A young Bangladeshi woman is talking to a Red Cross aid worker at a field hospital.

Become an aid worker abroad

Photo: Emilia Kangasluoma / Suomen Punainen Risti

Every year, the Finnish Red Cross sends more than 200 experts in various fields out to the world. They form part of the Red Cross chain of aid and work in cooperation with the local, regional and international aid community.

The expert assistance provided by the Finnish Red Cross is always based on humanitarian needs.

Aid workers bring strong expertise in their respective fields to international aid work and are committed to operating in accordance with the principles and guidelines of the Red Cross.

The Finnish Red Cross maintains an aid worker reserve that supports both its own and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement’s ability to respond to humanitarian needs. The aid worker reserve includes approximately 700 active members.

The aid workers’ field of work covers the whole world. When necessary, the members of the aid worker reserve support domestic preparedness and assist in large-scale emergencies in Finland.

International assignments

Aid workers are mainly selected for assignments from the Finnish Red Cross aid worker reserve.

The Finnish Red Cross looks for professionals for the reserve who are ready and available to undertake short-term assignments in humanitarian aid operations. The Finnish Red Cross sends expert assistance to international operations and maintains a network of professionals trained to work in Emergency Response Units.

Aid workers are also placed in long-term positions. Experts in various fields sent by the Finnish Red Cross support the sister Red Cross or Red Crescent National Societies in the planning and implementation of development co-operation.

Furthermore, the Finnish Red Cross strengthens the operational capacity of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement by funding strategically important positions of the committee and the federation.

Aid workers are also recruited from outside the aid worker reserve on a job-by-job basis. You can find the open positions on the Työpaikkana Punainen Risti (careers) website.

Applying for the Finnish Red Cross aid worker reserve

Applications are primarily accepted once a year. The applicants selected will be invited to take part in IMPACT training, which is an introduction to the international activities of the Red Cross. After completing the training, they will be admitted to the aid worker reserve.

Professionals living in Finland and those living abroad who have a strong connection to Finland can apply for the reserve. The applicants selected must have the education, skills and language skills required for the international tasks of the Red Cross.

Learn more about the work of international aid workers and their requirements, as well as the general minimum requirements for admission to the reserve.

General requirements

Minimum criteria for applicants for the aid worker reserve:

  • commitment to the values and principles of the Red Cross’s international aid work
  • university degree and at least three years of work experience after graduation applicable for the international aid work of the Red Cross or strong professional competence applicable for the international aid work of the Red Cross through several years of work experience
  • fluency in spoken and written English. Skills in other languages used in international aid work (French, Arabic, Russian, etc.) are considered to be assets
  • a category B driving licence and ability to drive (manual transmission)
  • good basic IT skills, fluent command of at least Microsoft Office 365 basic software in the Windows 10 environment
  • ability to cope with uncertainty, modest living conditions, hurry and pressure and adapt to changing circumstances
  • ability to understand different cultures and ways of doing things.

Relevant international experience, facilitation and training skills and experience in non-profit organisations, particularly knowledge of the Red Cross, are considered to be assets.

Aid workers’ professional competence areas

Health care professionals work in the Emergency Response Units of the Finnish Red Cross, which the FRC deploys to support international operations. Health care professionals also work for long-term development co-operation projects. 

Red Cross health stations sent to disaster areas need staff with versatile experience in primary and acute health care in a hospital setting, first aid and treating patients of different ages. Staff are also required to have expertise in health education and its organisation. 

Red Cross field hospitals need staff with strong and versatile experience in special health care in their field (e.g. surgery, deliveries, childhood diseases) who are able to work in tasks outside their own area of expertise in different wards. In the field hospital, work is focused on applying clinical skills, work organisation and training local colleagues. 

The International Committee of the Red Cross deploys aid workers to conflict areas. Teams working in conflict areas, such as surgical teams, require skilled experts that are able to apply their skill sets to changing circumstances.  

Comprehensive clinical skills are essential in patient work, because work is often carried out in changing roles and circumstances lacking in the tools and staff that are characteristic of Finnish health care. Health care professionals work with different patient groups in tasks that might be new to them. 

