The Red Cross Red Crescent Journey to Digital Transformation

by Melissa El Hamouch | Apr 30, 2021 | Events, Insights and Inspirations

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) hosted the first ever Data & Digital week from the 19th until the 23rd April 2021. Around 4,000 staff and volunteers from the Red Cross Red Crescent network gathered online to share, learn, and discuss data and digital innovations, initiatives and ideas. Over 100 sessions were hosted by National Societies, IFRC, International Committee of the Red Cross, reference centers and partners, who shared sessions highlighting points of collaboration.

The Data & Digital Week aimed to help National Societies (NS) connect with each other, and the wider network, and to learn from each other’s Digital Transformation efforts. The event hoped to encourage staff and volunteers across all RCRC to learn more about data and digital and how it applies to their workspaces.

What are contributing factors to digital transformation success?

Throughout the week, participants and hosts were asked to share their opinions and insights on contributing factors to digital transformation. The main insight shared among all groups was the need for internal alignment and agreement within an organization, when solving issues. Having contradicting priorities can lead to constraints when attempting to deliver an effective digital transformation project.

Another point made was adhering to a main approach when working together, culturally and organizationally. During the week, it became evident that internal organizational issues were one of the biggest challenges to digital transformation success, because they are not structured internally, nor trained, nor capable of finding the right talent required to execute such a complex initiative.

Additionally, it was emphasized that the RCRC network needs to generate more encouragement and interest from National Societies in regards to data, and to maintain the interest of these same National Societies when speaking about data. An example was given about the Conference of Parties that was held in Marrakech for the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Art was used as a way to communicate about climate change data, such as temperature changes, and forecast-based financing. 

Finally, a key insight gained that can assist National Societies in achieving a successful digital transformation project is allocating the right impact patterns for the initiative. These are some of the ways that were shared by the Data & Digital Week participants:

  1. Identifying external solutions that have been developed by other partners and learning from them
  2. Building partnerships with partners who have necessary facilities or tools or that can help open new opportunities
  3. Training staff and volunteers
  4. Creating a volunteer base and investing before an emergency with volunteers to be data ready

What have been some main challenges?

Needless to say, every road to success is met with challenges along the way. The limitations differ from one National Society to the next, due to varying contexts and digital maturity. At times, the existing working processes might not fit the integration of data and digital, leading to additional costs, infrastructure needs, and the requirement for additional training. National Societies from lower income regions expressed similar challenges during the week. Several National Societies expressed that its main challenges standing in the face of a fruitful digital transformation include internet connectivity as well as an overall lack of equipment. Depending on the context and digital maturity of the specific National Society, allocating funds towards these initiatives could be very limiting when attempting to digitally transform.

Moreover, when integrating data and digital into a workspace, oftentimes it does not fit nor operate in that setting, leading to infrastructure gaps. For data and digital to work efficiently, the resources and capacities need to be taken into account prior to developing new systems. This was also expressed by other National Societies when mentioning that oftentime digital systems are developed that are not applicable to the existing setting. In fact, several have indicated that existing systems within NS do not necessarily always meet the data and digital need pointing out that it becomes limiting and timely to get different systems to work together.

Lastly, another recurring challenge mentioned was acceptance. As one National Society stated perfectly “the way of thinking needs to change…NS needs to promote thinking outside of the box with a mindset towards innovation”. National Societies tend to stick to methods that work for them, restricting their data and digital advancement. This can be tied to multiple issues mentioned previously, such as increased costs, but could also be due to hierarchical structures within the NS that prevents innovation. It is good to note, however, that technology will not solve this organizational challenge, even though it is a major component. The real change occurs when technology is put at the service of the people who are shown to have great potential and dedication to facilitate the exchange of experiences across the wide RCRC network.

What are people most interested in when it comes to Digital Transformation in the RCRC Network?

As discussion grew during Data & Digital Week on how can we ensure that digital transformation is a success and how to address challenges faced, one major point brought the RCRC network together and that is curiosity. For digital transformation to cross people’s mind there needs to be an interest. Data & Digital Week provided a collected space to National Societies of the RCRC network to share their success, lessons learned, but also why they are interested in digital transformation? Here are some shared opinions:

  • Data and digital literacy; training volunteers and staff and educating communities
  • Internal and external partnerships
  • Information sharing and exchanging experiences through building networks
  • Sustaining information and embedding new services
  • Integrating data into NS services, such as initiating data teams, etc.
  • Volunteer management; fostering volunteer’s innovation
  • Community engagement and accountability; community participation and feedback
  • Evolving as the community evolves
  • Cash transfer monitoring
  • Improving access to information for real time monitoring of activities

Fostering Change

Digital transformation is a journey about people’s collective efforts to change our work. The digital movement “starts with a mindset, with proper will and support by the people”, as expressed by some National Societies during the Innovation Competition. Concretely: it is about people, processes, culture/mindset, and technology. Needless to say, innovation and digital transformation is not restricted only to the North, but happens across all countries. As a network, we need to foster cultural change, this is where the real work is and not only in implementing technology and tools. Data & Digital Week provided a space for the Red Cross and Red Crescent network to share their digital transformation journey. Moving forward there is optimism that momentum will keep building among the National Societies and opportunities of engagement and collaboration across the network will grow, fostering the cultural chance we need to accelerate digital transformation as a network


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