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Published: September 6, 2022

Inclusivity in Humanitarian Security: reflections from GISF’s New York roundtable

By: Dan Ford

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On 12 July, GISF led a roundtable in New York City that engaged participants in a look at the state of inclusivity in security risk management (SRM) and the aid sector. Participants included security professionals, DEI leaders and those interested in improving inclusivity and equity in the sector. The open discussions were facilitated by GISF’s Executive Director, Lisa Reilly, as well as colleagues from UNDSS, UNDP, BHA, and Humanitarian Outcomes.

The time was ripe for a safe and open look to identify the problems and key challenges facing an inclusive, person-centred approach to SRM. This conversation came on the heels of a global shift over the past few years in both human interaction as well as questions of workplace and societal conduct. Social movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo have shined a light on the extent to which many organisations and institutions across the globe have failed to address inequities, particularly towards groups that have been historically marginalised, meanwhile allowing unacceptable behaviour from some people sitting in positions of power. GISF’s article entitled Toward Inclusive Security: the impact of ‘race’, ethnicity and nationality on aid workers’ security, points to examples where the humanitarian sector has fallen short on racial equality. This in turn affects the sector’s ability to operate safely and to effectively provide assistance to crisis-affected communities. Engaging sector professionals in a collaborative discussion on inclusivity can help encourage meaningful change on these issues.

Creating Organisational Change for Inclusive SRM

Creating greater inclusivity in NGO security practices requires understanding how organisational change occurs. The session therefore began by outlining four models of organisational change. The first is planned change, which occurs when an organisation’s leadership moves everyone towards achieving a specific goal. Second is regulated change, in which an organisation outlines specific steps that must be followed in sequence in order to achieve larger objectives. Third is competitive change, in which one person’s ideas rise to the top, out-competing those who hold contrasting views. Finally, we have conflictual change, where change occurs following extensive debates and disagreements among staff. Through these debates, ideas are shaped, and goals discovered. This is the most prevalent of all the models and has a track record of success because it affords the organisation’s staff with the power to craft change through open discourse. When senior leadership include staff across their organisation in these discussions, it provides a more holistic change process, producing results that reflects the diversity of the whole staff, rather than the frequently limited range of diversity seen at global leadership levels.

The conversation then flowed into an understanding of the specific principles that ought to be considered when creating a change process within an organisation. This part of the discussion emphasised the importance of seeking input from staff members with diverse backgrounds and experiences to create inclusive change. Practically, this means setting smaller goals and allowing staff to set up small brainstorming groups where they can openly contribute their thoughts, and then transmitting these ideas to senior management. It is also important then to institutionalise the change so that it becomes an ingrained part of the organisation’s practices and culture over the long term.

The roundtable then considered how human behavioural economics helps us understand human behaviour with the intent of changing it. In contrast to more traditional views of human behaviour, behavioural economics underlines the fluidity of human actions and experience. People are not static, rather they change over time. People are also impacted by their environment, with their actions often being formed from the context in which they live and work.

Moving Forward- the next steps to make SRM more inclusive

This means that altering the environment and incentivising change can actually lead to long-term change in human behaviour. So, if one finds that human behaviour within their organisation foments exclusion, it is possible to improve this behaviour. The key is altering the working environment to encourage inclusion by promoting open discourse and encouraging professionally appropriate behaviour. Hierarchical power dynamics are one of the greatest problems for workplace culture and should thereby be eliminated if one hopes to see an improvement in staff behaviour and, thus, workplace culture. Hierarchical power dynamics lead to a sense that lower-ranked staff have less of a voice, which can limit inclusivity in decision-making, leading to SRM structures that are not truly representative of the diverse staff they claim to keep safe. Maintaining a learning mindset, in which all staff allow themselves to learn and grow will help more easily facilitate the behaviour change required to create an inclusive culture.

Concretely, organisations must self-evaluate their current state by having honest (and anonymous, if needed) conversations with staff. Then, measurements informed by an inclusive lens should be implemented to hold organisations accountable. And, finally, the changes should be implemented and institutionalised to ensure their longevity.


About the Author

Dan Ford joined GISF as Americas Research and Communications Assistant in 2022. Since receiving his undergraduate degree in 2018, Dan has spent time working in various fields relating to political and global affairs. He worked for a couple of years on political campaigns as an organiser and policy adviser in his native Northern Virginia. Afterwards, he spent time working as an assistant English teacher in a suburb of Paris, France. Since his return states-side, Dan has worked or interned for a number of organisations focused on international human rights, conflict prevention, and development, including Search for Common Ground, Democracy for the Arab World Now, and International Crisis Group.


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