Crystal Ball GazingInternational NGO Risks in 2023
by: Joe Gleason, AHT Director of International Risk Management
Making predictions about global risk trends is fraught with…well, risk. Recently, though, I was interviewed about the top risks for NGOs for the INSSA Insights Podcast along with Ben Longworth of On Call International and we discussed a number of challenges likely to face the NGO community in the coming year. While you can listen to the full podcast here, some key risks we discussed include:
- Instability in Haiti. Last year Haiti led the world in kidnappings, with criminal gangs controlling much of the country. Civil unrest and the assassination of the President has plunged Haiti deeper into chaos. While some organizations have slowly started to resume operations after a hiatus last year, instability is likely to persist and even increase.
- Ukraine conflict. A year on, Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine continues to take lives, displace people and destroy Ukraine’s cities and infrastructure. While the conflict has taken various twists and turns, most observers agree there’s no end in sight and springtime offensive operations are likely to increase the intensity of the conflict. At the same time, NGO operations in Ukraine have increased from largely humanitarian assistance to the full spectrum of international aid and development including public health, civil society capacity building, democracy and rights, etc.
- Unrest in the Sahel. Coups, insurgencies, increasingly restrictive NGO laws, refugees and internally displaced people, climate change…the Sahel faces a host of challenges. The withdrawal of French and Western military forces and arrival of Russian mercenaries adds yet another dimension of risk for NGOs operating in the region.
- Civil unrest and violent political transitions. Around the globe from civil unrest in Peru to the aforementioned coups in Mali and Burkina Faso, election periods and political transitions have often been flashpoints that have only increased with other instability factors – disinformation, insurgencies, global power struggles, increasing authoritarianism, etc. 2023 is likely to see the trend continue.
- Closing civil society space and pushback on NGOs. Hardly a new issue, host governments are increasingly imposing restrictive laws that seek to limit the reach and effectiveness of NGOs. In authoritarian countries, pushback on NGOs may include arrests, detention and other physical harm to staff in addition to legal challenges, harassment of personnel and disruption of activities. And even in countries like India and Kenya restrictive laws impede NGO operations and increase legal compliance risks.
- Climate change related hazards such as last year’s floods in Pakistan are a trend almost certain to continue and perhaps get worse in 2023. Beyond the large-scale disasters, climate change related flooding and other lower impact issues are disrupting activities and damaging resources.
How can organizations prepare for and mitigate these – and countless more – emerging risks in the coming year?
- Ensure risk assessments & plans reflect current conditions, operations and environment. In today’s dynamic risk atmosphere, ensuring assessments and associated plans reflect the current risk environment is crucial – and an ongoing challenge given rapidly developing risks. Increasingly organizations are wrapping individual risk factors (gender, sexual identity, personal health, etc.) into the risk assessment process to enhance risk awareness and mitigation.
- Reinforce education, training & learning systems to ensure that all team members (and not just international staff and travelers) understand the risks, mitigation and response plans, along with key resources and how to access them. Risk is ultimately encountered – and best mitigated – closest to the source so keeping people informed, aware and prepared is essential to manage risks and enable activities. This is especially true in higher risk environments.
- Tailor resources to the risk environments and organizational need. Medical and security assistance providers, insurance and crisis response consultants are all essential to supporting operational risk and critical incident management. As risks have evolved, have your resources kept pace? Are host country team members appropriately wrapped into and aware of how to access critical resources?
For each of the risks highlighted above – and the others raised in the podcast – there will likely be many more that emerge over the coming year. And of course, all the “traditional” risks continue – road traffic crashes, medical emergencies, crime, etc. Strong awareness of risks and organizational vulnerability along with the flexibility to adapt plans, procedures, resources and education will remain essential in the coming year…as it has always been.