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Published: June 2, 2021

Sharing Risk in Partnerships: what have we learnt?

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GISF researched local NGO's experiences in partnerships and developed a guide that promotes a more equitable approach to managing security risks. Based on this, we organised two webinars at the Humanitarian Network and Partnerships Week (HNPW) and launched a series of eight online workshops bringing together local and international NGOs. The journey has been both enriching and challenging. This blog identifies three valuable lessons we learnt while promoting risk-sharing in partnerships for those seeking to do the same.

Taking small but real steps.

Designing and implementing a more equitable approach to managing security risks in partnerships is a long-term process. It entails establishing structures in which both partners can openly talk about security risks, building a mutual understanding of the security risks involved and making joint decisions about managing them. In short, NGOs should share responsibility for security risks in their partnerships.

However, our research has shown that NGO partners are currently more often working in situations of risk transfer. This can be linked to various interlinked factors, including short-term partnership agreements, power imbalances, competition between NGOs for funding, lack of direct communication channels with donors, racism and many more.

Given the existing challenges, it is unlikely that we’ll overcome all of these issues in a single year and that NGOs will drop everything they are doing to work on risk-sharing. Looking for concrete and realistic actions to improve SRM in partnerships, we asked the participants of our HNPW webinars to share what they could do this month to start better-sharing risks with their partners. The answers we received included calling a partner, practising active listening, asking about risk attitudes and being more forthcoming with sharing information and analysis.

Such actions can make a real difference. They can be initiated by both partners and start with having open conversations. Our joint action guide provides tools to ensure that these discussions are honest and equitable and address all key elements affecting security in partnerships.

Changes start from the inside.

 It’s not about being romantic or nice but sharing risk is part of the proper work.” Philippe Besson, Head of the Multilateral Division at the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (FDFA – SDC), at HNPW.

It is always difficult for aid workers – both local and international – to prioritise their safety, as most would understandably rather focus on implementing programmes. However, to build more equitable partnerships, we must acknowledge that security is a priority. Sharing risks matters for many reasons, but I’ll highlight two arguments here:

  • Crisis-affected populations won’t get the support they need if NGO staff don’t have access to resources to manage the security risks they face. Insecurity is the main barrier to access, and addressing it means ensuring programmes are effective.
  • Failing to address security risks in partnerships means that an essential part of our duty of care is neglected. It also creates a double standard on whose lives matter – those of international organisations’ staff vs those of local/national NGO staff.

We need to start by changing our mindsets. The GISF guide highlights the impact of security risks on partnerships, explaining why a joint approach from L/NNGOs and INGOs is necessary. Only once we fully grasp the importance of sharing risks ourselves we can start convincing others.

We need to embrace a mindset which accommodates different understandings of security risks and security risk management (…). How do we balance our duty of care from an institutional perspective and different risk thresholds?” Caterina Becorpi, Adviser in the Movement Cooperation and Coordination Division of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), at HNPW.

Creating bridges and communicating.

“We’re not without ideas. We may not have the capacity to act on those ideas, but if you bring us to the table, we can share them with you, and we can learn from each other” Josephine Habba, National Coordinator and Founder of the Jireh Doo Foundation (JDF), at HNPW.

When we started this project, we realised our lack of direct connections with local NGOs and other departments beyond security. Unfortunately, we aren’t the only ones in this situation. There is often a disconnect between international and local spheres, as well as a disconnect between security and other functions, such as advocacy or partnerships. This partly explains the absence of conversations on the security risks faced by L/NNGOs between partners in local-international partnerships.

Nonetheless, a shared space where local and international aid organisations can meet and discuss these sensitive issues is crucial. GISF sought to create such a space by organising online workshops on Partnerships and SRM at the regional level. Through these discussions between local and international NGOs, we saw how simple, practical tools could help generate positive changes. Other initiatives like the dialogue series organised by the Alliance for Empowering Partnerships (A4EP) and the Grand Bargain country-level dialogues on localisation contribute to bringing local and international aid actors together.

Equitably sharing risks will require time and effort from both partners. When beginning this process, it is important to stay realistic. Through small and concrete actions such as having a conversation on security risks with our partner, strong and equitable partnerships will be built.




Partnerships and Security Risk Management: a joint action guide for local and international aid organisations

This guide aims to support L/NNGOs and INGOs in the aid sector to better manage and share responsibility for security risks in partnerships. It builds on findings from the GISF briefing paper, Security Management and Capacity Development: International agencies working with local partners, (2012) and GISF research paper, Partnerships and…

Partnerships and Security Risk Management: from the local partner’s perspective

This research paper complements GISF’s 2012 report Security Management and Capacity Development: International agencies working with local partners. This first analysis brought key insights into partnership dynamics, including strengths and weaknesses from the international NGO (INGO) perspective. The latest research builds on this work by dedicating similar attention to the…

Covid-19 and localisation: an opportunity for equitable risk-sharing

Covid-19 is an opportunity for change.  Flaws in the way risks are managed between local and international partners have been exposed by the current crisis. Building on lessons learned from the research I oversaw at GISF (which investigates local NGOs’ perspectives on risk transfer, partnerships and security risk management),+ here are…