Managing risks to reach more people with lifesaving services and support in Myanmar

Published: 29 December 2014 14:10 CET

By Kate Roux

The Myanmar Red Cross Society operates with over 450 staff in 330 branches throughout the country. The nation’s leading humanitarian organization, and the oldest, the Red Cross is operating in a dynamic economic and social environment that is rapidly changing every day. Myanmar’s doors have recently opened to the world and as a result, not only is civil society playing a stronger role, but there is increasing competition in the humanitarian world.

“Risk is not to be avoided in this context,” explains President of the Myanmar Red Cross, Professor Tha Hla Shwe. “But we can take steps to analyze and mitigate risk. It is important to address risk, so that we can operate to our fullest and reach all beneficiaries,” he continues.

From 9-11 December, the Myanmar Red Cross Society hosted both Michael Raper, Director of Services and International Operations, and Vivian Schenker, head of Media and Communications from the Australian Red Cross, to run a joint workshop focusing on risk management.

“Our goal is to engage governance and senior management on the importance of risks, and why it should be addressed as we head into our next planning cycle,” explains the President. “Myanmar Red Cross is reaching more than 500,000 people each year, yet we need an external perspective to help us assess and learn how to better mitigate the risks we face.”

Michael Raper led the 3-day session with National Society governance and programme staff through the RiskSmart risk management system, which is aligned to the International Risk Management Standard ISO 31000.

“In Australian Red Cross, we have risk management systems in place because we know it protects our staff and volunteers, and it also improves our service delivery, our efficiency and effectiveness,” Raper says. He continued to remind participants throughout the workshop. “We cannot be risk averse, but we can be risk smart.”

Vivian Schenker, head of media for the Australian Red Cross, made the critical link to reputational risk. Given the rapidity of social media and the global brand of the Red Cross Red Crescent, Schenker explained that reputational risk is not only a loss resulting from damages to an organization’s reputation, “It is about losing trust in the brand. It is about upholding the Fundamental Principles,” she says.

By the end of the workshop, participants set a framework for risk management. Top risks were identified, as well as controls required to bring each risk down to an acceptable level. All of this will be discussed with leadership during the Red Cross strategic planning session in 2015.  

With an increasingly inter-connected world, the risks National Societies around the world face, including the Myanmar and Australian Red Cross, are more present than ever. And the issues that face one National Society will affect another, for the bad but also the good. Supporting each other to be well-prepared, and avoid the damaging consequences is one key advantage to the world’s largest humanitarian network.