Building Acceptance for Aid Workers

Building Acceptance as a Key Safety Measurement for Aid Workers:

Key Components

There was recently a situation in one community in East Africa where a conflict between two groups had escalated to the point where both groups had armed themselves, with the military on standby. However, instead of breaking out into violent conflict, both groups requested that an NGO who had been working in the community lately step in to help de-escalate the conflict. The chiefs even provided a security guarantee to ensure the safety of the staff members of the NGO.

In a different community, an aid worker vehicle was attacked, and all the money, mobile phones, and other possessions of those inside were taken.  However, with the help of the villagers the aid workers had been working with, they were able to recover all of their stolen items, except for the money.

In both of these situations, things could have been so much worse. The conflict between the two groups in East Africa could have broken out into violent conflict, and the aid group that was attacked could have never retrieved their stolen items. In both of these situations, the one thing that made the difference was acceptance – both groups had worked very hard to be accepted as members of the community they were working in.

Among the four general methods that aid workers can use to improve their safety, acceptance is the optimal choice for humanitarian workers to utilize, as it is the method that is most in-line with aid worker values and codes of conduct.

The overall goal of acceptance is to become accepted as a member of the local community you are working with, and thereby reduce other’s desire to kidnap, rob, or harm you. Using acceptance as an approach to security requires humanitarian agencies to spend time learning about and understanding what locals think about their presence and program in the area. The way that the organization is seen by local populations not only impacts their security, but the overall success of their program as well.

Because acceptance is such a wide topic, with many different components to acceptance being of key importance to aid workers looking to build upon their safety, we will be discussing acceptance in three parts. The first part of this discussion will cover the key components of acceptance. Other articles will focus on implementation of acceptance followed by a discussion on assessment of acceptance.

One of, if not the most important part of acceptance is the principle and mission of your group.

Your organization must be clear in their identity and how they would like to be perceived within the country/location/or greater program that they are working in, as well as across the communities they are targeting. Clarity on organizational identity and acceptance strategy can come from the security management documentation (your security policy/manual, incident reports, or risk assessments), program related documentation (mission statement, project proposals and plans, actor/stakeholder mapping, or monitoring and evaluation documents), internal and external communications (media reports, website content, letters of support or affirmation of your organization’s work), and human resources (organization’s policies, job descriptions, code of conduct, or training materials).

Following that would be stakeholder and context analysis. This can be key in determining the appropriate parties needed to engage in dialogue and negotiation to enhance staff safety and security. This involves identifying and analyzing motives, capabilities, attitudes, and relationships of those actors who might have an impact on your program’s success. You should also identify those who might block or harm your program and staff. You should also note whether or not your organization receives any security information from other NGO’s on various stakeholders. Finally, you should know how involved the national staff are in sharing and analyzing security information with your organization.

Program management is also very important to your acceptance in the field.

While your program may be very involved in the community and have established great partnerships with some of the locals, you should also be aware that your program could be having an adverse effect on specific actors or political, economic, or social power structures within the community. Program management comes into play in that you should consider some of the following questions while trying to make sure you mitigate as many of those effects as possible. Do your organizational values guide your programming decisions? Have you conducted a context analysis for your local programs or projects? What elements does your context analysis include? There should be a stakeholder analysis, relationships between other stakeholders, power relations, etc. Does your monitoring and evaluation processes include acceptance assessments, and assessments on how that is impacting your staff and security?

Finally, we have human resources. While it might not be immediately obvious that staffing could be a key component to your acceptance strategy, staffing decisions can impact your acceptance in many ways. First, the people you hire may or may not possess the skills to gain acceptance and communicate effectively with local populations, and therefore will fail in building meaningful relationships with them. Additionally, your staff should be willing to respect local cultural norms -which can sometimes be counter to their own cultural values. The composition of your staff also plays a key part- nationality, gender, age, religion, social status, and ethnic background may need to be taken into account when looking to hire local staff in order to gain acceptance. You should also take into account the fact that your recruitment, firing, and compensation practices can affect the perception of your organization. Finally, you also need to be careful of situations where local acceptance is linked to a single individual – should that individual leave the organization, it could create a potentially volatile situation for your organization.

O’Gara Training and Services is committed to ensuring the safety and security of humanitarian workers.

We believe in their mission and want for every aid worker to be well trained in safety and security so that they can continue doing good work and providing life-saving aid to those communities in need. If you and your organization would like to hear more about our training offerings for Humanitarian Aid organizations, we would be happy to discuss our HEAT and TACT courses with you!

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