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Developing teams to connect human kindness with human crisis

By Elizabeth Akass, Editor, Engage Business Media

The British Red Cross explains how it engages and supports its workforce to help people in need across the world as efficiently as possible.

Founded in 1870, the British Red Cross is a humanitarian organisation that works to assist millions of people in crisis each year across the world. It aligns with the seven fundamental principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the world’s largest humanitarian network, which are: humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity, and universality. This ensures it remains neutral, independent, and impartial in the 119 countries where it has a presence.

Dr Satnam Sagoo, the Director of Learning at the British Red Cross, describes these brand principles further. “These are based around four values: being compassionate, dynamic, courageous, and inclusive.” She continues: “We always start with the person in crisis first, and we are quick to act powerfully when we are needed. We combine skill and care to achieve meaningful impact, and the only side we take is that of the person we are helping.” This means the organisation does not discriminate based on nationality, race, class, or religious or political beliefs.

She highlights that the biggest challenge the British Red Cross faces is the need to constantly change and adapt, including an ever-increasing number of people that need helping. “Just 10 years ago, we would have been supporting people displaced by around 40-50 disasters, and in the last year we’ve seen up to 400 disasters. There are many changes happening across the globe; we are constantly under significant pressure with migrant populations displaced through war, hunger, and economical migration. The issues around climate change are also having an impact.”

To address this, Sagoo says that the British Red Cross is “looking at changes in efficiencies” whilst still supporting its staff and volunteers to be “equipped and developed” in “the best way possible”. As the organisation is made up of 4,000 paid staff, 21,000 active volunteers, who volunteer up to 35 hours a week, and 40,000 ‘light touch’ volunteers, who get involved more occasionally throughout the year and interact with the charity differently to the main cohort of people, there are some significant learning asks being worked towards that include the entire group of 65,000.

Sagoo says that the main aim has been to aid staff in learning faster and, ideally, on the job. “Often, learning and development has been a very linear journey, and that means that you might invent a learning initiative much after the event has gone.” She notes that this poses the risk of delaying helping those in need, and so working towards a more efficient system has been a priority. “We know that through technology we are able to create learning initiatives much faster, and to meet the needs of our people.”

The second ask is to not lose sight of the organisation’s traditional strengths. “We’re very much a crisis organisation that works with people at their most vulnerable. We do a lot of face-to-face training, and support them through a good traditional model of development, which we don’t want to lose; we want to strengthen that with both knowledge and technology.” She adds that this also enables the organisation’s people to network and share common journeys with each other, building employee engagement and morale.

She describes the way in which staff are developed. “We are very much around building what we call the ‘four Es’ which are: Enabling, Empowering, Engaging, and being Effective. This is how we support all our people; we work to help them be an empowered learner on their journey. Some of the key steps we have taken are to put pathways in, support them through digital training based on a social learning platform, and provide them with accessible tools.”

The third learning ask Sagoo mentions is the need to always look outwards and stay informed of the larger picture. “We need to be aware of what’s happening collectively outside of us as an organisation and across the federation globally. It’s about making learning relevant and accessible in the immediate here and now.”

Furthermore, these key asks created the British Red Cross vision for learning, based on building a brand that strives to develop and support its people. Sagoo states: “Our method is to create a truly blended approach to training that is sustainable, ensuring that our people are supported to always put the person in crisis first. We will do this through a networked approach in having both staff and volunteer champions, providing them with simple and effective tools to support their journey.”

This also progressed to the development of a key learning proposal, designed to be tailored to all of the 65,000 people working for the organisation. Sagoo explains: “The proposal was about building an offer that would enhance the organisation’s ability to be a learning organisation, which really established clear pathways to growing our people aligned to organisational success. This was very much about bringing about our learning asks based on our business plans and strategies across the organisation.”

Sagoo finishes by discussing the fact that the British Red Cross is still progressing in working more accessibly with its teams to build stronger offers around coaching and mentoring, and creating more networked approaches. “We are working to empower our people to be part of a positive learning culture, whilst always being mindful to keep the person in crisis at the centre of our ethos of working.”