The International Federation of the Blue Cross (IFBC) is an independent, non-governmental health development organization dedicated to preventing and reducing the harmful use of alcohol and illicit drugs especially among children, youth and families. Furthermore, it advocates evidence-based alcohol policy formulation and implementation on national and international levels. Through the activities and projects of its Secretariat and 42 member organizations (MOs), IFBC aspires to ensure that all people have the opportunity to knowingly choose and live a life free of addiction to alcohol and drugs. In addition, IFBC activities seek to provide people harmed by alcohol and drugs with access to the benefits of high quality and holistic treatment. Internationally, the Blue Cross is organized as a federation of local and national organisations of differing sizes, strengths and capabilities.

This case study describes an ambitious Multinational Training Program (MNT) that was designed and run by the International Federation of the Blue Cross (IFBC), working in partnership with Black Gazelle Consulting, for its member organizations (MOs). It was ambitious because it aimed to train and educate, especially in specialist areas (prevention and treatment of substance abuse, fund raising, policy formulation, etc. as well as Management and Leadership) while simultaneously provoking organization change, from a typical 'hub and spoke' group of organizations with a strong centre - the primary communicator - to one where different MOs formed active networks, exchanging local experiences, successes and problems with others with similar situations and challenges, and to do most of this through virtual working.

The whole design was co-created by senior members of the IFBC Secretariat, together with internal and external expert practitioners, representatives from Light Media, a company specialising in the development of internet-based and e-learning solutions, and representatives from Black Gazelle Consulting, specialists in international Virtual Learning and Development. This team became a powerful network in its own right, practicing virtual reviews, seeking and offering feedback, virtually, in an open way - thus leading by example.


The program involved delivery of a complex portfolio of learning activities, including:

  • a web-based inquiry phase
  • two five day workshops, with many specialist expert inputs, including open space learning
  • specialist interest Virtual Action Learning (AAL) groups
  • a specially designed learning portal
  • a web conference to foster sharing of best practice


The last was based on facilitated specialist groups where individuals were supported in sharing both their experience and their issues. The Virtual Action Learning groups also provided excellent bases for sharing best practice as well as facilitating the formation of on-going professional relationships and networks.


The success criteria agreed were (in summary):

  • to make best use of the knowledge and expertise available within the organization
  • to be open to external expertise related to the 'hard core' topics whenever and wherever needed
  • to strike the right balance between expert input and facilitative intervention and to actively promote a learning space where every participant could, in turn be expert and/or learner to promote simultaneous sharing of best practice and networking
  • to be a journey of discovery: intense learning, sharing and reflection with practical and sustainable outcomes - not an 'one off' event based on traditional face-to-face training methods
  • to be highly tailored and based on a thorough understanding of participants' needs and expectations in order to ensure highest levels of commitment and ownership
  • be at least bilingual in every activity offered, i.e. delivery in English and French


Many areas of impact are already evident - new knowledge is being applied quickly, joint projects across MOs are being planned, altered use of the internet, with more disciplined responses, is valued. Additionally, there is a much greater understanding across IFBC of the challenges and difficulties faced in some MOs. MOs are now more proactive in seeking both assistance and joint working.


Below are verbatim quotes taken from the follow-up phone calls with a wide variety of participants:

“The choice of the topic directly related to my reality in my country in X [African country], the practice sharing with our colleagues in Brazil and South Africa, the quality of expert input means that I now feel confident that I can apply this learning in my country.”

“I was able to acquire a lot of practical knowledge which I will apply in my daily work.”

“The purpose of the AAL [Virtual Action Learning] on Leadership was to continuously develop our competence as leaders of a Blue Cross organization by focusing on subjects relevant to our daily work. I found the approach very efficient... For me AAL has not only been an opportunity to share experiences. It has been a way to get a deeper understanding of my own practice as a manager and to discover useful solutions to my challenges.”

“I have learnt a lot through the sharing with others related to local beliefs and consumption patterns of alcohol and ways to actively address these. I now feel very confident to apply these approaches in my country.”

“I think that the web conference was wonderful. The addiction services in Z [Northern European country] could give their questions to me and I took them into the conference. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn from others.”

“We have decided to carry on with the AAL in our group [even after program completion] as it has had most impact on me as an individual. We will facilitate ourselves. We have learnt from each other.”

“We decided to invite more employees and volunteers into the decision making process in our organization. We are still learning. Two or three years ago decisions would have been made by the Board. Now employees like me are given more responsibilities because my boss sees that I have developed knowledge and capacities.”