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Published: April 28, 2020

Gone Global: Welcome to the Global Interagency Security Forum

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Have you heard the news? EISF has gone global! On 15 April 2020, the launch of the Global Interagency Security Forum (GISF) was marked by a dynamic virtual event, complete with thought-provoking speakers and discussions. If you missed the interactive event or just want a reminder of some of the highlights, this blog will provide you with a quick overview.

To set the scene, the event began with an opportunity for attendees to get to know each other by mingling in virtual breakout rooms. In the spirit of GISF, the aim, as always, was to provide the chance to meet likeminded individuals and peers from across the GISF network. Shortly after, GISF’s Executive Director, Lisa Reilly, took us along for a celebratory ride of EISF’s journey to becoming GISF. This theme, which ran throughout the event, began with the première of an animated video that tells the origin story of GISF.

Part of the catalyst for EISF going global has been the growing desire to welcome more voices into the forum. It seemed fitting, therefore, to invite Former US Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins to deliver a keynote speech at our launch event – particularly given that her years of work on advancing peace and security compliments many of GISF’s values. The Ambassador’s keynote address spoke to the global challenges facing the humanitarian community, as well as the opportunities that we are collectively presented with.

“Products of all types can be improved by including different voices and perspectives, particularly of those most vulnerable.” – Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins

In a world heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, on top of existing threats like climate change, much of the speech emphasised the timeliness of the localisation agenda. The situation we are facing, both within and outside the aid sector, makes clear the vital importance of collaboration and inclusion. With a pandemic now affecting almost every corner of the world in different ways, the Ambassador highlighted the opportunity to discover innovative solutions for new challenges.

In order to share their own reflections on innovation, inclusivity, and reflecting the diversity of those we aim to support, participants were then placed into new breakout rooms for discussion.

“We can’t lose good people to likely preventable incidents.” – Steve Dennis

The protection of aid workers is the heartbeat of GISF’s work. As an aid worker for the past 12 years, Steve Dennis has faced a range of threats to his own security while delivering vital work. Most notably, Steve’s landmark legal case against his former employer, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), brings shape to the complex challenges faced by aid workers. His abduction in 2012 – which led to the NRC being found grossly negligent – demonstrates how imperative it is for aid organisations to fulfill their duty of care and protect staff by properly managing security risks. As Steve remarked, the reoccurring theme across the sector is the dire need to go but the necessity to go and work safely. In a sector that is largely self-regulated, Steve noted the importance of having ‘a forum where peer professionals can openly discuss issues. For me that’s what’s needed to raise the bar and stay operational’, he continued, ‘I see GISF as that forum.’

Perhaps one of the most strongly suited to discuss balancing the tension between keeping staff safe and delivering services in complex environments is Fredrik Pålsson. As the head of GISF’s steering committee, and the person in charge of the Danish Refugee Council’s global security, Fredrik has been at the foundation of the humanitarian security space for a number of years. He recalled a time when there was barely a single dedicated security professional per organization, let alone a centre of excellence for security risk management. With limited resources and opportunities to collaborate, he remarked, discovering good practices was an even more difficult task. When he was introduced to GISF, then EISF, in 2010, Fredrik was able to find his own network, similar to what he had experienced and appreciated in other parts of the humanitarian sector. Fredrik highlighted that the opportunity for peer support, and later, expert research materials, allowed him to create stronger security systems than ever before. This contributed to helping his organisation to build an infrastructure around security risk management which goes beyond simply crisis management.

Allowing aid workers to focus on the work they are brought in to do, without the distractions of threat-related stress, or by their organisation’s lack of commitment to security risk management, as Steve Dennis expressed, really captures why GISF going global is so pertinent in these times. As Ambassador Jenkins, Steve and Frederick each alluded to, GISF’s work is defined by the needs of the humanitarian community. One particular question that was raised during the event really brings this into focus: what innovations might we see in the security risk management security in the coming years? With every speaker making reference to the critical importance of ensuring that more voices are included in security risk management, the direction of GISF expansion’s is poised to bring new dimensions and opportunities for people at all levels of the humanitarian community to shape its future and innovations.

It would be remiss to not give proper attention to the grave impact that COVID-19 is having on the humanitarian space – its influence is clear even in this very event’s shift to an online format. Much in line with the innovations of the sector, GISF is ready to continue advancing good practice and helping members to learn and collaborate with one another to mitigate the diversity of risks being faced. With new research on risk in local-international partnerships due to be published in the coming months, the localisation agenda remains at centre stage for GISF. Current realities only add to evidence of the agenda’s growing importance.

We’d like to thank everybody who attended and contributed to the GISF virtual launch event. As we enter the next chapter of our journey, we look forward to forming new relationships and strengthening old ones. As our Executive Director, Lisa, put it, it’s this network of people that have allowed GISF to be what it is today.’

Please note that the recording of the event, along with written responses to unanswered questions from the Q&A session, will be made available later in the week. Please follow us on Twitter or check our website for updates.


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