and other social media livestreming.

      As the summit merely signifies the commencement of our shared journey toward transformation. We’ll leave you with 3 calls to action shared by IFRC’S Secretary General Jagan Chapagain, that he felt were necessary to the movement’s transformation journey. Watch the video

      1. Let’s embrace collaboration 
      2. Invest in understanding the changing world 
      3. Let’s empower local innovators

      Watch the Summit on @SolferinoVoices

      The Daily Highlights

      Day 1

      Day 2

      Day 3

      Our Partners & Sponsors

      International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
      Kenya Red Cross

      IFRC | Solferino Academy


      American Red Cross

      The Netherlands Red Cross

      Italian Red Cross
      International Center for Humanitarian Affairs
      Australian Red Cross
      Spanish Red Cross
      Ecuadorian Red Cross
      GlobalDisasterPreparedness Center

      Global Disaster Preparedness Center

      Norwegian Red Cross

      Climate Centre

      Do you want to keep up with us?

      Don’t miss anything by subscribing to our updates. The latest, the brightest, and the most unexpected Red Cross Red Crescent innovation initiatives, stories and events; freshly curated and arriving to your inbox.