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Published: November 28, 2018

Developing Strategic Leadership for Humanitarian Security

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Lisa Reilly is the Executive Director at GISF.


Greatly enhanced my negotiation skills, improved my knowledge of financial management and gave me a lot to implement in terms of strategy and leadership.” Participant at the 1stIE Business School, Strategic Leadership for Humanitarian Security Program, Madrid, June 2018.

Over the years it has become apparent that opportunities for professional development for senior security staff in the humanitarian sector are limited. There are a number of open courses for those starting in or transitioning to a humanitarian security role, but not much more once you have progressed to a regional or global position.

Contexts in which humanitarian operations are being implemented have changed and the role of security risk management in ensuring safe and sustainable access is key; but often senior security professionals do not have the strategic and leadership skills needed to take an active part in the senior management team. Particular areas identified as lacking are finance and budgeting, strategic planning and influencing skills.

In 2018 GISF joined together with the IE Business School in Madrid to try and fill at least some of these gaps and in June IE ran the first Strategic Leadership for Humanitarian Security: Business Management Skills for Humanitarian NGO Security professionals. This course ran for 5 days and covered Leadership, Strategy, Finance & Funding and Negotiation skills as well as a one day industry based discussion. What the course did not cover was technical security, the assumption being that, for those attending, these skills were already in place.

The agenda, which addressed critical strategic organisational and leadership areas and issues was directly relevant to the role I have in CARE and the engagement / interactions that I have with CARE’s leadership teams.” Chris Williams, Director, Care Security Unit, Care USA.

Following the success of the pilot GISF is working together with the IE Business School to run a 2ndcourse in Madrid on the 10-14thJune, 2019. We will build on the learnings from the pilot this year, and, as organisers, we are really excited about making this a regular event to support the many security professionals in the humanitarian sector who need to have a stronger voice within the management teams of the organisations they work for. The IE Business School has a strong social enterprise ethos and has worked with GISF so this program can be offered at a fee affordable to NGOs, assuming a minimum attendance level is reached.

IE’s approach is to use specific experts for each topic area rather than generalist professors, and each day brings in a new approach. So, despite the long days, participants remained engaged and actively involved throughout the week, even, perhaps surprisingly “Finance explained in an entertaining way. Thank you!”*


Understanding the strategy of an organisation and how security risk management fits into that strategy is fundamental if security staff are going to influence senior management for effective change. In Madrid the strategy session was led by Milo Jones who discussed good and bad management strategies and how to pull together the management and security perspectives. “Excellent session that de-mystified the business industry and aligned it with our industry needs.”

Dr. Milo Jones is a Visiting Professor at IE, teaching advanced non-market strategy courses and a variety of Geopolitics related courses. “Sincerely enjoyed Professor Jones´ presentation. Knowledgeable and a fantastic presenter”. Before entering the business world, Milo served as an officer in the US Marine Corps and could therefore engage easily with the participants.


The day on Leadership was facilitated by Balvinder Power, a previous NGO Country Manager in East Timor who has extensive experience leading business, social, cultural, media and technology projects in Spain and internationally. He is currently a board member and director at BOOSTER Space Industries and AERDRON, an innovative international Sub-Orbital Space/Aerospace project and UAV/Drone Consultancy. “Fun, professional subject matter expert. What a day with Prof. Powar.”

Although senior security staff in NGOs may have a small team of direct reports, most of the time they have no direct management capability to effect change, they must be able to motivate and influence without line-management authority. Knowing how to do this requires leadership rather than management skills. Professor Power used interactive methodologies and role plays to take participants out of their comfort zone and thinking about new ways to lead. “Excellent day; provided some new insights on teams”, “This session really hit the mark

Funding and Finance

The day on Funding and Finance was considered by many as the most challenging session, but, however much participants may have dreaded the subject, they all agreed that the skill area is fundamental. “Not an easy subject, but taught difficult concepts well.” As budgets become tighter within the humanitarian sector all departments will have to fight harder for the funding they need, including security risk management. Overhead allowances and indirect costs are getting harder to obtain, security professionals need to be able to identify and justify direct costs, which is easier if you can speak the same language as those with financial oversight.

