From a Data Pilot to Covid response with Microsoft Excel

What can a spreadsheet do? Or, better yet, what can 100s of people do with improved spreadsheet skills? From the moment IFRC started the Data Literacy program, we heard from people every day that we all need to collectively improve our data skills in the form of spreadsheet basics. Microsoft Excel is the top data tool that Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers and staff use. Time and time again – people asked for brief to extensive training on this essential data tool. We partnered with Microsoft Corporate Social Responsibility for a Microsoft Excel pilot focused on co-hort learning. Then, covid times arrived. Our post-pilot plans had to shift focus to humanitarian response. On that journey, we discovered that initial pilot continues to have an impact across the Red Cross Red Crescent world.

Microsoft Excel program(

Data can provide insights to inform decisions, knowledge, and evidence. Humanitarians and communities obtain and use data to support emergency response. By improving data skills with Microsoft Excel, we aimed to improve data workflows, increase effectiveness, and transparency by using the data tools that are accessible and available to the IFRC network at low or no cost. The goal was to increase data literacy and data analysis with exponential knowledge transfer starting with a pilot and growing to movement-wide effort to “learn data skills by doing.”

We are fortunate to have a special relationship with Microsoft and Nethope to support National Societies in their digital needs, including access to Microsoft Excel. The Microsoft team provided content and expert guidance on curriculum development. Our team worked with the Belgian Red Cross and others to tailor the content and provide a unique multi-language forum for the pilot participants to learn. The journey to program completion was truncated by covid response. However, there were many lessons that could inform a larger scale digital skills program.

Video Interview: Chicote Alfredo Tomas, Mozambique Red Cross.

Feedback from emergency response volunteers like Chicote informed the Microsoft Excel program planning.

About the pilot

Now that the IFRC Digital Strategy is being piloted, there are many opportunities to keep building on these goals:

  • Equip leaders with resources and skills to be more data ready, while co-creating content, connecting localized ecosystems, and providing program support.

  • Build a common language between technical and non-technical staff about data use and data skills. By decreasing the gap, we aim to make better decisions with data that matters.

  • Provide local data ownership and use. The road to data readiness requires data literacy to be sustainable and successful. As such, the Excel program provides building blocks to achieve this. This data and digital readiness is increasingly part of our Strategy 2030 planning.

Out of the 199 registered participants, 68 participants completed the courses on time, others partially The curriculum was in English, French and Spanish focused on those who had the potential to be data trainers across various programs (PMER, IM, Cash, Health and more). People completed 13 lessons and countless tests. While the original program model encouraged office lunch and learns and certifications, 2020 really changed the landscape of implementation. However, there were some successes in terms of impact.


The Burundi Red Cross enrolled 22 participants in the pilot. This type of ‘whole organizational approach’ was sponsored by the most senior leaders in Burundi Red Cross and the staff used a co-hort approach. Reflections from Bertrand Bizimana (Burundi RC IT Assistant):

There was a good mix of gender and professional background among the participants.

Among the 68 who finished the program, more than 20 were from Burundi Red Cross. The success rate was mainly due to peer-to-peer support among the participants. People were getting together after working hours to learn together and help each other.

The NS leadership support played a major role for the success of the training because the SG encouraged everyone who registered to finish the training in due time, considering this training was aligned with the Digital Transformation Burundi RC is trying to achieve.

More than the people who participated, Bertrand and Nadia supported training a team of over 20 accountants in excel. That training improved significantly the financial reporting process for all the branches.

Microsoft Excel Stories from IFRC Covid Response

The global covid response shifted the world in many ways. For IFRC, there was a large scale need for information and data to inform decisions and show impact. The GO platform shows that 163 National Societies reported on at least 1 covid specific indicator. While data was collected via multiple tools, analysis and collection,it is certain that practioners used Microsoft Excel. So, we asked - How have people used Microsoft Excel for the response?

Learn more about the IFRC Covid Response

Asia Pacific

"The program was terrific. It really taught me Microsoft Excel and since then I have been helping my other colleagues during generating reports in excel. It helped me very well during generating reports for my monitoring tasks as I'm working as a monitoring and evaluation senior officer."

