Written by Anna Gawn and Loulou Shah
Throughout 2023, SDDirect’s safeguarding team continued to work with a diverse range of clients, who are each keeping us learning, whether they are UN agencies, development finance institutions, NGOs from local to national and international, government ministries or universities.
While the safeguarding portfolio prides itself on bringing up-to-date technical knowledge and practical experience, our skill is in ensuring that the safeguarding support we give is tailored to each client’s specific needs and context. We aim to speak their language – maybe tweaking approaches or phrasing for example - while at the same time speaking our language to promote the core safeguarding values that we hold so closely. In this way we have gained not only resilience in 2023 but also precious insights into where various actors are with every new dialogue or scenario and, importantly, how we can respond to those dynamics in the interests of safer international assistance.
While each client has been unique, there are some common themes we are seeing in safeguarding as we close this calendar year. In 2024, here’s what we will be prioritising…
Keeping the momentum going for safeguarding. Following the 2018 summit and subsequent efforts across international and humanitarian supply chains, there are indications that safeguarding has reached its peak and is being deprioritised and is seen as optional as budgets are cut. As social norms shift and rights are rolled back in some parts of the world, it is in fact more important than ever to continue to push for safe delivery of international assistance. With systems in place there is a perspective that sufficient effort has been made towards compliance, with little appreciation that those systems and processes must be put into practice – which means resourced and actively promoted – if they are to be effective. Without this, companies and organisations will find themselves back where they started, with victim-survivors the greatest casualties, as well as potentially their impact and/or profits. This message is highlighted in SDDirect’s new video.
Throughout 2024, SDDirect’s safeguarding team will be working hard to persuade organisations, staff and leaders to deliver on their own policies and to value their safeguarding champions with whom we work.
Helping our clients to navigate the complexities of putting a ‘survivor-centred’ approach into practice. Our clients are increasingly asking us questions like, “How can our procedures be more survivor-centred?”, “How can we balance company profits with survivor needs?”, “How can we balance employment law with a survivor-centred approach?” These are challenging questions and for each company or organisation we walk alongside them to ensure the best possible outcomes for each victim-survivor. In Malawi we are trying out a new innovative approach where community-based Women’s Rights Organisations (WROs) are providing support to survivors of sexual exploitation, abuse and sexual harassment (SEAH) while SDDirect supports perpetrating organisations to ensure that their case handling and investigations are survivor-centred, well managed, and that appropriate compensation and redress is provided.
Into 2024, we will continue to learn from survivors and support others to strengthen their survivor-centredness.
Supporting organisations managing high-risk and sensitive safeguarding cases with case-handling and investigations advice. Over 2023 we began seeing a growing need for independent and expert advice for organisations lacking the inhouse confidence or skills. This has been simultaneously informed by needs highlighted through the Safeguarding Resource and Support Hub (RSH, for which SDDirect is the technical lead), where advice and mentoring has been provided to CSOs on this subject.
To meet this need as a whole portfolio, SDDirect is launching a new safeguarding case-handling and investigations advisory service in 2024.
By acting as a critical friend to our clients, we can reassure them that the decisions and actions they take are grounded in best practice, that the core safeguarding principles are honoured, that the victim-survivor’s wishes remain paramount, and that their reputation is able to be restored where there has been damage. Reach out to us for more information on this offer!
Safeguarding effectively in humanitarian emergencies. Our work as the technical lead on the Safeguarding hub Eastern Europe, taught us, amongst other things, that preparedness and anticipatory action for safeguarding could be a game changer. We know that safeguarding risks are higher at the initial stages of an emergency, we know what global standards need to be promoted and actioned from the outset, and we know what services are likely to be needed.
In 2024, we will continue to consolidate this with learning from RSH Ethiopia, Syria-Türkiye, and the MENA region - all now going into their final close out/sustainability phases - and aim to extract good practices that can help us remain agile and adaptive to provide appropriate support and advice where it is needed the most.
Monitoring safeguarding progress, in addition to safer ‘MEL.’ As safeguarding systems have been put in place over the past few years, organisations of all shapes and sizes are now increasingly interested in how well they are doing. Are their systems working? Are the policies effective? Do the processes make sense? Are users – whether reportees or custodians of these systems – clear on what is in place and ready and willing to use those provisions to keep themselves, their colleagues and those they work with safe? Ultimately, has the investment paid off and if not, what needs to happen to improve?
In 2024, while we are at relatively nascent stages, monitoring and evaluating organisations’ safeguarding process is an area of work that we aim to grow into over the course of the next year.
Continuing our work on social safeguarding in climate and environmental programmes and organisations. In 2023 we did our first piece of work on this area and learnt how to embed our existing expertise into climate programmes. The experience confirmed our own hypothesis that safeguarding is key to the success of all development or humanitarian work, including programmes that work on environmental issues: while the programmes are about the environment, people are implementing them and are part of the change.
As we close out 2023, and with the backdrop of COP28, we are reminded how important it will be in 2024 and beyond to ensure that climate-related work is conducted safely and without risk of harm to staff and communities seeking positive change.
Digital safeguarding. This continues to be a growing area of work for SDDirect’s safeguarding team, and one in which we are keen to grow our expertise. Our research into online child protection procedures that companies in the Middle East have in place and our work to create a new digital hub that is safe-by-design have highlighted the connection between digital activities, real life action and social norms. Successful digital safeguarding requires connecting digital design, cyber security, user behaviour and in-person safeguarding measures: how we behave in real life affects how we behave online, so digital safeguarding initiatives cannot be digital only.
In 2024, we would like to help organisations strengthen their safety-by-design procedures and help organisations retrospectively embed safeguarding into existing platforms.
Continued learning around local accountabilities and drivers for safeguarding. SDDirect’s approach prioritises contextualisation, local knowledge and safeguarding expertise. International safeguarding requires thought to be put into preventing and responding to harm across global supply chains. We are increasingly recognising that social norms, government structures (where they exist) and systems at local levels - beyond international donors, the private sector funders and global standards - are important for effective safeguarding. In 2024, we aim to get the fine balance between global, national and local right and to proactively learn what best practice can look like.
As 2023 ends with consultations on the Common Approach to Protection from Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harassment (CAPSEAH), we are reminded of how important it is to all be on the same page, speaking the same ‘language’ and taking collective action if safeguarding misconduct is to be rooted out of the international assistance space. (To read more about CAPSEAH and provide your feedback on the draft framework by 9th February 2024, click here.)
We wish all colleagues, partners, clients and prospective clients a restful holiday and a wish that 2024 sees continued collaboration and positive gains in international safeguarding!