Businesses and organizations operating in volatile environments have several options available to them for protecting employees from the dangers of terrorism, kidnapping, street crime, and other physical threats. One such option is the acceptance model of risk mitigation, which posits that building relationships with local communities is the best method of keeping otherwise unguarded foreign employees safe.
If an NGO wishes to set up operations in a new area, bringing an armed entourage may inadvertently intimidate local residents and discourage them from accessing critical services. Under the acceptance model, NGOs forgo security details, and instead rely on the safety imparted to them by virtue of being welcome in their host communities. Residents discourage would-be local assailants from attacking NGO employees, and are encouraged to pass on information on security threats to partner NGOs. In essence, the acceptance model relies on the premise of mutual benefit — communities are likely to protect NGO employees because they come to rely on those same employees for health care, humanitarian assistance, or other free services.
Several high-profile NGOs use the acceptance model for security because it is the only possible way to access certain dangerous environments like northern Syria or Afghanistan. In these areas, the mere presence of armed guards could be a potential flashpoint for violence. Notwithstanding, the acceptance model can leave employees exposed from a Duty of Care perspective.
Would-be assailants are increasingly not members of the communities where a given NGO is operating, and so care little about offending the NGO’s host communities or depriving residents of services. This dynamic was on display in Syria after the rise of ISIS in mid-2014. ISIS, with its primarily Iraqi leadership, and a significant number of foreign rank-and-file, did not hesitate to declare all foreign NGOs unwelcome in its Syrian territory, unless organizations allowed ISIS itself to administer humanitarian aid. The extremist organization carried out and publicized executions of foreign aid workers. Foreign assistance to ISIS-held areas dried up in the wake of these events.
In addition, the acceptance model carries the risk that even if a community generally supports a given NGO’s operations, some residents might not. All it takes is one individual to pass or sell information on an NGO employee’s whereabouts to terrorist or criminal organizations, for that employee to be subject to grave danger.
At Navanti, we rely on the risk management model, which is focused on systematically identifying, and ranking threats to a company’s operations, then putting concrete procedures in place to minimize these threats. Read more about threat assessments, a critical part of the risk management process, here and here.