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Published: October 13, 2021

Personal Networks are a Critical Asset in Humanitarian Security Risk Management

By: Jason O'Connor

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Particularly in times of crisis, a security manager’s network is critical. In this blog, GISF North America Deputy Director Jason O’Connor discusses the value of networks and why security managers need to invest even more into building personal relationships with their peers.

There is no better opportunity to demonstrate the value of your network than during a time of crisis. In 2021, we’ve again seen disasters and conflicts unfold that significantly impacted our ability to operate and, in some cases, resulted in our colleagues needing immediate assistance. Most recently in Afghanistan, thousands were scrambling to leave the country as the Taliban reclaimed power. For the most part, not one evacuation happened without the use of personal networks coming together. Like me, I’m sure that many of you received numerous texts and messages seeking connections, information, and assistance. LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook were flooded with requests.

However, when it got down to getting somebody’s name on a manifest, it was predominantly networking and person to person interaction that made this possible. It was overwhelming to see so many pull together and share their networks for the benefit of colleagues and strangers alike. Similar instances occurred in Myanmar earlier in 2021 as NGOs on the ground needed to adapt to the rapidly changing environment.  At GISF, we held multiple roundtables on Afghanistan, Myanmar, and many other crisis points, allowing security managers to share updated information, forecasts, and strategies that improved their ability to guide their organisation’s response and connect with others in the context.

Networking also helps establish the necessary trust and safe space to share case studies, lessons learned, and organisational experiences. We’ve been fortunate at GISF to have members step up at our Forums to share examples of challenging contexts and incidents that they’ve had to work through, which provide incredible insight into their experiences in a wide range of contexts and environments. Hearing these experiences can reinforce or challenge your strategies in existing or new environments. When an NGO is opening a new country office, a security manager with a strong network will be better equipped to access the necessary information to write an informed security risk assessment and advise their organisation on how best to navigate their new operating environment. The stronger your relationships, the more information you’ll be able to access. Simply put, people will generally not share their policies, plans, or assessments with people they don’t know and/or trust.

A security manager is as valuable as their network

When chaos unfolds, a security manager’s network will almost certainly become their greatest asset. I’ve always found that collegial relationships and friendships developed in challenging contexts have generally lasted the longest and been the most fruitful. Enduring the same experiences, especially in times of crisis, creates an almost instant camaraderie. However, networking opportunities also happen at interactive events such as forums, roundtables, workshops, and professional development events. I’ve learned to never underestimate a chance to make a new connection, and a relationship developed in-person is often more valuable than one made on LinkedIn.

GISF events offer security managers unique opportunities for meaningful engagement with their peers in numerous formats, including plenary discussions, breakout rooms, and one-to-one exchanges. Unlike many other professional gatherings, such events allow regular two-way communication to share ideas and experiences rather than a primarily one-directional event like a webinar. As the conference rooms and halls begin to fill up again, we are reminded of just how meaningful these interactions are and how much we’ve missed them throughout the pandemic.

What I appreciate most about my time so far at GISF is the opportunity to continue to develop my network through personal engagement with members, partners, affiliates, and friends of the forum. In most cases, this network growth has allowed me to offer support to numerous GISF members and colleagues by establishing connections in a time of crisis or when arriving at a new posting. In other instances, I have reached out to the GISF community for expert support and engagement as we pulled together roundtables, workshops, and forums. Whether I’m helping or receiving support, I’m always inspired by the collaborative spirit throughout the GISF community.

Even the most seasoned security professionals from the largest NGOs can’t do it alone. Investing time and energy into professional organisations like GISF raises the profile of the work we do as security professionals, helps to improve standards, and ensures these networks continue to grow and strengthen. GISF’s interactive events allow our members, big and small, to develop relationships that create better outcomes in programming and help make connections when landing in a new context full of unknowns. Dave Delaney, Canadian author and communication connoisseur, stated that ‘Everyone should build their network before they need it.’ Fortunately, a member driven organisation, like GISF, continues to help us achieve the goal of building and maintaining these essential networks.

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