What can a spreadsheet do? Or, better yet, what can 100s of people do with improved spreadsheet skills? From the moment IFRC started the Data Literacy program, we heard from people every day that we all need to collectively improve our data skills in the form of spreadsheet basics. Microsoft Excel is the most used and supported data tool across IFRC in every single sector, every region, and it is installed on most computers. We are fortunate to have a special relationship with Microsoft and Nethope to support National Societies in their digital needs, including access to Microsoft Excel.

Microsoft Excel program(

In our research, we found 4 different custom ‘excel spreadsheet’ training courses designed for the various audiences. We asked some questions – how could we use the mighty, pervasive Excel spreadsheet to support data readiness across the Movement? How could we learn from Microsoft Philanthropies experience delivering Microsoft Excel training across the world? How can we digitally connect our IFRC data learners with the Red Cross Red Crescent spirit and culture? When 100s of people across the Movement created the IFRC Data Playbook, we used participatory design and social learning as key principles to connect the trainers and learners. Teams and individuals with a data component in their workflows are using the Data Playbook exercises, slides, games and checklists within their ongoing training activities. We wanted to apply these lessons to Microsoft Excel training with a ‘learn by doing’ approach.

We designed this pilot to connect learners with data leaders, in cohorts of English, Spanish, and French language groups. By partnering with various groups/regions/sectors, we convened just over 200 early adopters to take this Microsoft Excel social learning pilot. Together with facilitators and focal points from various sectors and regions including health/wash, cash, surge/Information management, and PMER (Planning, Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting), we selected a course to serve their diverse, wider audiences. Our work as humanitarians is across many time zones and in 191 countries. We know that digital literacy, digital responsibility and digital inclusion are themes that we will need to focus on during this journey. The culture and spirit of collaboration is infused throughout our plans to help people get stronger with spreadsheets. Many people don’t finish e-learning courses. We will use the Movement’s community collaboration to help people learn, and hopefully complete the course.

Observations and Bright spots

On this journey, we are just getting started, but here are some data points about the pilot:

3 languages
76 National Societies
221 participants registered
43 women
26 Burundi Red Cross participants
2 National Society sponsors (American Red Cross, Belgian Red Cross)
15 facilitators /community helpers
4 volunteer translators for the cohorts and communications
1 Microsoft Philanthropy staff helper
2 Microsoft Philanthropy vendor helpers for curriculum design
13 modules (also downloadable for offline learning)
4 months to complete the e-learning course

Some key lessons:

Coordinating across time zones, departments/sectors, and teams takes time to build a common language/approach, while incorporating the organizational needs and goals.

We have encounterAlbaed many challenges about digital access, literacy, tools, workstyle, culture, and language. The pilot has served as a proxy study into the state of digital literacy and digital inclusion within the IFRC.

Our partners are here to help. We just need to have a clear task and plan with them. Microsoft Philanthropies has been an incredible help right from the inception of this project. We are learning much from them and we hope that this will help IFRC and other humanitarian organizations with their data skills upgrading plans.

People are very responsive and enthusiastic to get started. We also have been getting steady requests for the second pilot.

Thank you!

Microsoft Philanthropies and their partners have been working with us for well over a year to design, plan, and deliver this pilot e-learning course. Special thanks to Jane Meseck, Apurva Chandra, Mary Meucci, and Heather Daniel from the Microsoft team/partners for all their guidance and support. The IFRC MS Excel team aims to make this a valuable community learning experience. Thank you, Pierre, Margarita, Robert O., Sabrina, Munu, Bob G., Camille, Roxanne, Joseph, Letizia, Bertrand, Dedi, Amrit, Luis, Paula, Josse, Andrew M., David K., Nadine H., Dorottya, Boris, Alba, and Senyabou.

We will share more as we proceed with our lessons. Our next pilot will be in March 2020. If you are looking to update your Excel skills, there are some free courses online with TechSoup.

(Icon IconsAlfredo.com, Noun Project CC BY 4.0)