Three years ago I joined CARE Canada as their safety and security lead. A few months into the job, I was asked if we should send one of our rapid response team members to Yemen – a country in the midst of an extremely violent conflict – to support our work there.
I knew what my answer would be if I had been asked to deploy to Yemen. I also knew that my personal “Yes” or “No” to that question was irrelevant to the question at hand.
While we had some processes at that point to assist in making decisions about undertaking risk on behalf of staff, they were undefined and changed each time. In my experience at previous jobs, I knew that in the absence of a systematic approach, organizations often found themselves making ad hoc decisions based on who in the room had the most seniority, the loudest voice, or largest budget. I anticipated that I would find myself caught between two important perspectives: our need to look after our employees, and our need to provide assistance for our project participants. Frequently presented as counter arguments, those espousing one side or the other often fail to see them as complementary, for if we cannot do our work safely, we cannot do our work.
I decided to use my newness to the organization, along with this new deployment request, to define the organization’s risk appetite. I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to do this as I hadn’t found anyone in the humanitarian sector in the past who had done this. I remembered attending a webex a few years earlier where the presenter, in passing, made a comment that all organizations should have a defined risk appetite. When I asked how an organization might go about developing one, he was stumped and admitted that he had no idea. I knew I was on my own with this one, or as I preferred to think of it, I was on the cutting edge of something unique!
The process took us a good four months, and was led jointly between myself and our senior humanitarian manager. It involved a great deal of consultation with stakeholders, which meant that it wasn’t a fast process, but by the end of it, it’s a risk appetite fully understood and fully owned by the organization’s leadership. We developed tools to help us in the process, and the end result has been a risk appetite that allows us to prioritize our duty of care to staff with our humanitarian imperative to vulnerable communities. It has led to faster decision-making about safety and security risks, and increased confidence among our staff regarding our safety and security management systems.
Interested in hearing how we did this so you can do it in your organization? Come join us at the Humentum Conference where I will be sharing our process, tools and lessons learned so you can do this too!
PS: That staff member went to Yemen!
Melanie will be presenting the session How Hungry Are You? Defining & Institutionalizing Your Safety And Security Risk Appetite at the 2018 Humentum Annual Conference.