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Published: October 26, 2020

Collaborative Security Risk Management – A case for local development

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The role of safety and security in most international aid agencies has evolved as approaches to security and operational contexts have changed.  Security collaboration, networking, and maintaining key connections with other agencies and official bodies has always been a key, enabling facet of good security management practice and is cited as a cornerstone of best practice in professional guides and publications. In recent years, the nature and scale of security collaboration has evolved as the INGO security sector matured and key approaches to operational safety and security were developed and mainstreamed.  The capacity and professionalisation of the sector in recent years, as many organisations invested in full-time security personnel both at headquarters and in the field, has also positively influenced the development of security coordination approaches and open engagement. As INGO security risk management approaches have become stronger, there is no longer a reliance on formal or structured coordination, rather organic and trusted security relationships have grown and become a frequent feature of collaboration.

Whilst many INGOs have developed their security capacity and invested in collaborative networks, local and national non-governmental organisations (LNGO’s) and partners have been unable to maintain pace or engage in the same formal networks, either at a strategic or operational level. The barriers to LNGOs developing adequate security measures or mainstreaming risk management practices are often multi-faceted; primary factors include:  lack of funding, contractual duty of care concerns from the INGO prime, exclusion of LNGO security focal points on the basis of their nationality, or lack of capacity and  technical know-how.  Any one or a combination of these issues inhibits grass roots connections and the local engagement of partners and national organisations in accessing and benefiting from collaborative networks.  Critically this disenfranchisement restricts their ability to access potentially lifesaving information or resources, leaving their staff and program delivery exposed to threats.

The majority of institutional donors agree that supporting security costs is a critical component of program sustainability and success. However, in many instances the budgeted safety and security provisions cover only the prime organisation and does not systematically flow down to implementing partners or LNGO’s. There is recognition and early research on this issue, but little in the way of a sector standard to move the security risk perspective and cover the cost of doing business downstream to LNGOs.  A recent change in Donor proposal directions may stimulate or accelerate change as broader questions around partner duty of care and their risk management practices are being asked for in grant proposals. This makes sense when you consider that a strong risk management approach will sustain programs. While this  is an encouraging first step, the sharing of financial  resources will take time to emerge as common ‘practice’ as many INGO’s still struggle to cover the full cost of operating in complex settings themselves, and security resources remain scarce, especially in competitive bidding processes, a lack of funding further restricts LNGO’s from establishing full time security positions who can actively engage in network coordination.  Where I have experienced success is when security, program and bids teams work collaboratively on the security or risk management element in a proposal.

In recent years we have seen growth in security training products and specialist training organisations supporting aid organisations and their staff operating in fragile, violent, conflict affected environments.  Often these training opportunities are offered across agencies, as part of collaborative networking.  A high number of these programs are focused on providing HEAT courses to international staff, at a price point that is usually high and excludes the participation of many national staff and implementing partners or LNGOs. Some organisations have been deliberate in designing training programs that are specifically inclusive of national staff and partners. This model has worked well for my own organisation as we have seen not only the direct transfer of knowledge, but a secondary effect of encouraging and enabling security culture within our implementing partners to grow and flourish.

As the aid landscape moves towards the goal of increased localisation, as per the commitments of  the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit and the ‘Grand Bargain’, urgent reform and thought needs to be given to ensure that LNGOs are assured access to established, mainstream security coordination and training networks where they can benefit from collaborative information sharing and support networks.   Such inclusion can only benefit our own networks, enabling new insights and perspectives to be presented and of course greater resilience for programming and aid delivery.


Written by Chris Williams