What does digital transformation mean for humanitarian organizations like the IFRC and National Societies? For the past year, we’ve collaborated with the Norwegian Red Cross and their partner, DNV GL, to explore the “state of digital transformation” within the Red Cross Red Crescent (RCRC) network. The joint exploration has focused on digital insights interviews with volunteers and staff at the IFRC and National Societies to better understand the diverse pathways toward digital transformation, data literacy, and innovation.

Collaborating with experts in the field of data and digital transformation has been a rewarding experience, with some learning curves on both sides. We wove together a series of activities and interviews to get a cross-section of input for ‘digital insights’. This is helping inform activities of the IFRC Digital and Data Working Group with IFRC and National Societies. We will deliver some of this content at the 33rd International Conference.

DNV GL has been a strategic partner of the Norwegian Red Cross for more than 10 years. The multi-level partnership is increasing the capacity and humanitarian impact of the Red Cross Red Crescent network. Previously, the partnership has supported water and sanitation projects in China, Vietnam, and the Philippines in addition to helping to create an innovative GIS-based community risk mapping program in the Philippines. It also creates opportunities for DNV GL employees to contribute in direct and substantial ways to advance essential humanitarian activities.

DNV GL has a dedicated department to support organizations in their data management and their data and digital transformation. It is, therefore, opportunistic that the Norwegian Red Cross linked DNV GL to contribute to the data and digital transformation journey of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. This has materialized in the provision of pro bono staff for 300 hours for 2019 and a similar commitment for 2020.

As an input to the IFRC’s Strategy 2030 process, DNV GL participated in a Digital and Data transformation workshop in the Hague (Sponsored by the Netherlands Red Cross, IFRC and Norwegian Re Cross, June 2019). Based on preliminary research conducted with the IFRC and Norwegian Red Cross, DNV GL shared key insights from their own data practice and presented a draft project template for measuring digital transformation, setting objectives and designing roadmaps. The DNV GL team also participated in roundtable discussions on data and digital transformation helping to guide staff from RCRC National Societies, the IFRC Secretariat, and other organizations based on DNV GL’s own experience in these areas.

Digital transformation in Hague

The DNV GL team subsequently participated to the Global Innovation Meeting in Doha, Qatar (October 2019), helping to drive discussions around data and digital transformation with more than 30 National Societies. They interviewed 20+ staff from National Societies and the Secretariat of the IFRC. The interviews were video-taped and some extracts have been used to build the Digital Transformation video showcased in the Digital Spotlight of the 33rd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent taking place in Geneva 9-12 December 2019.

Lastly, DNV GL participated to the Data literacy and Health workshop in Blantyre, Malawi (November 2019). We joined the Community-Based Health and First Aid (eCBHFA) Africa workshop to learn more about this major health project and collaborate with their experts. eCBHFA is one of the largest global health programs across IFRC with over 108 million people reached and 7 million trained volunteers. Our host, the Malawi Red Cross Society, welcomed 15 National Society health practitioners, for this regional eCBHFA Train-the-Trainer workshop.

Ecbhfa workshop


Here are the 5 things that the partnership with DNV GL had shared:

1) Step outside of the box: By having an external eye on the RCRC work and a different experience and expertise in data and digital, DNV GL expanded the scope of discussions and raised questions that would not necessarily arise among RCRC members only or even humanitarians. To put it simply: corporate partners can enable us to think outside of the box, reaching beyond our institutional mindset. It both expands the conversation and provides invaluable learning opportunities that can further be leveraged within the RCRC, especially when partnering with the private sector, which is often much more advanced in terms of digital transformation.

2) Establish a common language, check your assumptions: If the encounter of two different worlds with different cultures provides an opportunity for insightful discussions and knowledge transfer, this can’t happen if both worlds don’t have a common language. This requires building a relationship-based on empathy and the creation of a common language and check assumptions: a given concept may take completely different sense and have different implications in different organizational settings. Here the relationship built between the Norwegian Red Cross and DNV GL was essential for good integration of the company’s team. Having an intermediary that understands both worlds and can translate may help kickstarting the relationship at project level. Establishing common goals, having clearly identified focal points on both sides that meet physically from time to time, and bringing the corporate partner to the “field” where local services are delivered are paramount to build trust and provide clarity.

3) Be agile: Agile teams allow us to experiment faster and fail smarter, which results in fast growing learning curves. If defining common goals is important for successful partnerships, it is also important to be able to adapt to emerging changes and pivot if necessary. This agility requires maintaining constant open communications between the focal points. With the current study with DNV GL, an initial plan to develop in-depth case studies in 3 countries was adjusted to review a wider range of solutions being developed within the IFRC network and take advantage of existing workshops as opportunities for engaging a larger numbers of National Societies in the learning.

4) Investing in one partnership allows economies of scale for shared learning/knowledge: National Societies have significant capacity that they can mobilize through the RCRC network. Partnering enables complementing in-house capacities and the network is a vector to spread the benefits to other National Societies. With DNV GL and the Norwegian Red Cross, we have an example of a National Society providing the network with the skills / competence / expertise of a global corporate actor that the network wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn from otherwise. For instance, the Malawi Red Cross benefited from DNV GL’s expertise during the eCBHFA workshop. By doing so, we also strengthen the network by limiting the dependency on traditional multinational partners and providing corporations with the opportunity to contribute hands-on to humanitarian action in the digital era. The common language established while building the partnership can be capitalized to scale (ex. Malawi RC benefits from these previous conversations / settings)

5) Mentoring and coaching: We’ve benefited from the expertise of senior data and digital expertise. Their professional guidance on frameworks, strategy, research, and negotiation has been invaluable. Humanitarian organizations and corporate partners can provide invaluable work experiences for shared learning and dynamic support.

We look forward to 2020 and building on this partnership with the IFRC Digital and Data Working group. Thanks for Norwegian Red Cross Society and DNV GL for their ongoing support on this journey.

[Editor note: This post was co-written by Laurent Fernandez (Digital Transformation consultant with Norwegian Red Cross) as well as IFRC staff Heather Leson and Ian O’Donnell.]

(Photo Credits: IFRC CCBY 4.0)