All health care professionals must have comprehensive work experience, fluent language skills, excellent teamwork skills and the ability to make decisions independently. Health care professionals also need to be ready to work in a multicultural work environment, with the help of an interpreter, if necessary. Important qualities also include training, leadership, coordination and coachking skills, as well as a participatory approach to work. 

Promoting gender equality, diversity and non-discrimination, taking persons with disability into account and involving them, as well as comprehensively understanding vulnerabilities and taking them into account, are key themes in all operations. Knowledge of these themes is beneficial to all professionals. 

Red Cross health stations and/or field hospitals need 

  • physicians (especially surgeons, gynaecologists/obstetricians, as well as anaesthetists, infectious-disease specialists, emergency physicians and paediatricians) 
  • nurses (especially operation theatre and anaesthetic nurses, as well as paediatric nurses) 
  • midwives 
  • physiotherapists 
  • medical laboratory technologists
  • radiographers 
  • pharmacists / medical logisticians  
  • psychosocial support professionals.

We are looking for disaster preparedness and response workers with language skills for comprehensive expert tasks. Disaster Management (DM) experts are needed in operative tasks of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and as support workers in operation coordination.

Disaster management experts are also needed to support Red Cross preparedness programmes (so-called Disaster Preparedness / Disaster Risk Reduction, DP/DRR programmes) as part of Finnish Red Cross development co-operation. See section ‘Development co-operation experts wanted’

Aid workers working for preparedness programmes benefit from mastering at least one technical area, which may be connected to climate change, meteorology, risk mitigation, livelihoods, food security, cash distribution or water and sanitation.

The Finnish Red Cross is also looking for professionals in refugee camp, emergency accommodation and reception activities with experience in organising and managing refugee camp operations and/or reception activities.

Cooperation skills and the ability to work as part of networks are key. We do not require aid workers to have experience of official duties, but experience from the field is seen as an asset.

Financial administration experts support short-term Red Cross disaster relief operations, long-term development co-operation projects and the development of the financial management and economic sustainability of Finnish Red Cross partner societies.

Financial administration professionals need to have strong competence in bookkeeping and cost accounting. Experience with budgeting is considered to be an asset. Good training skills, patience, firmness and insightful common sense are also required. Versatile language skills are also useful (especially French and Arabic).

Suitable professional backgrounds include for example working in auditing, accounting and/or business controller tasks.. Financial administration professionals must have a university degree (e.g. Master of Science in Economics and Business Administration or Bachelor of Business Administration).

The operating environments and situations are challenging in terms of financial administration. Aid workers must be able to manage the entire range of operations from individual receipts to investor reports. 

Logistics professionals work in the Logistics Emergency Response Unit.

The Finnish Red Cross also deploys logistics experts to international operations. Learn more about the tasks here.

Typical tasks for logisticians in disaster relief include setting up warehouses, arranging transport and procurement, as well as managing import bureaucracy and various service agreement negotiations. That is why we need logisticians with wide professional competence who are familiar with procurement.

Logisticians should master several branches of logistics, such as inventory management, transport management, import/export or supply chain management. They should have a Bachelor’s degree.

The Finnish Red Cross deploys Information Management experts to international operations (learn more about the tasks here) and long-term expert tasks. Furthermore, the Finnish Red Cross strengthens the operational capacity of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement by funding strategically important positions of the committee and the federation.

Information Management (IM) professionals are needed for for data and information collection, analyses, processing, storage, visualisation and reporting to support e.g. decision-making and coordination of operations.

Typical tasks include planning and supporting the implementation of beneficiary surveys or collecting data from various sources and refining it into infographics, narrative reports or maps.

IM experts need to have good co-operation and communications skills, a strong ability to analyse qualitative and quantitative data, strong IT skills, especially in spreadsheet computation software and geographic information software, as well as sufficient visual skills to produce infographics and other visualisations.

We are looking for multitalented people with excellent technical skills and the ability to maintain and repair various devices, pitch tents, build furniture and fences from locally sourced materials, build electrical networks in the field using readymade cables and power rooms, as well as participate in the construction of water tanks and networks to support Red Cross Emergency Response Units, especially health care units.

Specialised professional competence is especially needed in water treatment and distribution and electric installation. Other technical skills may be acquired through hobbies in addition to studies and working life.

