Bringing the ISO 9001 into the humanitarian world

by Marijke Peys | Oct 15, 2020 | Thought Pieces

Customer centricity is the new buzzword, when talking about providing services. The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement uses the approach of ‘Community engagement and accountability (CEA)’ to include participation of the ‘customer’, the beneficiary. But is this enough? CEA introduces ways to listen more and to act on the feedback of the communities involved in the operations. Without a doubt CEA is an added value in programming, but for us, the Restoring Family Links unit of the Belgian Red Cross-Flanders, there is another first step to go when talking about customer centricity. You need to check first whether your organization and processes are focused on the beneficiary. And that is exactly what an ISO 9001 certificate stands for and why we went for it!

What is ISO 9001?

ISO 9001 ( sets out the criteria for a quality management system that is focused on giving the beneficiary the service he/she wants, in line with the strategy of the organisation. Many humanitarian organizations are focused on the beneficiary, but the formalized process-based approach to achieve this can often be improved. Obtaining an ISO certificate is not an objective but a means by which you force your organization to work more formalized and process-oriented and by this you can work on a more stable and institutionalised way towards customer centricity.

It relies on seven quality management principles (QMP)

  • Customer focus
  • Leadership
  • Engagement of people
  • Process approach
  • Improvement
  • Evidence-based decision making
  • Relationship management

In the past, nobody thought about the humanitarian sector when discussing these kind of quality certifications, it was more linked to dry bureaucracy in the product-sector. Gradually the focus shifted from the end-product to the process of quality management itself, making it more fit also to the service sector such as that of the Belgian Red Cross-Flanders, Restoring Family Links unit. The quality system the ISO norm provides has a costumer centred approach with attention for leadership, learning and improvement.

How to link the ISO principles with Restoring Family Links (RFL)

Customer focus

The core mission of the Red Cross and thus Belgian Red Cross-Flanders is helping the most vulnerable people. They deserve qualitative help, which makes us vigilant to their needs in an ever-changing world. Restoring Family Links is a mandate activity, one that is existing for a long period. You might thus assume that we know what the clients or stakeholders needs are. The ISO however makes sure that you take time to repeatedly reflect on these needs and the expectations of both customers and other stakeholders, taking into account their feedback on the activities. These reflections guide decisions and point out where improvements can be made. Not only is this helpful to reach the expectations of the clients, but also it improves efficiency which leaves time to help more people.


The ISO system let you reflect on your organizational structure and culture. The choice for quality within Restoring Family Links is therefore driven by organizational positioning. Belgian Red Cross-Flanders is a contemporary organization, anchoring all of her activities in modern management principles, which are described in five-year strategic plans, translated into quantifiable goals and projects. Restoring Family Links translate these goals in an own Roadmap with its own quantifiable goals and projects.

Engagement of people

An engaged team starts with the right person on the right spot. The cooperation with the human resources department is vital when forming a well-coordinated and motivated team. Further, the involvement of the entire team in writing and improving the procedures, different communication streams that allow and encourage engagements, building expertise, etc. are elements that will contribute to the corporate performance.

Process approach

One of the strategic goals of Restoring Family Links is to work with high quality processes and according to clear procedures. This is important to assure that the advice given by the RFL-team is consistent for every customer in the same situation and it assures results in an effective and efficient way. Every process within RFL is this written down in standard operating procedures with a clear listing of the risks that must be monitored.


The plan-do-check-act-cycle is the basis of the quality management system of RFL. The Processes and procedures as described above are subject to constant revision, based on the input and feedback of stakeholders, the follow up of normative changes, the monitored risks and input and ideas of the team and our volunteers.

Evidence-based decision making

Evidence-based decision making is an essential business principle of Belgian Red Cross-Flanders. This is adding value on planning and development by providing real data and results. Restoring Family Links identified strategic and operational key indicators to monitor the service. These indicators enable the RFL-unit to learn from the past and continual improve.

Relationship management

Restoring Family Links has expanded the identification of the relevant stakeholders both inside as outside the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. Their expectations, risks and opportunities are more analyzed and will be evaluated on an annual basis.

Conclusion – What makes this certificate worth the effort and interesting for Belgian Red Cross-Flanders, Restoring Family Links, and by extension for our Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement?

The ISO 9001 certification shows that the Belgian Red Cross-Flanders, Restoring Family Links Unit is working according to a clear quality management system. It’s not a system that is meant to create paper trails, as often is heard about these kind of certifications. It’s about being a trustworthy partner that constantly tries to optimize its service according to the needs of the vulnerable persons we try to reach and a partner that works in accordance with our statutory and legal obligations. The yearly audit challenges us in this endeavour.

Bringing these kind of systems to the humanitarian world, is keeping up with the change. It’s about being that partner that stands firm against storms, able to continuously improve and adapt towards the changing world around him. Making sure that impact is there, where we want it to be in a maximised way in relation to the available resources. The end goal is reaching out to as much clients as possible and helping them in a qualitative way.


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