In our latest interview with a humanitarian learning expert, we speak to Mary Jilek, Deputy Director, Talent Management at the International Rescue Committee (IRC).


What kind of learning opportunities does IRC currently offer to its staff and volunteers?

IRC is in the early steps of a journey to becoming a learning organization. What this means for us is that learning and development opportunities are available to our staff in order for them to achieve success in their roles, and they are supported in their efforts to do so. We believe that it is essential for managers to be part of the learning conversation and be equipped with the skills to support their teams.

Over the past few years, more investment has been made into learning and development, as evidenced by a growing Talent Management team, foundations for expectations being put in place and programs developed based on those foundations. Rescue Academy offers a growing range of learning offerings to staff around the globe. Strategy 100, the IRC’s strategic plan, states our aim to reach all staff with learning and development opportunities. Currently, these opportunities include dozens of tailored learning programs and courses available on Kaya, university short courses made possible through several partnerships, and management programs developed by the IRC.

Outside of Rescue Academy, numerous parts of the organization also implement training on programmatic areas and technical skills.

Why did you decide to create your own Kaya portal, and what made you choose Kaya?

Rescue Academy on Kaya (our Kaya portal) was created so we could provide our staff eLearning materials specific to the IRC, in addition to providing access to a large library of resources offered by other portal partners. We selected Kaya over other options because we were looking for a light, easy-to-use LMS solution with Single Sign-On (SSO) available in our main operating languages (English, French, Arabic, and Spanish).

IRC Personal Safety and Security online course on Kaya

How many IRC staff  and volunteers are currently using the Kaya portal? Has your learning content been made available in different languages?

Since Rescue Academy launched on Kaya, over 11,000 staff have joined the platform, and at the end of 2020 we had 9,100 active users based in 60+ countries. They completed over 24,000 courses since we launched and over 16,000 completed in 2020 only. Some of our learning content has been made available in French, Arabic and Spanish in addition to English.

What has been the response so far, and what kind of courses are the most popular?

Feedback has been mostly positive. Our most popular courses are those which are required for staff to take, such as Anti-Sexual Harassment. However, in addition to the required courses, our language courses, particularly English, are also quite popular.

Did you notice any particular change in the way your staff engage with the Kaya portal since the start of COVID-19?

In addition to users seeking more online learning opportunities, since the start of COVID-19, the Rescue Academy team has received many more inquiries from subject matter experts across the organization seeking to convert their previously in-person trainings into online self-directed learning or blended learning.

What would you say are the greatest challenges surrounding humanitarian learning today?

One would be the lack of collaboration and coordination across learning teams. While this is improving, there are so many opportunities for learning focal points across organizations to work together to produce high-quality learning on topics important to the whole sector. If we improved in this area, it could support better collaboration in other areas and save costs.

Another challenge is finding the time and prioritizing development.  Learning happens in many ways.  For example – on the job, through special projects, task forces and teams, from coaching and mentoring, and via conferences and training programs. With the many demands on our colleagues’ time, it can be difficult to prioritize these areas.  Managers play a significant role in developing direct reports and helping them find opportunities.  While it can feel like it takes time away from the day to day progress, over time prioritizing development will benefit the individual, the manager and the organization.

Another challenge is most learning continues to be in English. Some is getting translated into 2-3 additional languages, but the translations aren’t always that good, and it still doesn’t reach many parts of the world where other languages are required.

Also, many people still think learning means training. While training can be an important part of the learning program, learning is so much more! Humanitarian organizations can learn from each other about what learning works, and perhaps collaborate on the development of true learning programs – not just training.

What can organisations like the Academy do to support the sector to overcome these challenges?

Since there are numerous organizations that use the Academy’s services, particularly Kaya, the Academy is in a unique position to be able to draw connections between organizations that might be working towards similar goals. The Academy can also develop firmer standards for making offerings available in multiple languages as well. Such as if an eLearning’s target audience is global, if should be in X different languages as a minimum standard.

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