Fine Tuitupou-Arnold, who works as Advocacy and Policy Advisor for the Cook Islands Red Cross Society, took some time out to talk to us about the Humanitarian Diplomacy online course she took with Diplo and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies last autumn.
What first interested you about the course?
Actually, I did not know there was such a course until the Federation office in Fiji contacted me and asked me if I would be interested in taking it. I went online and had a look. It seemed very interesting, so I applied and I’m really glad that I did.
That’s good to hear. It’s important that our participants have a positive online learning experience – it makes studying more enjoyable. Could highlight a few of the aspects of the course that you really enjoyed?
It was very interactive. Different participants from every corner of the world shared experiences and activities in their countries. This was of great benefit to me. I’m from a small island state and having to share my experiences with others and get their feedback was very helpful.
You work with the Red Cross in Cook Islands. Could you tell us a little about why humanitarian diplomacy is important for you?
It’s very important for my work with Red Cross because a big part of my work is advocacy with government on IHL conventions and disaster law programmes. I work with government officials and departments in advocating for our auxiliary status, and of course the work we do. How I should approach our government was something that I did not learn at school or when I went to university; I had to learn on the job. But on this course, I had to go through a structured learning platform. This was also an excellent way of learning from other participants’ real life experiences, which I think is just awesome.
The course has eight modules that cover everything from negotiating and influencing through to in-depth knowledge about the Red Cross/Red Crescent. Did any particular module prove especially helpful for you?
The negotiation part of the course was something very interesting for me. I had kind of just learned from my network at home but having to look at other networks around the world, and learn how they operate, how they negotiate in their areas, and not just with government, but with regional and other organisations as well…. that very interesting for me.
Were there any highlights that you’d like to share?
The first one I would say was the research paper. I think that was a really, really good way of looking into a topic of interest in depth. Having that opportunity to put something together, to research a topic that is very important for your work, was worthwhile.
Yes, it’s good to have some practical elements that are applicable to participants’ work. Would you mind telling us what your topic was?
My topic was strengthening the auxiliary status … the national society’s auxiliary status, not only in our country but also in the region. I used some experiences from the work I do with my National Society that helped raised the reputation of my National Society and also developed and strengthen our relationship with the government. The disaster law programme in the Pacific also raised the level of visibility of the Federation in the Pacific and with that also strengthened our auxiliary status within our country and also regionally as well. I had an opportunity to put that together in the research paper and I think it was a great opportunity to share it with participants from other national societies.
What do you think about online learning and the methods we use to teach in our virtual classroom?
It was really convenient. I travel a lot and it was something that I felt very comfortable with because I could access my course online from anywhere in the world. I travelled three times to Geneva and to Cairo and I could access the course and just follow it through. I think it is something that people who are in negotiations, dealing with government, and travelling at the same time should consider.
Did you miss having face-to-face meetings with other participants? Was it hard to get use to online chat rooms?
I was a bit sceptical to start off with because I’m used to having to go into a classroom, and talking face-to-face with the lecturers and students but it worked out very well. The participants were very dynamic, very interactive. We still keep in contact now, after the course. During group work, we communicated very well through Skype, through chat. In the end, it wasn’t a problem. Actually, I think it was really good.
What about the interaction between RCRC participants and non-RCRC participants? Any comment?
Having non-Red Cross participants was good because we didn’t just talk about Red Cross issues and diplomacy; we talked about other organizations’ issues and of course how diplomacy is done in their areas of work and in their organisations. We learned from them and they learned from us; it was a good combination and I think it should continue that way.
Have you been able to practice some of what you’ve learned? Has it helped you in your work?
Definitely. As I said before, I had to learn on the job when I started. But now I’ve got some tactics that I’ve learned from the course that I’m using, especially with the disaster law programme, in which we continually have to advocate regionally. How to approach that status is something I learned on the course.
Who would you recommend the course to?
I have a very strong view on this because after I took the course I thought, well, this is really for Secretaries-General in the Pacific. It would be very beneficial for them, because they’re in small national societies and a lot of their work involves advocating with government.…and not only our government but other organisations within the countries and also outside the countries, too.