Montana State University

Red Cross communication head and MSU alum finds inspiration in global volunteer network

December 13, 2010 -- Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service


Since Jason Smith started with the American Red Cross in Bozeman in 1998, the work has taken him from various locations in the U.S. to Malaysia to Switzerland, where he is now based. Smith said the lessons he learned as an undergraduate student at MSU translate remarkably well to the position. Photo courtesy of Jason Smith.   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
msunews@montana.edu
It took Montana State University graduate Jason Smith just 11 years to rise through the ranks of the world's largest humanitarian network and land the position of head of corporate communications for the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC).

Since Smith started with the American Red Cross in Bozeman in 1998, the work has taken him from various locations in the U.S. to Malaysia to Switzerland, where he is now based. It's a life and career path Smith, 40, never would have imagined for himself, but he said the lessons he learned as an undergraduate student at MSU translate remarkably well to the position.

Those lessons are: Individuals must take responsibility for asking tough questions, finding solutions and moving ideas forward, Smith said in a recent phone interview from Geneva. Solutions should look beyond history and tradition and challenge the status quo. And, it's important to bring your own voice and creativity to the debate.

Nowhere have those lessons been more evident than in Smith's work with the IFRC. One example came during a trip Smith took to Myanmar. After Cyclone Nargis hit the country in 2008, claiming more than 100,000 lives, Smith traveled with the IFRC to remote villages. He said he learned that people wanted help, but not in a way that he originally would have expected.

"The people I met with explained to me again and again that they didn't want another emergency shipment of food aid," Smith said. "They wanted seeds that would grow...boats so they could fish. They wanted buffalo (for) harvesting their crops. Then they wanted to manage on their own.

"The work is about enabling communities to be better prepared for the challenges they face and supporting them to reclaim control of their own lives more quickly," he said.

Smith is responsible for ensuring the IFRC -- composed of 186 Red Cross and Red Crescent national societies -- communicates well, particularly with internal audiences, about its mission and humanitarian impact, as well as ensuring that all societies are represented globally.

His day-to-day responsibilities include brand management, advocacy, capacity and strategy development, enabling member organizations to share best practices and supporting internal communication.

Born and raised in Southern California, Smith decided to attend MSU because of its University Honors Program and -- an avid skier -- for its proximity to alpine skiing.

After graduation, he taught English in Japan for two years before returning to Montana to work in the nonprofit sector. He is married to another MSU alum, Karen (Gipp) Smith, with whom he has a 2 ˝ year-old son, Emerson.

One of his former professors, Chris Pinet, recalls Smith was a bright, charismatic and positive student.

"He was always engaged intellectually, and he was a kid I knew would succeed because he had a lot of drive. He wasn't afraid to try different things," Pinet said.

Smith said he feels fortunate to have found fulfilling work.

"For me, being connected even in a remote way to the lives being saved through our global volunteer network provides constant inspiration," he said.

Jason Smith, jason.smith@ifrc.org