Technical staff need excellent teamwork skills and flexibility, independent initiative and the ability to apply their skills and the material at hand in challenging situations. Knowledge of hospital technology is considered an asset.

We are looking for IT professionals to support Red Cross Emergency Response Units. IT experts work in Information Technology and Telecommunications Emergency Response Units and support Health Emergency Response Units. Our main need concerns radio amateurs with an understanding of how HF and VHF radio waves travel, the ability to install and repair mobile units and base stations and plan radio networks. 

The Red Cross organises complementary training on the use of satellite phones and other Red Cross devices, but IT aid workers are required to already have good knowledge of the Windows operating system and PC computer troubleshooting and repairs.  

They should also be able to build and configure computer networks. They must be skilled in communication control protocols and, preferably, also databases. 

Knowledge of technology, in general, is considered an asset, because there is a limited number of missions available for IT aid workers. 

The Finnish Red Cross Field Communication Unit (FCU) produces written and audiovisual content primarily for the use of the Red Cross and media in Finland and abroad. The unit is unique within the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. 

We are looking for multitalented communications professionals with strong co-operation and negotiation skills. A flexible attitude is crucial, as work is often carried out in challenging and rapidly changing circumstances. 

An audiovisual expert must master both photography and video production (e.g. filming, editing, sound production and post-editing of images). Most tasks at the FCU include video production. We value the ability to experiment with and innovate new concepts (360, VR, mobile videos, etc.) and produce high-quality material even on a tight schedule. 

Communications professionals must produce journalistic content at least in Finnish and English, plan and target communications as well as utilise social media. Experience of working in a newsroom and publishing across multiple channels are considered assets. We value the ability to plan and execute communications training as well as photography and manuscript writing skills. 

We are looking for experts in public health work and disaster preparedness for long-term development co-operation work. They should have experience in community-level development co-operation projects and be familiar with global development issues at large. Development co-operation professionals are also sought through open recruitment. 

We stress competence in development co-operation project administration, which includes the drafting of funding applications and project plans, preparing budgets, monitoring and reporting, as well as assessments. Quality assurance of the programmes is a key component of the work. 

Development co-operation professionals always support the local Red Cross or Red Crescent, meaning that we value knowledge of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.  

Gender equality, diversity, disability inclusion, a comprehensive understanding of vulnerabilities and mitigating the impact of climate change are key themes in all our projects. Development co-operation professionals benefit from knowledge of these themes. 

Useful qualities also include education and training skills, as well as a participatory approach to work. Familiarity with the main donors (e.g. Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, EU) is a great asset. 

We are looking for university-educated people with versatile language skills who are suitable candidates for International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) tasks. Working for the Committee requires committing to employment in a conflict area for at least one year. The tasks vary and may contain visits to prisoners of war and political prisoners, family reunification assignments, organising the delivery of emergency aid or serving as a humanitarian law expert. Learn more about the tasks and requirements here

The Finnish Red Cross also deploys health care and logistics professionals in its reserve to work in ICRC operations in conflict areas. 

The Red Cross is committed to putting communities at the centre of our aid operations. Community Engagement and Accountability (CEA) is both our commitment and our process for working with communities based on their needs and feedback, supporting communities in highlighting issues that are important to them, providing information as a form of aid and supporting communications aiming for behavioural change.

An expert in community engagement and accountability promotes the involvement of various members and groups of communities in aid operations, both during disaster situations and when preparing for them.

Assets in CEA work include expertise and experience in social change, behavioural sciences, community communications, the collection and processing of qualitative information, and feedback systems. Expertise in gender equality and disability inclusion are considered assets.

We are looking for experts with strong expertise in promoting gender equality and inclusion of disabled people (PGI, Protection, Gender, Inclusion) in development co-operation and/or humanitarian aid operations.

We particularly value expertise in gender issues and the inclusion of people with disabilities as well as experience in activities to prevent sexual and gender-based violence and support the victims of such violence.

PGI experts are involved in the preparation of community and needs assessments and analyses, among other things. They ensure that funding applications, programmes and operations comply with both the policies and guidelines of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the requirements of donors.

PGI experts support and monitor the implementation of programmes and operations and participate in their reporting and evaluation. Key tasks include the training of staff and volunteers and cooperation with other actors.

