written by Franziska Schwarz
Over 200 people joined us for the second Safeguarding for Development Conference on December.
Bond members and other stakeholders from across the sector came together to proactively review how far the sector has come towards better safeguarding practice and reflect on remaining challenges.
The conference was a chance to discuss good practice on whistleblowing and how to use standards for better practice, as well as what “smart safeguarding” looks like for smaller NGOs. We also reflected on areas for further progress, from addressing structures of power and privilege in our work to changing the cultures in our organisations.
Here are some key things we learned.
1. Context is key
NGOs highlighted the importance of ensuring safeguarding standards, such as the Core Humanitarian Standard or Keeping Children Safe, are translated into policies that can be easily implemented in any context. It’s also imperative to design proportionate processes and practices for organisations of different sizes.
Organsiations recognised the need to take different approaches in diverse locations and communities. Every safeguarding incident is unique and challenging in its own right, requiring appropriate and relevant responses and solutions. These must include partner organisations and the people and communities we work with.
2. People report to those they trust
Building relationships and trust is essential, so organisations must understand any barriers to reporting and why people might not report concerns. We heard examples of people reporting incidents to those they trust – and how they won’t report incidents if they don’t trust organisations to keep them safe.
Reporting in different cultural contexts is complex, and strong reporting mechanisms must be participatory, including the voices of the communities we work. It’s crucial to acknowledge that whistleblowers can often be the voice of the victim or survivor. Failing to listen to or protect whistleblowers is silencing their voice.
3. Power and privilege matter
Sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment are fundamentally about gender inequality and power imbalances. As a sector, we must understand our own power and privilege.
We must call out power dynamics that exist within our organisations and programmes. We must demonstrate a long-term commitment to address deep-rooted inequalities based on gender, race, age, sexuality and disability, and how vulnerabilities intersect.
4. Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility and culture shift takes time
A common theme throughout the conference was the importance of integrating safeguarding into existing systems and structures, and to move beyond a focus on compliance to change our cultures. Good safeguarding practice is about long-term, sustainable changes that require continuous effort and a willingness to lead this transformation within the sector in a joined-up way.
We know shared codes of conduct and standards of practice already exist, but these tend to be driven by policies and procedures. We must address the norms, values, attitudes and behaviours that may shape how those policies and procedures are implemented. It is crucial that boards, CEOs and senior management work together with technical staff and practitioners to support one another and find solutions that work.
5. We're still hugely committed to get safeguarding right
NGOs shared examples of the immense effort they are deploying to meet the highest standards of safeguarding. Organisations have seen greater commitments to safeguarding across their organisation, with safeguarding becoming an essential, integrated part of an organisation’s work.
We also heard about progress in many different areas, including better systems, updated policies, more training, and increased oversight and involvement of CEOs, senior leaders and trustees in safeguarding work. These areas were all reflected in the sector’s commitments to change in safeguarding from October 2018, which were updated this month to reflect further progress since the commitments were first made.