For Kjersti, the Red Cross fundamental principles aligns strongly with her own personal values. “Neutrality, Humanity, Impartiality… these concepts have always been with me, also before I joined the organization” she points out. This affinity towards the Red Cross values, combined with her love for the outdoors, made the Search and Rescue service a natural choice. Little did she know where her local volunteering engagement would take her.
The head of the National Council for Search and Rescue services carries a heavy responsibility on her shoulders. Counting around 5000 active volunteers spread across the entire country and more than 2000 annual missions, this is not a post for the faint hearted. The search and rescue missions can be highly complex, and are extremely diverse, ranging from rescuing injured hikers in the Norwegian mountains to looking for suicidal persons or locating people with dementia who have gone astray. The missions cover both large-scale national disasters to small-scale local incidents.
– Kjersti Løvik, Norway
”This illustrates beautifully the power of being one family, one Red Cross”
Kjersti has encountered many operational challenges throughout her Red Cross career. And sometimes tragedy hits close to home. On July 22nd 2011, 77 young people were killed in a terror attack on a youth camp in Utøya, outside Oslo. One of these young people was an aspiring Red Cross volunteer from Kjersti’s local branch. “He was just about to turn 18 and was so eager to begin his service with us, having completed all the training” she remembers, “It was a terrible loss for all of us.” This tragedy put Kjersti’s local branch under immense pressure “We supported his family, whilst grieving ourselves, and whilst responding as usual to Search and Rescue missions. It was tough”. Thankfully, local branches from the surrounding area saw their colleagues under pressure and came to assist and relieve them of their regular duties. “This illustrates beautifully the power of being one family, one Red Cross” Kjersti points out.
Although she has been involved and supported several large-scale national disasters, Kjersti insists that scale is no good measure for determining what is or is not a disaster. “For that young man who goes into the wilderness to end his life, and for his family, that single situation is the biggest catastrophe in the world. We must never forget that perspective when we do our work. It is not about the big news stories or about the sensationalism. It is about that single human being, his or her loved ones, and their suffering” she emphasizes.
– Kjersti Løvik, Norway
”When I look at the women in my council, I know they are there not as 'women', but as strong leaders first and foremost”
Traditionally, Search and rescue work has been a male-dominated field within the Norwegian Red Cross, but today, Kjersti is pleased to note, there is an equal distribution of women and men within the service. When we talk about local, regional and national leadership, however, Kjersti agrees that this is still a heavily male-dominated domain. At the same time, Kjersti strongly believes she was not elected to her post simply because she is a woman, “that would not be the way forward. And when I look at the women in my council, I know they are there not as “women”, but as strong leaders first and foremost. The best leaders can only be identified when you can choose from hundred percent of the population, not just fifty”.
Reflecting on her Red Cross-journey as a local, regional and finally national leader, Kjersti points out the importance of receiving support and backing from those around you. This might be particularly important for female leaders, she says, as they tend to doubt themselves more than men. “At some point someone threatened to sign me up to a Search and Rescue leadership training against my will” she laughs, “and I would maybe not have gone, if it was not for those who pushed me to go forward and take on leadership roles. Sometimes you have to push a bit harder... and men, in particular, are responsible for promoting and supporting female leadership talents”.
The fact that Kjersti is heading the Search and Rescue Council undoubtedly makes a difference for many of the women around her. Kjersti recalls several women coming up to her, telling her that her appointment has been an inspiration for others to come forwards. One woman stated that “you have made it easier for me to put up my hand for local leadership roles”. At the same time, being “the first” can also be stressful. “I feel that if I fail in my current role, it will be not just a personal failure, but a failure on behalf of female leadership in the Search and Rescue field” Kjersti admits.
When asked how the Red Cross has affected her life, Kjersti laughs and points to the fact that she even ended up marrying a fellow volunteer from the Search and Rescue team. She also highlights all the knowledge and experience she has acquired in different roles “It has made me more confident and better equipped for unexpected events” she says. “The Red Cross has given me so many new experiences, friendships and insights that I would not forsake. I guess there was a good match between me and the Red Cross principles”. When asked whether she ever considers leaving the Red Cross Kjersti laughs and says, “I cannot picture that happening, I would have to change my personality”.
Globally, women hold just 24% of senior leadership positions. The U.S. lags behind the global average at 21%, compared to China where women hold 51% of senior leadership slots.