Safeguarding: 6 priorities for transformative action

23 August 2018
Author: Sarah Mistry

This week, 240 people from 183 organisations came together to work on creating sustainable sector-wide solutions to safeguarding. Our Safeguarding for Development event updated Bond members on the sector’s collective progress in driving up safeguarding standards and provided an opportunity to share experiences.

We were keen to ensure that civil society owns and leads this important agenda, so the day focused on NGO-led initiatives that aim to improve safeguarding practice in our organisations and across the sector. These include short-term practical tools and guidance, but they also begin to address the underlying issues of power and inequality that must be tackled over the long term to achieve true cultural change. 

Our recent survey of members gave clear indications of the extent of the support and guidance that the sector needs, both in terms of training and peer learning, but also in developing and embedding policies. Bond is committed to supporting members in this work, and we will be announcing further packages of support in the coming weeks.

We were delighted to host NGOs from Kenya and Tanzania, who contributed their direct experience of supporting better safeguarding practice. We also heard from DFID’s Safeguarding Unit, the Charity Commission, and Bond’s partners BWB and Cigna.

The sector came together with energy, creativity and conviction, and with an unprecedented generosity to share expertise across the network.  All our members are committed to individual and collective action to ensure that everyone involved in development and humanitarian assistance is treated with respect and protected from sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment.  

From workshop sessions covering accountability and participation; the employment cycle; working with partners; complaints and reporting, six themes emerged as priorities for action:

1. Consistent solutions

Inconsistency in safeguarding practices and approaches to employment emerged as a big issue. We need more consistency across our organisations – for example, in the way that references are given – and to work to agreed good practice, including formal standards where appropriate. NGOs support sector-wide solutions, but these need to  be proportionate for different-sized organisations and customised to different contexts.

2. Clarity from the Charity Commission and DFID

We support the work done by the Charity Commission and DFID to clarify due diligence requirements and reporting expectations. But there are still grey areas to be cleared up. For example, what do words like “appropriate” and “reasonable” mean in reality? We would be happy to be consulted and provide constructive feedback.

3. Examples to follow 

We want to hear examples of good practice on the ground, how cases have been handled - including when things go wrong - and how risks and trade-offs have been managed. This also came through in our recent survey of members, with 62% of organisations saying they would find case studies from other organisations useful.

4. A view of partners as sources of expertise

We want to challenge the view that partners are “liabilities”, when they are actually a vital source of knowledge and expertise. Where an INGO works in one country with the same local partner as another INGO, could a single “due diligence” check suffice? Bond is committed to working with other civil society platforms in Europe and globally to support civil society organisations in their safeguarding practice.

5. A focus on survivors and victims 

A victim or survivor-centred approach is paramount, and we have more work to do in ensuring this permeates our culture and processes. A suggestion was made that NGOs, DFID country offices and others could coordinate support services for survivors in-country.

6. A commitment to change long-term 

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. These new standards in safeguarding must be part of longer-term transformation. Organisations need to integrate safeguarding into the fabric of their work, adapting to the emerging opportunities for good practice and collective solutions to be adopted. We need brave leadership to  address the power and gender imbalances that undermine the achievement of development and humanitarian goals. 

We will be working with our members to develop a draft leadership charter, including a set of commitments for senior leadership, clarifying responsibilities and full spectrum accountability around all forms of violence, exploitation, and abuse by their staff, consultants, and volunteers.

4 points for DFID to consider  

At the event, Fiona Power from DFID emphasised that safeguarding is a critical agenda for the secretary of state for international development, not just within DFID but also across Whitehall.  In our breakout groups, we came up with four important points that we want DFID to take into account:  

The sector wants DFID to:

  1. Recognise that safeguarding is a long-term goal.
  2. Consider a central safeguarding fund to build capacity. 
  3. Be transparent on policy and compliance requirements and work with other donors
  4. View downstream partners as assets, not liabilities.

We’ve been working closely with DFID and will be contributing to its Safeguarding Summit on 18 October, when we will set out the commitments of the NGO sector.  In the next few days, we’ll let you know how you can contribute to that process with a set of ambitious but achievable commitments that speak to our missions and ensure we take creative, people-centred approaches. 

About the author

Sarah Mistry
Bond

Sarah is director of programmes and partnerships at Bond.