What I learned from listening to Red Cross people from 3 different countries about the future of the organisation

by Charles Dart | Feb 18, 2019 | Insights and Inspirations, Volunteering Voices

Envisioning an Expanded RCRC through Education, Empowerment Strategy 2030 of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) commenced in January of 2018 and will be developed over the coming years to shape the future of the Federation. There are five topics that have begun to emerge already for Strategy 2030, as noted by the Red Cross Red Crescent network:

  1. Promoting financial stability through diversified funding and partnerships
  2. Reimagining volunteering
  3. Enhancing trust and integrity
  4. A digitally transformed network
  5. Future organizational model and culture

As part of the Strategy, numerous Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (RCRC) staff, volunteers, leaders, and external experts alike have taken part in interviews on the RCRC’s TalkFutures digital platform to field how the RCRC, ‘can adapt to the challenges of the future.’ Trends and challenges that were voiced included climate change, migration/displacement, disaster management, gun violence, and, questioning how the RCRC will be able to maintain relevance and credibility.

After listening to several interviews, it was apparent that Strategy 2030 and the Future Organizational Model and Culture of the Federation must focus on improving international cooperation and educational/training programs. Interviews analyzed in this piece featured American, Kenyan, and Saint Lucian RCRC members. Having travelled to several nations and rural areas myself, I believe it is essential for there to further dialogue between developed and developing RCRC nations – both between policy makers as well as staff and volunteers. This discourse between members would be benefit all parties through improved synergy as technology, aid, and ideas are shared. As example, I was in a residential area just an hour north of Nairobi and talked to a Kenya Red Cross volunteer. Though we both belonged to RCRC society members, our ideas of what the RCRC was different as our needs and challenges varied substantially. However, we both agreed that more jobs/volunteer positions should be opened internationally, and, that youth engagement was the key to success for the organization going forward.  

Key concerns from national society members

It was interesting to note that one Saint Lucian volunteer suggested gun and violence among the youth in their country will be the largest concern by 2030, whereas continued high rates of gun violence were not talked of from the American interviewee. From the American interviewee, climate change, “as it drives so many secondary effects,” was considered the top trend that will affect most people in the next ten years. One of these secondary effects mentioned was disaster management due to migration; climate change could lead to more migrant displacement within the United States in the coming years as they leave low-lying and heavily affected areas. As suggested by one Kenyan interviewee, illiteracy (and educational levels) will be of main concern for 2030 in their country as communication will remain a barrier towards countering global issues and progress. Having the knowledge and power to communicate and break barriers is a much-needed step in addressing and solving the aforementioned global issues. As an example, knowing the issues that surround climate change will affect the way in which one deals with tackling climate change issues eg. recycling vs. garbage collection, reducing carbon footprint, etc. With further RCRC and local initiatives, focus on education and effective communication could reduce the impact of these global issues. While these three interviewees stated different trends as the main concern in their country by 2030, their visions for the RCRC of 2030 did cross paths. The Kenyan interviewee stated that their vision of the RCRC must, “guide, counsel people, and direct them in the right direction as far as education is concerned.” And, in Saint Lucia, gun violence must be curbed through:

…a campaign going out to the schools to inform them of the impact it will have. Get them, the youth, involved in activities that will stray them away from the violence.

The interviewee states that such a small Saint Lucian Red Cross community needs a more innovative RCRC to garner more volunteers to help the community. Using interactive technology (games, statistics, information) and promoting youth education courses and recreational choices to garner youth attention, the RCRC can help prevent further gun violence in the small Caribbean nation. Youth-guided or at the very least youth-influenced policy must be maintained and further promoted. More than half – 6 of 12 million annual RCRC volunteers – are young people. With the youth of today being the future leaders of tomorrow, it is essential that Strategy 2030 encompasses a large global youth perspective and a vision that puts the education of youth on the forefront. The RCRC can focus on youth engagement with simple direct communication with youth. Visits to schools, events, social media, further positions (volunteer and paid) for youth that will not only benefit them and the RCRC, but arguably more importantly the community and beyond.

The American interview states that their national society should, “step up and amplify training efforts within the population at large, training for so-called ‘civilian self-reliance,’” as emergency teams sometimes cannot reach those affected in a disaster within 24 hours. Their optimistic vision for RCRC 2030 is one that includes sustaining “recovery efforts and keeping civil society in tact…their training activities are a big part of social awareness, advocacy, and education.” Pessimistically the interviewee says that the RCRC may become one of the only organizations that, “fills in where governments and the private, corporate sector can’t function.” The call to action for more training and education to combat these trends was a collective vision, much like the findings of the RCRC’s initial consultations; “participants…felt that improvements are needed in the way we collaborate internationally, cooperate and resource each other to ensure greater efficiency and impact.” As one of the main topics raised thus far, the Future Organizational Model and Culture of the RCRC must adapt; though each location has its own issues, ‘a more distributed, networked approach’ to the RCRC could yield greater efficacy. Strategy 2030 must suggest collaboration and educational programs between nations 1) to help mediate issues earlier and, 2) to empower and provide greater control and input of staff/volunteers within a national society.

This vision will give volunteers and workers a chance to socialize with their international counterparts and create more of a sense of belonging, a necessary component of any successful organization. Online socialization has been a growing trend for years, and is a great way for many people who have may not volunteered before to take part. I left Canada in May to travel for just under a year and by volunteering with the Canadian Red Cross Digital Volunteer Program I have been able to continue doing what I love whilst not having access to in-person Red Cross Red Crescent volunteering on the road. A more closely unified and educated Red Cross Red Crescent by 2030 is a vision that can be shared by all. Having met Red Cross Red Crescent members from different parts of the world through travelling, and to see so much collaboration between Red Cross Red Crescent members for Strategy 2030, it goes to show just how important networking is to the success of an NGO. After all, it is called the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

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