A PGI professional benefits from a comprehensive understanding and consideration of vulnerabilities, as well as knowledge of other cross-cutting themes (e.g. climate change, community engagement) and sectors (health, disaster preparedness / resilience).

PGI professionals always support the local Red Cross or Red Crescent, meaning that we value knowledge of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The experts can act both in support of the Finnish Red Cross’s long-term programmes and in the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement’s emergency response operations.

Useful qualities also include communication and presentation skills, as well as a participatory approach to work. Familiarity with the most important sponsors (e.g. Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, EU/ECHO) is a great asset. Expertise in engaging communities and responsibility are considered assets.

The field kitchen supports the operation of the Red Cross field hospital. Field kitchen chefs/cooks must be able to prepare good and nutrient-rich meals from locally available ingredients for the staff of the field hospital. They must also ensure that the kitchen is hygienic and the staff at the field hospital remain healthy. When necessary, the person in charge of the kitchen will also provide guidance in arranging food for the patients in the field hospital. 

Kitchen devices, equipment and plenty of canned food and dried products will be sent from Finland with the field hospital. The person in charge of the kitchen must familiarise themselves with the local selection in foodstuffs and order the ingredients for the kitchen.  

The person in charge of the field kitchen is aided by a sufficient number of local staff, meaning that the person in charge must be able to instruct the staff and work as part of the field hospital team. 
 

Answers to questions frequently asked by the applicants

Finnish Red Cross aid workers working in international aid are not volunteers, but paid employees working in demanding missions. 

The Finnish Red Cross contributes to disaster relief work abroad by posting professionals from different fields in aid work to support the local Red Cross or Red Crescent. Each year, our professional aid workers also serve in long-term development co-operation projects in support of our partner associations.

On the local level, the global humanitarian aid work organised by the Red Cross and the Red Crescent is based on volunteering. The Red Cross has national societies in 192 countries, with millions of members and volunteers. You can also volunteer for the Red Cross in Finland.

In addition to strong professional competence, we value knowledge of the Finnish Red Cross and volunteering experience in our aid worker selections. That is why we recommend volunteering for the Finnish Red Cross for anyone interested in IMPACT training.

The duration of missions in Red Cross international aid work varies according to need. Most typical missions are disaster relief work missions of roughly 1–3 months or development co-operation missions of 1–2 years. Communications professionals may also be posted to shorter assignments of 1–2 weeks.

Aid workers must remain in the best possible health and shape during their international missions, in order for us to help those in need the best.

The circumstances on missions may be very taxing in terms of work load, rest and food, for example. Disasters also increase the risk of infectious diseases. That is why each international aid worker must consider their own health and well-being carefully.

Work is often carried out in areas and countries with diseases spread through mosquitoes and diseases that can be prevented through vaccination. Aid workers must be ready to be vaccinated as part of their preparations for their international mission and, if necessary, take preventive medication for malaria during their mission. Vaccinations are an important part of occupational and patient safety for health care workers (including the time after they return home).

War and conflict areas typically have specific health-related requirements, because work is often carried out in places which are far away from suitable health care services and only reachable through difficult passages. Not all Finnish Red Cross aid workers end up working in war or conflict areas, however.

Aid workers must undergo a medical examination before each mission, in which the doctor assesses the person’s fitness for the work specifically in terms of their upcoming mission.

The Finnish Red Cross does not offer internships abroad. The available internships of the Finnish Red Cross in Finland are posted on our website.

Young adults aged 18–28 interested in Red Cross operations abroad may apply for the Finnish Red Cross youth delegate course and advance to youth delegate missions abroad.

The minimum requirements for the Red Cross aid worker IMPACT basic course are 1) a university degree and at least three years of applicable work experience after graduation or 2) strong professional competence gained through several years of work experience. It is advisable to only apply for the aid worker reserve when the minimum requirements for the training are met.

Qualifications and licenses of health care professionals, such as doctors and nurses, will be verified.

The Finnish Red Cross posts only professionals with extensive work experience in their chosen field to aid work abroad. When applying for the aid worker reserve, you must have at least three years of work experience after graduation.

