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Published: October 26, 2021

Meet GISF Member Simona Mortolini – a driving force for inclusive security risk management in the humanitarian sector

By: Tara Arthur

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You may know that GISF is comprised of over 130 member organisations. But how familiar are you with the individuals in the GISF network? In this blog, GISF’s North America Projects and Memberships Officer Tara Arthur introduces Simona Mortolini (Save the Children Italy) and highlights how her work has contributed to improved inclusive security risk management (SRM) practices in the sector. This blog is based on an interview with Simona Mortolini in July 2021. Since, she has become Save the Children Italy’s Logistics Head of Unit – Safety & Security Focal Point.

A focus on gender and diversity

One of GISF’s most notable characteristics is the diversity of experience within its membership. A telling example is Simona Mortolini, who, in her role at Save The Children International, leads a new area of work within the Global Safety and Security Department. In her role, she aims to enhance an inclusive safety and security management system while implementing reasonable measures to mitigate risks connected to staff’s personal characteristics by adopting a person-centred approach. She is Save The Children’s Global Gender and Diversity, Safety and Security Manager. This role and emphasis on inclusivity speaks to the sector’s growing awareness of the importance of these issues for ensuring aid worker safety and rising acknowledgement of security’s intersectional role in keeping staff safe.

When a staff member prepares to be deployed to a new context, it’s important to have the resources available for them to consider their unique risks in this context. Simona’s work helps individuals better understand how their profile might be interacting with their environment and ways to prepare. A crucial part of her work is centred around inclusive travel risk management, including revising pre-departure information and security briefings with a portfolio of over 120 countries. This work is essential as contexts change and staff and organisations need to make timely informed decisions with regards to operations and deployments. While any change in a context can create or exacerbate vulnerabilities, early preparations and pre-departure information can help minimise these. She also manages the production of awareness-raising materials for staff, such as videos with inclusive travel tips and material on unconscious biases’ impact on staff safety in different contexts. All these undertakings incorporate capacity building for safety and security personnel to promote a gender and diversity safe environment in all aspects of SRM and the organisation.

Simona’s path into security

Born and raised in Italy, Simona was the first in her family to go to university. Throughout her studies of cultural anthropology at La Sapienza University of Rome, her interest in the humanitarian and development sector grew. After university, her first roles included working as a schoolteacher with children with disabilities and collaborating with an association fighting organised crime.

Following her post-graduate studies, she formally began working in the humanitarian and development sector. She spent thirteen years in operations management between Sri Lanka, Argentina, Guatemala, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Somalia, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic Congo (DRC), and the Mediterranean area working on the response to the migration crisis. She has since resided in the UK, where she has continued to work with Save the Children over the last seven years.

Cultivating trust and understanding can be essential in mitigating situations or when a crisis unfolds. With Simona’s years of experience in the humanitarian and development sector she brings great perspective to her work in security.

Simona explains, ‘one of the most exciting aspects of my actual work is the exchange of experiences with safety and security personnel across the globe. The different perspectives connected to different cultural environments are the base of a constructive dialogue around challenging topics.’

Simona’s engagement with GISF

Through her career at Save The Children, Simona also became an active member of GISF. This enabled her to put her passion for knowledge exchange and collaboration into action through a community of peers with whom she can share ideas, best practices and constructive solutions to build a common path towards a more inclusive SRM.

A key moment in Simona’s efforts was when she became part of GISF’s Humanitarian Network and Partnerships Week (HNPW) task force. HNPW is an annual conference led by the leading-edge programme (LEP) and the largest humanitarian conference of its kind, bringing together more than 2000 experts working on crisis preparedness and response from over 350 organisations and countries.

This year, SRM was included as a priority topic in HNPW for the first time. Alongside other GISF members and partners from organisations like the UN, the ICRC and CBM, Simona co-led the session titled A person-centred approach to security risk management.

‘This was a ground-breaking experience, which put together the expertise of different organisations engaged in enhancing inclusive paths in the security industry, breaking silos between sectors and positioning GISF as a leading stakeholder within the humanitarian community.’

As Simona continues her crucial work with GISF and others on ensuring that SRM is inclusive of protecting all aid workers, we greatly appreciate the many contributions she has made to humanitarian SRM. As a member-led NGO, the dedication, experiences and efforts of members like Simona not only massively enrich the GISF network but strengthen SRM practices in the sector and beyond.


This blog is part of our developing profile series on GISF members. To participate, please reach out to Tara Arthur (gisf-americas@gisf.ngo) or Chiara Jancke (gisf-comms@gisf.ngo).


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