Yaqoob Nomani Monitoring and Evolution Senior Officer, PMER Departement Afghan Red Crescent

"Thank you so much for offering such an excellent course via online learning platform. It has been a great learning experience for me. Though I use excel regularly but this course helped me to learn a lot more concepts and insights. This will certainly be instrumental to perform my responsibilities as part of the National Society in a better way.

Due to ongoing COVID-19 aided lock-down situation, I couldn't yet manage to share this achievement and learning with my line manager (copied here) and our team at Bangladesh Red Crescent Society."

Mohammad Newaz Sharif, Planning, Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting (PMER) Officer, Bangladesh Red Crescent Society

"Regarding the use of Excel lessons, It’s helped me a lot to conduct data analysis for the COVID-19 response in Asia Pacific region particularly to analyze the Country COVID risk using different datasets and also track reported COVID-19 cases, calculate the growth rate and visualize it into the dashboard. The excel skill also supports us to conduct data cleaning and data analysis for different COVID-19 activities such as COVID-19 Need Assessment Analysis which analyze the impact of COVID in all 38 AP countries and in-depth analysis through FGD and KII."

Dedi Junadi(IFRC Regional IM Officer Asia Pacific)



"Thank you very much for giving us this opportunity and for your great and continuous support."
Majed Ismail Alsabri, Disaster Information Management Officer, Yemen Red Crescent Society


Burundi Red Cross
Burundi Red Cross



"I work as a social rapporteur at the Hungarian Red Cross. I used Excel before, but I was not confident in it, it made me nervous. I used to know barely the basic stuff, and the Microsoft Pilot helped me a lot. I learned more than I expected, and now i know the program better and I work faster in it. I create the social projects financial tables and other databases in Excel. For example, in our 'New Chances at Labour Market' Project, where we provide vocational education and trainings to develop skills for 30 parents living in temporary family shelters, I made a table for the applicants to have an easy of way of knowing where every participant is within the process, and also were the project is financially."

Vivien Balázs, Social Rapporteur, Hungarian Red Cross

"From CEA side, the logbook and analytical tools for National Societies (and at the Regional level) is all in Excel. Those teams use Excel every day for logging and coding feedback. I myself use Excel to test out data table structures when designing a data model that will eventually be put into viz software or otherwise formalized. Excel was the top request from NS over any other tool -- like Kobo, PowerBI, Google sheets, etc. "

Rachel Yales, IM Delegate, IFRC Geneva Secretariat

"March-June 2020 I was downloading a lot of domestic and ECDC COVID-19 datasets to analyze them in more detail in Excel. Later on the public dashboards improved and didn’t have the need to do my own analysis any further. "

Eero Sario, Senior Officer, Primary Data Collection Finnish Red Cross/IFRC Geneva

"Everyone tends to underestimate the power of excel. i use it regularly, i track project evolutions in custom made gantt charts, i use power query for a lot of data crunching and overall day-to-day basic analytics. when it comes to more sophisticated analytics then i switch to python."
Guido Pizzini, Italian Red Cross (volunteer)



"Even with over a decade of experience using Excel, I was able to learn something new from each module. These learnings continue to be used in my daily work. Thank you again! Stay safe!"

Edward Zvekic, Advisor, Operational Reporting, Domestic Operations, Canadian Red Cross


The digital journey is long for many large organizations. We are thankful to Microsoft Philanthropies (Tech for Social Impact/Corporate Social Responsibility) for supporting this effort. Our team used this pilot as an example to demonstrate the critical need for data and digital literacy across the movement. This is part of our Digital Strategy.

Microsoft Philanthropies and their partners have been working with us for well over two years to design, plan, and deliver this pilot e-learning course. Special thanks to Jane Meseck, Apurva Chandra, Mary Meucci, and Heather Daniel from the Microsoft team/partners for all their guidance and support.

The IFRC MS Excel team aims to make this a valuable community learning experience. Thank you, Pierre, Margarita, Robert O., Sabrina, Munu, Bob G., Camille, Roxanne, Joseph, Letizia, Bertrand, Dedi, Amrit, Luis, Paula, Josse, Andrew M., David K., Nadine H., Dorottya, Boris, Alba, and Senyabou.

Special thank you – Bertrand Rukundo and Bertrand Bizimana, Burundi Red Cross for your insights, advocacy, and promotion.