Alex CarleBlog

Bringing the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement into the Future – Part 2

Bringing the Red Cross Movement into the Future - Part 2

Part 2

There is a plethora of reports, articles and think pieces making the case that the humanitarian system is failing and needs to make changes[1][2][3]. The Red Cross Movement being the largest humanitarian organisation in the world and the guardian of the Fundamental Principles, is also going to need to adapt to remain relevant and continue to deliver support to people around the world.

How people come together to support each other has changed[4] due to globalisation, advances in technology and increased connectivity. This has resulted in a heightened sense of agency to support others but also to demand appropriate services in a crisis. This agency very much echoes the motivation that drove Henry Dunant to establish a Movement built on volunteerism 150 years ago.

How the humanitarian ecosystem will adapt or be disrupted is still to be seen. I would like to argue that the RCM is at a significant advantage and should play an important role in how to harness these changes so that more people affected by crisis can be helped and help themselves, around the world in a principled yet efficient, empowering and accountable manner.

Building on the hypothesis outlined in an earlier paper[5], that the Seven Fundamental Principles and structure of the Red Cross Movement continues to be an excellent design to deliver humanitarian services in the 21st century and beyond. Yet observing that the Governance architecture and role of the Secretariat and Host National Societies needs to be modernised and rethought, so as to harness the possibilities of our time: large youth population; global connectivity through technology; increased role of those affected including women and marginalised communities; greater need for transparency and accountability as well as a participation revolution. This paper will go on to explain some of the changes in Governance that would be required, outline some suggestions on what that modernisation could look like, followed by some of the risks and possible next steps.

Old Power:

The current governance structures of the Movement, designed over a hundred years ago, is built on the Old Power model of Institutions, formal processes, hierarchy, discretion, expertise, specialisation and long term loyalty and affiliation. It worked in its day, resulting in an incredible proliferation of National Societies and a truly local to global Movement.

The RCM processes, and in fact most organisations today, are based on control of what we know or own and asking our volunteers, members and sadly the people we are here to serve, ‘our beneficiaries’, to comply with our systems and approaches and consume what we have to offer.

Finally, we see in many National Societies that it is quite complex to become a volunteer or a member.  You may need to: pay an annual fee; do trainings; attend board meetings, AGMs or other such formal structured events that might not fulfil the reason why they joined in the first place. All of this is based on old systems and processes which no longer meets the demands of the modern volunteer culture and needs to be radically reorganised to better harness more dynamic ways of helping people in need.

New Power:

Timms and Heimann’s, research presented in the highly acclaimed book New Power[6], explains that in contrast New power is based on: networked governance; self-organisation; rewarding those who share[7]; building on and shaping existing ideas collectively; opt-in decision making; as well as collaboration, transparency, participation and a ‘do it ourselves ethic’[8].

All of this plays in favour of the inherent role and structure of the RCM: the largest humanitarian network, built on volunteerism. The RCM has never been best placed as a highly technical specialised organisation. We are also not a UN agency.  Our unique and valuable role in the humanitarian ecosystem is the last mile, first responder through the millions of volunteers and branches around the globe, giving us community reach and engagement.  We have been a mammoth network and need to adapt to continue to play a role in networking for humanitarian outcomes.

As such, I would like to suggest that the RCM, possibly more than any other actor, needs to adapt the governance structures and culture to make the most of the new world, the new opportunities and New Power.  In the true spirit of Henry Dunant, the centre needs to empower and enable volunteers who are: ‘born of a desire to bring assistance without discrimination… to prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found’. As ‘a world-wide institution in which all Societies have equal status and share equal responsibilities and duties in helping each other’ and which is ‘open to all’[9].

The volunteers and staff in every country are our crowd, they embody our principles and can help to spread and share them through action. We have legitimacy and a brand that we can harness and a very strong core. We need to collectively design ways to help all NSs enable easier, meaningful and accessible participation – or as some might put it have ‘minimal viable bureaucracy’ to engage and participate.

So what might it look like?

To ensure the Movement stays relevant and the Principles are lived and strengthened, we want as many people as possible sharing and feeling affiliated with the Principles in a way that is meaningful and relevant to them. This participation could come in varying levels of commitment e.g.: tweeting messages, supporting others online through messages, sharing photos of events or pictures of a crisis to help gather data, partake in hackathons, rate a service provided by a RC etc. Then there could also be a more dedicated group of volunteers (the current version of this is Board members, Ambassadors, National Disaster Response teams). These will be people who create content, help to organise other volunteers online, set up crowd funding opportunities, run hackathons, translate text etc. Timms and Heimans[10] call these Participants and Super Participants.

[1] Voices to Choices, Expanding crisis affected peoples influence over aid decisions. By IARAN 2018.

[2] Civil Society Futures. The Independent Inquiry PACT.

[3] World Disaster Report. Leaving No One Behind 2018

[4] Currion, Paul. Networked Humanitarianism. 2018

[5] Carle, A. Bringing the Red Cross Movement into the Future. 2018

[6] Timms, H and Heimans J. New Power, How it is changing the 21st century – and why you need to know. 2018

[7] Retweeting on twitter for example

[8] Timms, H and Heimans J. New Power, How it is changing the 21st century – and why you need to know. 2018

[9] The Fundamental Principles 1965

[10] Timms, H and Heimans J. New Power, How it is changing the 21st century – and why you need to know. 2018. pg 89