In the last two years, organisations have had to adapt to the challenging and unprecedented circumstances brought about by the pandemic whilst continuing to provide services across diverse contexts, each with its unique COVID-19 related needs and challenges. In this blog, GISF Projects and Admin Assistant, Emily Daste discusses the results of GISFs COVID-19 benchmarking survey and identifies some of the main challenges organisations face in keeping their staff safe and striving for best practices.
Humanitarian programmes have been forced to slow down and adjust to staff and resource shortages while adhering to COVID-19 guidelines. Balancing Duty of Care procedures and differing lockdown measures across international, national, and regional contexts has proven difficult for organisations when considering how programmes can continue to reach those needing assistance.
In its position as a member-led NGO forum of a global network of over 130 organisations, GISF is well placed to gather information on organisational approaches to COVID-19 in the humanitarian sector. Our COVID-19 benchmarking survey offers a snapshot of our members’ and network of supporters’ considerations and approaches to tackling COVID-19 related issues.
By collecting this data from our members and benchmarking the results from 78 responses, we have been able to identify and monitor common challenges and provide key decision-makers with an understanding of how other organisations are approaching and adapting to the ongoing challenges that the pandemic has presented. The survey, carried out between March and December 2021, found that over three-quarters of respondents worked at headquarters level, with executive-level staff and security staff reported as the key decision-makers within organisations concerning return-to-work plans.
We enquired on several COVID-19 and organisational-procedure related areas; however, critical thematic points of discussion that emerged included mandatory vaccinations, contingencies covered by employers for unvaccinated staff, and approaches to return-to-office working.
Although almost half of the organisations stated that vaccinations would not be made a requirement for staff to resume office-working, over 80 per cent of survey respondents noted that vaccination would be required or was being considered a requirement for staff travel. For those considering vaccination as a requirement, almost three quarters were willing to incur some or all subsequent COVID-19 related costs.
Globally, the topic of mandatory vaccinations has been contentious. Some individuals have been unwilling or hesitant to get vaccinated, whether for religious, medical, or other reasons. Parallel to the benchmarking survey, GISF received numerous enquiries from those in security and management positions regarding organisational approaches to mandatory vaccinations in the case of staff being unable or unwilling to be vaccinated.
With national legal cases and arguments for making vaccinations mandatory for workers within large companies, as put forward by the Biden administration in the US, and Boris Johnson’s cabinet for frontline workers in the UK, many have argued that staff shoulder a responsibility to protect those they are working with. Crucially, both these proposals faced resistance, with the supreme court even rejecting the mandate in the US, marking the complexity of implementing mandatory vaccinations on a broader scale. In the humanitarian arena, with organisations operating across diverse contexts, all with different COVID-19 requirements, we have learned that this is inherently complex.
Accessing vaccines: a global inequality
Organisations have a responsibility to protect their staff and the communities they are working with, especially in contexts where the most vulnerable are concerned. However, it quickly became apparent that a lack of access to vaccines would significantly limit safe operations. The survey listed access to vaccines as the most significant concern among respondents when asked about their trepidations regarding vaccine rollouts impacting operations. Similarly, following the release of GISFs ‘Why I’m Vaxxed’ videos, we received feedback that this inaccessibility remains a cause of great frustration.
It is essential to highlight the reality of this social and global inequality; many employees remain unvaccinated not through choice but due to lack of access. Organisations have identified vaccines as a critical component in their strategies to keep staff and communities safe, with over 70 per cent of organisations requiring or recommending vaccines. However, the global inequality in access to vaccines continues to restrict their ability to implement these policies fully. Some respondents to the survey indicated that vaccines were currently being recommended but would likely become required as accessibility to vaccines increases. The need to address this as a collective effort at a global level is paramount. In particular, governments in the global north and international organisations must, where possible, contribute resources to warrant stronger safeguards to ensure employees and communities are not left behind.
The value of benchmarking
In such unprecedented times, monitoring and evaluating the consequences of COVID-19 for the sector is crucial to better understand the global impact COVID-19 has had and continues to have on safety and security in the humanitarian context. This includes understanding how COVID-19 has affected the continuity and adaptation of programmes, the care and wellbeing of staff at an international and national level, and the methods in which decision-making and policy can be influenced and shaped collaboratively as a collective global effort to contribute to best practice.
The comparative survey results taken from various periods throughout the year can be found here.
Stay tuned for our narrative report to follow! The report will provide further insight into the benchmarking survey results collected throughout 2021 by confirming challenges and debates within the sector and highlighting the key concerns humanitarian organisations faced whilst adjusting to the unprecedented challenges brought by the pandemic.
Image Credit: UN OCHA
Keeping up with COVID-19: essential guidance for NGO security risk managers
This guidance document is for staff with security risk management responsibilities and is presented in a series of modules that look at how SRM is impacted by COVID-19. The guidance is divided into three parts (A) Policy and Planning, (B) Operational Security and (C) Staff Support.