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Published: October 18, 2022

Collaborating, Learning, and Breaking Down Silos: GISF’s Autumn Forum 2022

By: Isabel Moore

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20-22 September saw another successful GISF forum bring our members together. Focusing on a theme of collaboration, the three days explored vertical and horizontal coordination opportunities across the humanitarian security sector. Discussions ranged from partnerships to working with governmental bodies and provided a mix of panel-led sessions and peer-to-peer engagement in smaller groups. It was my first in-person forum, and I was pleased to meet several GISF members and see the importance of collaboration in our sector first-hand.

Conversations on collaboration

One conversation delved into the importance of civil-military coordination through the lens of contextual analysis and research. The session began with an exploration of the situation in Ethiopia and the impact of civil-military relationships on access in this context. The speaker discussed the importance of building communicative relationships and trust when working with military actors and detailed how their organisation achieves this through access working groups. Access working groups enable communications to encourage relationships between humanitarian groups and communities, resulting in better safety for aid workers.

The necessity for communication was reiterated later in the session, as another context analysis provided evidence of the importance of civil-military dialogue. This does not only mean collaboration at the operational level- but also conducting dialogue through the vertical levels of an organisation. Such dialogue is also crucial for aid worker safety. This means proactively analysing the best route for communication, as sometimes communication between organisations is more effective for achieving an objective. An example of this is the Humanitarian Notification System (HNS), an information-sharing platform where humanitarians can share geographical information with militaries. However, this level of communication does not come without its challenges. Members considered the pros and cons of the HNS system, noting that the system has several application difficulties while recognising its value as a complement to humanitarian negotiation and relationship-building. This session was one of my favourites, as the various considerations on how civil-military relationships are possible were epitomic of the overall theme of collaboration.

As the forum’s first day in Europe drew to a close and those of us in Brussels mused over the day of discussions, the conversations continued in the US. A context session, focusing on Mexico, studied the groups affecting aid worker safety. The session consisted of three speakers, each considering the conflict within Mexico organised by the criminal gangs that cover the expanse of the country. In order to analyse the situation, speakers presented the different territories of the criminal gangs that continue activities through Mexico, and the migration routes that run through Mexico.

Day two opened with a presentation on sharing resources with local partners. We were reminded of the importance of working with local and national NGOs and promoting risk sharing rather than risk transfer. Some of the necessary collaborative steps highlighted included sharing security knowledge with local partners by making regional security advisors available to talk with and asking partners to let your organisation know when an incident has occurred to facilitate joint learning. Understanding collaboration from this angle is necessary for aid worker safety, as national staff continue to be at the greatest risk when delivering aid.

Further perspectives on collaboration were introduced during two engaging panel-based sessions, one context analysis focusing on Afghanistan and one session on working with different government bodies on crisis response. Both sessions allowed our members to ask questions to staff outside of the NGO sector who work directly in current operational contexts and crisis responses and reiterated the critical role of collaboration amongst not only NGOs but also bodies such as law enforcement and the government.

What can GISF bring to your organisation?

The Autumn Forum was my third with GISF but my first time attending in person. Although in previous forums I saw the great conversations between humanitarian security experts take place virtually, it was only through attending the forum in person that I was able to fully grasp the necessity for a safe space for security experts to share their experiences, challenges they’ve faced, and things they’ve learned. It was, therefore, not only great to meet those who joined us in Brussels, but it was also wonderful to see how valuable the collaborative space provided by the forum is to our members. The flow of conversation and the ease and confidence with which we could ask each other questions was a highlight of the forum and a paramount opportunity in any collaborative group.

Attending the forum in Brussels was a reminder of the importance of organisations like GISF, which allow NGOs to collaborate and break down the silos that impede communication. This feeling was shared by many members, some of whom were returning for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, while others were attending for the first time ever. I left Brussels with a confidence in GISF’s role in providing organisations with a secure, inclusive space for communication and a network that facilitates collaboration and, ultimately, protects aid workers.

About the Author

Isabel Moore is Admin and Projects Assistant at GISF. Isabel joined GISF in September 2021 after graduating from the Goldsmiths University of London with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Anthropology and Media. During her final year at university, she worked as social media producer for ‘The Visionaries’. It was during her time in education that she developed her enthusiasm for the humanitarian sector and is now interested in applying and developing her knowledge in policy and communications. In her role, Isabel works alongside the research communications team.


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