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Published: August 11, 2021

Saving Lives Together: what it is and why it matters

By: Lisa Reilly

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Saving Lives Together (SLT) is an initiative that aims to improve collaboration on safety and security between the United Nations (UN), international NGOs (INGOs) and international organisations. However, there are still gaps and misconceptions around SLT. The recent publication of the SLT framework and associated guidelines in French and Spanish will broaden access and engagement through the sector. In this blog, GISF Executive Director Lisa Reilly explains what SLT actually is and the important role the framework plays in bringing together key stakeholders in the humanitarian sector on safety and security issues.

You can find the recent publication of the SLT framework and associated guidelines in French and Spanish here.

What is SLT?

‘The challenges facing the global aid sector are constantly evolving and the security challenges our staff, programming and organisations face are increasingly complex. Certainly, no single organisation can hope to manage every challenge in isolation. Collaborative networks that share information, best practices, resources and support are the foundation of maintaining a successful engagement in complex contexts. Saving Lives Together is one of these key collaborative networks that bring together the various agencies of the UN and the NGO sector to provide mutual support on safety and security.’ James Davis, ICVA representative on the SLT Oversight Committee (SLT OC).

At its core, Saving Lives Together is a framework for security collaboration based on good practice in the field. It recognises that because NGOs, the UN and international organisations work in the same space, each has an impact on the safety and security of the other. Any INGO that is an implementing or operating partner of the UN can apply to join SLT.

The process to formalise security coordination and collaboration between the UN and NGOs was first put in place in 2001 with the “menu of options”. This was re-branded as Saving Lives Together (SLT) in 2006 and was endorsed by the Interagency Standing Committee (IASC) for the UN and NGOs. Initially, SLT was implemented by UNDSS through a number of extra-budgetary positions, with oversight by a number of UN and NGO bodies and with annual reporting to the IASC. Over time, the formal responsibility for SLT has been handed over to UNDSS, but with continuing oversight from different IASC members.

Being an SLT partner

Being part of SLT does not mean that the UN will take any direct responsibility for your security. What it does do, is provide organisations with another source of information that can help your organisation make better decisions.

Being an NGO SLT partner doesn’t mean that you have automatic access to UN(DSS) resources. In many countries, the UN does provide access for NGOs to SSAFE training, communications support, security evacuation and medivac. This is at the discretion of the UN, and they may or may not ask you to cover costs. It is important to find out what the position is on a country by country basis. Collaboration mechanisms work best when there are opportunities to build trust and understanding between the parties – before an emergency situation arises.

It should also be remembered that other UN agencies such as the World Food Programme (WFP) or the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have their own security professionals that can be very useful resources for NGOs in the field.

What is SLT working on?

Today, oversight of SLT is provided by a committee made up of a number of UN and NGO bodies and co-chaired by Bill Millar of UNDSS and Chris Williams, GISF Member Representative. The SLT OC is supported by a smaller SLT Working Group (SLT WG) that meets on a monthly basis. Chris regularly updates SLT counterparts and ensures that critical issues affecting the sector are discussed.

‘The SLT WG has grown in the past 18 months and brings in a stronger INGO experience and voice to the group. We also have been joined by a representative from WFP, who adds a strong UN implementing Agency perspective. The UN DSS HQ SLT liaison will soon be changing as Joachim Schmitz, who has been active in this role for a number of years, leaves. While the UN has yet to announce a replacement, the SLT WG looks forward to greeting the new Liaison Officer and I will update as we have more detail – good luck to Joachim in his future endeavours and thanks from us all for his contributions to SLT over the years.

The WG shares concerns that as a sector moving towards localisation, local partners often cannot directly access SLT. There are many reasons for this, and while there is not a quick fix, the WG is looking at ways to open SLT and enable local information sharing. Other workflows include a review of the SLT feedback mechanism, where successes and concerns can be raised. At the moment SLT identifies a number of high risk countries as ‘enhanced level’, the WG is reviewing what this status actually means.’

Collaborating with SLT

In order to support improved understanding of and engagement with SLT, GISF hosts quarterly meetings with ICVA and InterAction to provide updates and invite suggestions and inputs for SLT. These meetings also showcase other UN and NGO collaboration efforts, such as WFP’s TESS Project. Details of these meetings are shared through the networks. If you would like to find out more, please get in touch.

‘Many NGOs collaborate in some form or other with the United Nations (UN); be it by receiving funding, implementing on behalf of or alongside UN agencies or by advocating issues with the different UN Missions. The UN has as many opinions as it has agencies and the NGO sector is widely diverse in focus and bandwidth too. This makes the SLT framework a challenging system yet also a rewarding one. We operate in the same space and often run the same risks. The only way we can fulfil our missions is by saving lives together. It’s not a catchy slogan, it’s the truth.’ Marieke van Weerden, InterAction member representative on the SLT OC.

If you want to know more about SLT, please visit the GISF website.
If you are already an SLT global counterpart, visit the OCHA website. If you would like to become an SLT Partner or have forgotten your password, contact OCHA directly.


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