An open letter to non-governmental and donor organisations from the European Interagency Security Forum

Published: July 17, 2019

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Given the massive impact that organisational culture can have on the day-to-day operations of a team, fostering a ‘security mindset’ across all functions of an organisation is an imperative for effective security risk management (SRM). However, when it comes to financing security risk management, few non-governmental and donor organisations have got it right.

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety and security is a basic human need. This means that safety and security are a basic requirement for effective staff, and should not be considered as an operational overhead. When current funding structures were designed by organisations and donors, far fewer aid agencies were operating in the high-risk environments that are nowadays the norm. Whilst improvements in security risk management reflect this recent trend, budgets for safety and security rarely do.

In continuing to treat security risk management as a general administrative cost rather than its own justifiable function with unique budget lines, both NGOs and donors risk falling short of their duty of care. This can leave them open to legal, reputational, and most importantly, ethical risks.

In order to keep staff safe, the unique needs of every programme, context and organisation must be considered. By allocating an arbitrary ‘x’ per cent of programme budgets for security risk management, organisations and donors fail to recognise both the overt and nuanced differences between them.

These differences can be as obvious as the difference in risk appetite between two organisations, or the varying security threats in the different programme locations of one organisation. If a programme in Colombia requires £100,000 less for security than a programme of the same size in Somalia, most current funding processes would not allow room for manoeuvre in even a conundrum as simple as this.

Furthermore, in the absence of explicit budget lines for staff safety and security, neither humanitarian nor donor organisations can understand the cost of operating in high-risk environments. Without this knowledge, organisations cannot ensure that they allocate sufficient resources to meet their duty of care obligations. This does not only apply to ‘hard security’ items like satellite phones but also to risk management strategies such as developing and maintaining acceptance for access.

Unlike most of the functions included in traditional financing, security risk management is not always easily-quantifiable. However, to be included in a budget for donor funding, its costs must be identified and justified. This justification is best achieved ‘through understanding the costs involved and the reasoning behind the expenditure, rather than looking at a portion of a generic administrative charge’, as elaborated in EISF Report The Cost of Security Risk Management.

During the UK International Development Committee’s recent oral evidence session for the violence against aid workers inquiry, for which EISF delivered evidence, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) expressed that they would be open to funding security risk management as its own justifiable function:

‘…we certainly do not get NGOs coming to us saying, “You are screwing us so far down on costs that we cannot do the security we need to do”, and certainly, were anyone to suggest that they were worried about that, we would be very sympathetic to ensuring that that was not the case and that they could properly finance the security that they needed from our programmes.’

– Matthew Wyatt, Deputy Director and Head of Conflict, Humanitarian and Security Department (CHASE), Department for International Development. You can watch the full session here.

The impact of ineffective security risk management can reach all aspects of an organisation. From the wellbeing of the beneficiaries that drive the organisation’s mission, to the reputation and liability of both the donor and the implementing agency, to the safety and effectiveness of staff at all levels; the impact of SRM should not be ignored nor placed at risk by ineffective funding structures.

EISF, therefore, calls upon the aid sector to reignite the conversation about security risk management funding so that staff safety and security is not side-lined in budgets. To aid workers at all levels, we ask you to question how the true cost of your safety is included in programme budgets. To security managers, we call on you to lobby your organisations to include safety and security as a direct budget line. To donors, we call on you to coordinate with non-governmental organisations to reform funding processes for security risk management.

For individuals wishing to support this campaign, follow this link to add your signature to our open letter. For organisations, please sign the open letter or get in touch here. To make sure our voices are heard across the aid sector, please share our message on social media using the hashtag #AtWhatCost and follow @eisf1 on Twitter.