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Safeguarding for NGOs

23 August 2018

This year, our main focus has been on the importance of Critical Incident Management and Safeguarding. Together with the generous support of the Cigna Foundation, Cigna NGO Health Benefits has been hosting a series of workshops on Critical Incidents and Sexual Abuse for our NGO partners. The most recent workshop took place in Nairobi in June 2018. Val Flynn, the moderator for these workshops explains the rationale behind the initiative and the key takeaways so far.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I have over 30 years’ experience working on a wide range of duty of care, security and business continuity management for staff working overseas in mainly high-risk countries. I’m currently working for the European Commission’s Directorate General International Development and Cooperation (DEVCO) having previously worked for the Commission’s Directorate General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO).

In recent months, I’ve been working on Safeguarding issues with a group of like-minded International Donors, International Organisations and International NGOs. Together we have been taking a critical look at the actions needed to improve Safeguarding standards across the international Aid Sector.

What exactly is safeguarding?
Safeguarding in its broad sense means the duty of care measures organisations take to protect staff from unintended harm. For these workshops, we have been specifically focusing on efforts to prevent and respond to harm caused by SEA. All organisations have the responsibility to make sure their staff, operations, and programmes do no harm to children and vulnerable adults, or to expose them to abuse or exploitation.

Organisations need to ensure they have appropriate Safeguarding systems, processes and leadership in place to ensure a zero tolerance towards all types of misconduct. They also need to ensure safeguards are integrated throughout the employment cycle and that full accountability through rigorous reporting and complaints mechanisms are supported by senior management.

How did you become involved in the workshops?
For a number of years, I’ve been acquainted with the extensive health care support Cigna NGO Health Benefits provide for IOs and NGOs. I have a professional interest in the work they are doing to support the health, wellbeing and sense of security for expats and mobile workers. Having attended a number of related events, I gradually became involved by presenting and eventually moderating a number of workshops for Cigna.

What’s the aim of the workshops?
I had the honour of being asked to help Cigna design and conduct a series of solutions-based workshops on critical incident management. Working closely with colleagues from both the Cigna Foundation and Cigna NGO Health Benefits, we agreed that dealing with Safeguarding challenges was of major concern to the NGO sector. We also agreed that driving up Safeguarding standards is best found by combining best practices from both the public and private sectors and, importantly, with the active involvement of management and staff from headquarters and local offices.

We wanted the workshops to be participatory with interactive ‘breakout’ group sessions focusing on standards, accountability issues, the employment cycle, and importantly reporting and complaints mechanisms. We invited specialists in the various fields of Safeguarding to oversee each session. 

Our main aim is to bring key staff with direct or indirect Safeguarding responsibilities together to discuss best practices, organisational attitudes and the formulation of bespoke PSEA policies and procedures.

How are the workshops different?
The first workshop took place in London last April where we had a large turnout of interested colleagues from various IOs, NGOs and Government Departments. From a headquarters perspective, we drilled-down forensically into a number of Safeguarding challenges such as organisational ‘zero tolerance’ culture, policy and procedures, data protection issues, tools and resources, training and awareness, whistle-blowing mechanisms, and robust incident management.

The second workshop in Nairobi addressed similar issues but from a field-level view, which links with Cigna’s localisation strategy. We made every effort to look at Safeguarding from the lens of the survivor and how incidents and allegations are handled should they arise, and what reporting mechanisms are in place including setting up a whistleblowing process. The workshop format ensured that there was ample opportunity to discuss and get guidance from other organisations which have already set up holistic Safeguarding practices.

Policies and procedures must be well thought out. They must be customised to the organisation. They must be communicated. There must be training. Policies and procedures must be known and embraced by senior management and all staff members. There needs to be full-spectrum accountability.

Building on these two events, we’re planning another workshop next year where we’ll draw from the valuable findings and recommendations of the London and Nairobi workshops.

What was your most important takeaway from the London and Nairobi workshops?
What stuck with me most was the importance of this issue to the aid sector. The revelations on misconduct and safeguarding issues from the last few years have had such an impact on the sector in terms of the survivors, the beneficiaries and the people within the organisations. They also, importantly, impacted public perception and people donating to organisations.

Organisations, whether public or private, international or national, must put robust measures in place to prevent, detect and solve safeguarding issues with a zero-tolerance approach. Organisations have a duty of care to their beneficiaries and to their own staff. Some excellent work has already been done, now we need to take it further.

In both London and Nairobi we discussed that this can’t just be for larger organisations. Larger organisations have the means and ways of doing this. But smaller NGOs need to be able to implement policies and procedures that are not too costly or administratively cumbersome.

We’re currently working on a Safeguarding report which will capture the key findings and recommendations from the workshops. This report will be made available to Cigna partners and the NGO community later in the year.

This series of solutions-based workshops clearly highlight the Cigna Foundation’s and Cigna NGO Health Benefits’ strong commitment to engage with the NGO Aid Sector to address many of the important Safeguarding challenges it faces.