Professor Marco Trombetta led this day. As well as being Professor of Accounting and Finance at IE, Marco works with NGOs and social enterprises. He is one of the founders and Treasurer of “Financieros sin Fronteras”, an IE-based non-profit that helps financial NGOs in Africa. “Another brilliant presenter and a wealth of knowledge.”

Negotiation Skills

The 4th professor, who led the Negotiation Skills day, was Paula Amnasa, an Associate Professor of Negotiations and Conflict Resolution Abilities at IE. “Easily conveyed her ideas and knowledge in a simple way.” As with all the professors, Paula was chosen because of her expertise on the topic and her knowledge and understanding of the third sector. In 2005 she co-founded a social sustainable venture capital fund advising Spanish savings banks in their social investments and was the Director of Iberemprende Foundation, leading a program to promote entrepreneurship in Colombia. She also regularly volunteers in Madrid, and abroad in Kenya, Malawi, Bolivia and India.

In security we often think about negotiation skills in terms of obtaining access for programmes or in case of crisis response, but how often do we remember that the same principles should be applied internally as well? “I liked the exercises since they confronted us with scenarios I don´t deal with on a daily basis.” “Very interesting day, lot of helpful tips and information.”

Strategic Leadership for Humanitarian Security: 2019

For the 2ndcourse in 2019 the same Professors will be covering these topics, based on the overwhelmingly positive comments received. However we will be tweaking the contents to reflect suggestions made, for example developing a humanitarian case study that can be used as an example to bring the different components together and ending with the Industry Discussion day to reflect on how best to put the theory into practice.

I am very glad I came to this programme and would like to send my RTAs to the course too. I think this is a fantastic initiative and I would like to see the course become great. For me, it was the first time in ten years that I took a whole week to spend on my own development. Reading the materials, listening to the professors, discussing (on and off topic) with my peers, very inspiring week. Muchas gracias!” Marieke van Weerden, Director of Safety and Security, Catholic Relief Services.

Professional recognition for Humanitarian Security staff is still in its’ early stages. INSSA has launched a competency based qualification for country level security risk management professionals which will be followed with similar programmes for regional and global level positions. The IE Business School, Strategic Leadership for Humanitarian Security Program is a strong starting point for senior humanitarian security staff wishing to reach their professional goals.

World Vision International sent a number of their senior security staff to the 1stcourse in June and helped us to gain the necessary momentum required to get this course going. Sean Denson, Senior Director Operations, Office of Corporate Security, had this to say:

It was a pleasure to partner with GISF on the development of this course and to see it catapult right to the top of the stack of leadership development offerings available to the sector. I just can’t overstate how high quality the instruction and facilities are at IE which, as a top business school, shouldn’t be a surprise, but what is most striking is how human centred their approach is where people eclipse the bottom line every time. The structure of the course progressively builds skills in strategic leadership, business acumen, agile thinking and creativity that are all critical to stay one step ahead in our complex operating environments. This course was the perfect match for our team of security leaders who are competing with other executives for influence and resources and must be able to make convincing cases for the security initiatives they see as crucial for the organisation’s success.”

In order to make the course as accessible as possible for NGO staff, IE are offering an early bird rate of € 1,900 per person, available until January 30th2019. For more information and to register please follow this link:


* All quotes are from participants at the 1stIE Business School, Strategic Leadership for Humanitarian Security Program, Madrid, June 2018.

Strategic Leadership for Humanitarian Security: Business Management Skills for Humanitarian NGO Security professionals. IE Business School, Madrid.

Next Course: June 10th– 14th, 2019.

Early Bird Rate € 1,900, available until January 30th2019. Full Price €2,100.

For more information visit the IE website

Or contact: Lisa Reilly at eisf-director@eisf.helpful.ws



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