Humanitarian diplomacy is persuading decision makers and opinion leaders to act, at all times, in the interests of vulnerable people, and with full respect for fundamental humanitarian principles.
DiploFoundation and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) have worked together to offer an online course on Humanitarian Diplomacy since early 2012. In this short interview (May 2013), Leena-Kaisa Åberg, Special Adviser to the Secretary General at the Finnish Red Cross, describes her experiences attending the course in autumn 2012.
How did you hear about this course, and why did you decide to apply?
For the first time I heard about the course from the Secretary General in early 2012. At that time I was changing tasks at the headquarters of the Finnish Red Cross so I did not want to have too much extra to do. But when the second course opened for applications I was ready to apply because I thought that skills in humanitarian diplomacy (HD) were really something that I wanted to develop, and also because HD was one part of my job description. My previous experience in the field related to advocacy concerning migration issues, but now I was going to work with HD in a broader sense.
Did the course teach you practical skills, which you could use in your professional or personal environment?
Yes, it did very well. For example, I have been able to support my National Society in developing its HD work. This process is still on its way but already I have seen staff members taking a more strategic approach into HD. This is very rewarding. I also hope that I will be able to support our work in developing the new Finnish Red Cross strategy for the year 2014 – 2016 so that HD will have a stronger role. There is clearly an understanding of this need but we still need more strategic planning, tools and skills.
This course runs entirely online. Was it interactive? Did you learn from other participants as well as the lecturers?
I was quite astonished at how interactive the course turned out to be, even though it is implemented online without any face-to-face meetings of the participants and lecturers. For example, the hypertexts that we added on the course materials were very actively commented by other participants and the lecturers. The comments helped me to understand how the others thought about the issues, what was relevant for them in their working surroundings. I also very much appreciate the way that the lecturers took time in writing comments into these discussion highlighting the way that the Red Cross Red Crescent thinks about the issues and also challenging us into new ways of thinking.
Was this method of online learning convenient for you? Could you manage to combine learning with working and other responsibilities?
Online learning gives you the possibility of scheduling the learning sessions according to your own agenda with the exception of a weekly chat of one hour. So really it was not difficult to find time for doing the tasks. However, there is quite a lot of work to do so you really need to reserve time for doing the tasks. And practically it also means using some of your free time.
What was the most valuable aspect of this course for you?
It is difficult to pick up just one thing. The course materials were very good but the interaction between the participants and the lecturers in making the hypertext entries and taking part in chat sessions really gave a deeper insight into the issues. For me also doing the research was very valuable because I was able to combine it directly with my every day work.
What do you recommend to potential applicants to consider, before applying?
Make sure that you are able to reserve enough time! You need to talk with your boss about rearranging some of your work tasks. Of course you can also decide to do the course during your free time but since this is a course which can very well be linked into your work, you can make the best of it by combining it with your everyday work.
The next session of Humanitarian Diplomacy starts 2 September 2013 (application deadline 22 July). Please visit the course website for more information.