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Building a new National Society

Thursday 14 November 2013

Maurice Gbessagee (left) from Liberia Red Cross and Edson Mlamba from Zimbabwe Red Cross.

A lively discussion took place at the Humanitarian Village Speakers Corner today where Red Cross leaders from Zimbabwe and Liberia shared how they transformed their Red Cross societies out of crisis and debt to ones of strength and stability.

Edson Mlambo said when he was elected leader of Zimbabwe Red Cross in 2012 he inherited a national society whose "reputation was going down the drain".

The major problems included conflicts of interest within the organisation, an unclear constitution, lack of knowledge of the fundamental principles, local disengagement with youth and volunteers; over-dependence on external funds with no exit strategy; high debt and resulting recovery actions through the courts.

His top tip: a complete cultural change. Be a servant to the society not a boss. Respect and be accountable to volunteers.

"We are here for the vulnerable. We are not here for those in positions of importance."

Maurice Gbessagee from Liberian Red Cross spoke of a typical work day when he began his job at the start of the year. He could go to court, talk to lawyers and auditors, deal with staff who were not prepared to come to work, and trace unaccounted funds.

How did he instigate cultural change?

A new system of constant checks and balances, wholesale staff changes, a stop to accumulating liabilities, revising the human resources manual, and ramping up income generation.

You can hear more stories like this at the Humanitarian Village, where there are daily panel discussions and more than 40 exhibitions highlighting the work of Red Cross around the world.