Most humanitarian and development non-governmental organisations (NGOs) appreciate the value of sharing information and collaborating with other organisations operating in the same space to improve their collective security.
In the past, organisations were wary about sharing security information, concerned it would place staff at greater risk, or expose weaknesses or mistakes in their security approach. Now, however, there is greater recognition that coordinating and collaborating on security issues is in everybody’s best interest, and actively engaging with inter-agency security networks and forums has become an essential element in maintaining a successful presence in complex contexts with ever-increasing risks to staff.
We are also witnessing a significant growth in online or virtual NGO security networks at national, regional and global levels, increasing both accessibility and participation. Such networks offer huge opportunities for information sharing, discussion, and greater collaboration, but they are not without their unique challenges.
Security collaboration mechanisms offer particular value for smaller NGOs which are often constrained by limited budgets and minimal security capacity. The ability to access the security information and support provided by networks and forums enables smaller organisations to confront operational security challenges without the need for large formal security structures. However, regardless of size, all NGOs benefit from the collective support offered by security collaboration mechanisms.
Despite several successes, and even when the need for a mechanism to share security information and coordinate on security issues is widely recognised – and indeed demanded – by NGOs on the ground, it can be difficult to get initiatives up and running. Many successful initiatives have been largely dependent on the commitment and personalities of the individuals involved.
Even when a mechanism gets off the ground, maintaining it is equally challenging, especially given the high turnover of staff within the sector; when those who have been central to a mechanism’s success move on, and others are unwilling to take up the task, the mechanism often ceases to exist.
During emergencies, or as a result of sudden deterioration in security, smaller organisations often look to security staff from the larger humanitarian NGOs to establish much-needed security networks or forums, and to facilitate the sharing of security information for the NGO community. While security personnel may be willing to support in this way, they are often time-constrained or have limited experience in establishing security collaboration mechanisms.
For local and national NGOs (L/NNGOs), access to security collaboration mechanisms is an additional challenge. Already pushed to deliver assistance under increasing risks, often without adequate resources to do so, many collaboration mechanisms are only accessible to security staff from international NGOs (INGOs). Even where L/NNGOs can participate, language, technical barriers, and, in some cases, power imbalances make it difficult for them to access security information or discuss their concerns. Enabling better access to security collaboration mechanisms is a critical part of the ‘localisation’ agenda which commits to improving support to, and strengthening the capacity of, local and national aid organisations.*
* GISF. (2020) Partnerships and Security Risk Management: from the local partner’s perspective.
About this guide
This guide provides NGO security staff with advice, tips, and practical resources to support them in facilitating effective security collaboration with other organisations operating in the same context. The guide is also applicable to security collaboration and coordination mechanisms at the regional and global levels. The guide is intended for use as a reference rather than providing a prescriptive framework for NGO security collaboration.
The guide explains the overarching principles of security collaboration, highlights different models and options to be considered, suggests how such collaborative efforts can be established and maintained, and examines potential activities and support they can provide to humanitarian organisations.
Collaboration means acting together in the interests of a common goal. The goal is not collaboration itself, but the results it can produce. NGOs are diverse organisations, with different mandates, values, and approaches. However, organisations do not operate in a vacuum – what affects one NGO will almost certainly affect others. By working together, NGOs are more informed, more effective, and have a stronger voice on issues of concern across all aspects of providing humanitarian assistance, including security.
What is security collaboration?
In its simplest form, security collaboration is when NGOs come together to share relevant information and work in partnership to address common concerns regarding the security of their staff, programmes, and organisations.
Although responsibility for the security of staff and programmes will always remain with the respective NGO, actively sharing information and looking for opportunities to support each other improves our ability to provide sustained assistance in the most challenging of security contexts.
The creation of NGO-focused and managed security collaboration mechanisms provides a platform through which a diverse group of NGOs can exchange different perspectives and information on security incidents, share expertise and capacity and, if necessary, establish common and complementary positions in regard to security and access challenges.
Security collaboration between NGOs in the humanitarian sector is when organisations are willing to act together to address common concerns regarding security and access, to share information on incidents and risks within the operating environment, and to strengthen their collective capacity to minimise risks to their staff, programmes, and organisations.
The NGO Security Collaboration Guide was authored by Shaun Bickley (Tricky Locations) with input from Lisa Reilly (GISF Executive Director).
The author and GISF would like to thank the following individuals and organisations who took the time to share information and resources, and contributed to the development of this guide: Caelum Moffatt (International NGO Safety Organisation), Chris Allen (Norwegian Refugee Council), Chris Williams (CARE International), Christina Wille (Insecurity Insight), Dieudonne Leroy (GOAL), Gerardo Calix (Catholic Relief Services), Gonzalo de Palacios (Oxfam International), Iván Pelaez (Save the Children), James Moulton (World Food Programme), Jeff Saayman (Danish Refugee Council), Joana Costa (Kvinna till Kvinna), John Murray (Relief International), José Luis Barreiro (International Humanitarian NGO Forum in Colombia), Kelsey Hoppe (Safer Edge), María Isabel León Jiménez (Save the Children), María Paula Martínez (Save the Children), Mayra Arana (Save the Children), Mohammad Ismail (Norwegian Church Aid), Nathanael Jarrett (Danish Refugee Council), Neil Elliot (Relief International), Sam Sherman (Danish Refugee Council), Scott Richards (Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office), Soman Moodley (Lebanon Humanitarian INGO Forum), Sophia Guirguis (Libya INGO Forum), Stuart Fraser (Danish Refugee Council), and Zakaria Nadirashvilli (World Vision International).