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The International Committee of the Red Cross: Creating a Transformative Leadership Culture

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ICRC-HultEF-CaseStudy

About ICRC

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is an independent, neutral organization operating worldwide, helping people affected by conflict and armed violence and promoting the laws that protect victims of war. Based in Geneva, Switzerland, it employs over 20,000 people in more than 80 countries.

Since 2014, the ICRC has partnered with Hult EF Corporate Education to design and run the Humanitarian Leadership & Management School (HLMS). The HLMS is building inclusive, authentic leadership at all levels. Its purpose is to contribute a new transformative and inclusive leadership culture in the ICRC, bringing together diverse leaders from across the organization.

Sector: Not for profit, charity

Overview: A transformational leadership program that promotes diversity and inclusion, consisting of 3 modules, delivered virtually and in various locations worldwide.

The Challenge

The ICRC has been experiencing a few years of transformation, reflecting the rapidly changing landscape of conflict and humanitarian work, the diversification of its own makeup, and the challenges of implementing change within a large organization with a rich heritage.

Despite the rich diversity of the organization, this has not always been reflected in leadership roles and practices. Knowledge, communication and expertise were being constrained within silos, both geographical and hierarchical. The organization needed to tap into the potential of their entire employee base to increase engagement at a local level and providing visible pathways to development.

Alongside all of the above, it was key to transform the organization while still honouring its rich history and aligned to its intrinsic DNA.

“Today’s world needs a different kind of leader: empowering leaders who inspire collaboration, resilience & Psychological Safety no matter how extreme the disruption. With Hult EF, we achieved significant award-winning impact across thousands of ICRC leaders.”
Sally Al-Nakshbandi, Head of ICRC Leadership Program

The Solution

The ICRC selected Hult EF as a partner due to their focus on the human, interpersonal and reflective approaches to learning, teaching and research, which is aligned with the ICRC vision and goals.

The diversity of the participants and cultural change it promotes required a design that is engaging and stimulating for all participants in spite of their differences. It had to be applicable to people of different educational, cultural and technical backgrounds as well as their different seniority levels. It also had to align with other transformations within, and outside, the organization.

"The HLMS has a big role in bridging gaps and hierarchies in the ICRC."
Gherardo Pontrandolfi, HR Director

The co-designed and co-delivered, three-module program aims to develop strong and passionate leaders who manage, empower and inspire a diverse and high-performance workforce and set the example for effective leadership. Participants must start at the beginning and complete each of the three modules to progress regardless of experience or seniority.

Each module consists of distinct phases:

  • Distance learning – 20 hours of reading, assessed e-learning and coaching.

  • Face-to-face – A 5-day program of experiential learning, exchange & reflection.

  • Action Learning Sets – conducted during the face-to-face week, participants work in smaller groups to discuss challenges and go through a peer coaching process.

  • Work-based Learning – 30 hours of applying the learned skills in a workplace setting.

Pre-COVID, teaching was delivered in Kenya, Jordan, Thailand, Senegal as well as Switzerland. During the pandemic the program has successfully transitioned to a virtual platform and has grown to become a truly global, blended program. Evaluations post-program reflect a positive rating of the virtual experience by the participants, significantly above expectations.

The Impact

The program has been shown to bring people together, breaking down silos and enabling more effective collaboration in various ways. It unites people through a common leadership language, attitudes, behaviours and mindsets as well as providing transformative tools and practices. It creates a more diverse network of leaders across the organization that contribute to wider organizational transformation.

"I feel there has been an impact on the ICRC leadership culture and this impact is also reflected in the staff barometer data that came out where we realized that people who have done the HLMS Modules are more positively assessed by their teams."
Balthasar Staehelin, Former Deputy Director General

Participation in the HLMS program is now an essential commitment for leaders in the ICRC and a prerequisite for senior management positions in the organization, demonstrating the importance of these teachings in shaping the leadership practices for the organization.

“I feel I have grown as a manager, but also as a person, a father, a husband and a colleague. You provided a safe space to learn, to exchange, to motivate me to continue to believe on the beauty of the ideals for which we work.”
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