If you are interested in international Red Cross operations, but you lack the necessary work experience, we recommend that you focus on developing other skills (e.g. language skills, knowledge of the Red Cross, volunteering experience, relevant international experience, training and facilitating experience, negotiation skills) crucial for aid workers.

If you are 18–28 years old, speak fluent English and have experience with volunteering, you may apply to the Finnish Red Cross youth delegate course and advance on to youth delegate missions.

Due to security reasons, having a driving licence and being able to drive are minimum requirements for the Red Cross aid worker course. You should not apply for the aid worker reserve before you meet the minimum requirements.

Basic IT skills are important in most international aid work assignments. That is why the minimum requirement is mastering Microsoft Office 365 basic software in the Windows 10 environment.

The IMPACT basic course for Red Cross aid workers prepares participants for assignments in international aid work for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. During IMPACT, participants learn more about the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. They also familiarise themselves with the Movement’s disaster preparedness work and disaster relief.

The course is multi-professional and contains important basic skills for experts in all fields from the point of view of international aid work for the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

After completing the IMPACT course, participants become part of the Finnish Red Cross aid worker reserve. The IMPACT course does not guarantee being posted on a mission, but it opens many doors to international aid work missions and further aid worker training.

The need for international aid and the requests put to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement determine when the Finnish Red Cross posts aid workers abroad. Aid worker vacancies are filled based on the skills required for the mission and the person’s suitability for the task, and they are also affected by aid worker availability.

IMPACT is the basic training course for Finnish Red Cross aid workers, after which participants become part of the Finnish Red Cross aid worker reserve.

Aid workers are selected for international missions from the Finnish Red Cross aid worker reserve, which is one of the most comprehensive in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and consists of professionals in many fields.

In addition to IMPACT training, the Red Cross offers many other training options for members of its aid worker reserve. In addition to IMPACT, disaster relief missions primarily require two other basic or specialised courses with a duration of a total of 5–10 days depending on the field.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is invested in developing the competence of its aid workers, which means that aid workers may progress and develop into a humanitarian aid project leader through various learning opportunities in the course of their career.

Families may not accompany aid workers on disaster relief missions due to the nature of the conflicts.

Some long-term aid worker missions will allow families to accompany aid workers. The family’s ability to accompany the aid worker is determined based on the safety of the area and duration of the mission.

When disaster strikes, the call to a mission may come unexpectedly and the aid worker may have to leave at a day’s notice. More time will be reserved for preparing for long-term missions.

The Red Cross encourages employers to enable their employees to participate in international aid missions, because we think that serving on an international aid mission supports an employee’s professional development and thus works to improve the disaster readiness and preparedness of the different sectors of Finnish society.

Each aid worker must discuss potential missions with their employer in the time and manner they deem appropriate.

Please make sure that you meet the minimum requirements. If you do not meet all of the requirements yet, develop your professional and other competence and apply only when you meet all of the minimum requirements.

Determine which international aid work task you might be suited for in terms of your professional competence and describe it in your application.

Present your professional and other competence on the application, explain your motivation to apply for an aid worker post with the Red Cross and your availability for international aid missions.

Enter your educational background, work experience and volunteering experience into your REST applicant profile. Describe the competence you have gained through or been able to utilise in your work and volunteer assignments. Your technical professional competence and manual skills should be clearly indicated. When applying for communications tasks, it is important that you attach some work samples to your application.

We receive many applications and unfortunately cannot admit all promising applicants. If you want to re-apply, first make sure that you meet the minimum requirements for aid workers. Also read about the professional competence areas of Red Cross aid workers.

Also consider whether you have described your own competence and motivation well enough on your application and improve your application before re-applying, if necessary.

International aid work that requires professional skills is paid work at the Finnish Red Cross. The amount of an aid worker’s salary is based on the job description, competence and previous experience of the aid worker. Aid workers are also paid a per diem during the time they spend abroad.

Before starting a mission, all aid workers must undergo a medical examination paid for by the Finnish Red Cross. Aid workers are responsible for their own basic vaccinations, but the Finnish Red Cross will reimburse any other vaccinations required for the aid destination.

The Finnish Red Cross will arrange and pay for travel to the aid work destination and back home. The FRC will also cover accommodation costs for aid work. Aid workers are insured against accidents and illness.