In the 1990s, the number of security incidents involving humanitarian workers saw a notable rise. The people doing some of the most important work, in some of the most dangerous parts of the world, were increasingly being targeted and kidnapped, injured or killed.
In places such as Rwanda, Zaire, the Balkans, Chechnya, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan, it became clear that being impartial and delivering a good programme of aid – which had previously afforded some protection – was no longer enough.
In the 2000s, many organisations began to recognise the impact of insufficient security risk management. Programmes were less efficient, interrupted or stopped altogether with aid workers pulled out and operations ceased. In response, they began to create new roles.
However the security risk management (SRM) professionals that were hired often worked in isolation within their organisations and from their peers. Security was often seen as preventing rather than enabling programmes. And while these professionals carried a huge amount of responsibility, they were often not well supported, managed or resourced. This meant that organisations were still unable to identify, mitigate and manage risk effectively.
In 2006, a group of security managers from the UK and Ireland got together to share information and support each other. They began to develop coherent approaches to humanitarian SRM, and effect positive and lasting change within their organisations. This informal alliance evolved into a forum and began to gain the support of the wider sector throughout Europe.
In 2008, they recruited a dedicated coordinator with the goal of supporting each other, leading thought and inspiring action around humanitarian SRM. With this, the European Interagency Security Forum was born as an established network.
“As an original member myself, I needed a group of colleagues and peers to share ideas with, get feedback and advice from, and to discuss difficult, confidential and sensitive topics. The relationships, trust and network that developed through EISF made me a more effective Security Risk Management Adviser and advocate in my own organisation.” Heather Hughes, GISF Deputy Director
With a strategic, inclusive and collaborative focus, the forum created a centre of excellence for SRM in the humanitarian sector, facilitating a peer-to-peer network, building capacity for security risk management, and providing a voice for practitioners.
As the forum evolved, it began to also work with the UN, consultants, the private sector, military, government and academics to facilitate cross-learning. It engaged with non-security professionals in the humanitarian sector to ensure the work remains relevant to the sector as a whole and looks forward to ensure the management of security risks remains proactive and not just reactive. This network of expertise ensures the forum’s research papers, guides and tools are based in reality and useful to practitioners.
In recent years, a growing number of development and human rights focused organisations have also become members as more and more organisations understand how crucial the management of security risk is to effective and sustainable programme delivery. While the programmes organisations deliver may be different, many of the challenges are the same.
In 2019, the membership model changed again in response to growing interest in the United States, Canada and beyond. The European Interagency Security Forum soon became the Global Interagency Security Forum, with a formal re-launch in April 2020.
With a global approach, we welcome member organisations based all around the world. Their different perspectives, expertise and resources make our core activities, such as original research, training courses, workshops and knowledge-sharing, more impactful than ever.
As a result, organisations are able to build their SRM on an even stronger foundation to keep more aid workers safe and enable sustainable access to communities in need.