NGO Safety Risks

Helping the Helpers

Aid organizations are stepping up risk management and safety programs for volunteers working in dangerous parts of the world.
By: | August 31, 2016 • 7 min read

From civilian war casualties to masses displaced by natural catastrophes to the survivors of devastating events, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have long provided aid to people in crisis. But NGOs still are working on how to better protect their own workers, supplies and assets from the same perils — and others — that aid recipients face.

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Indeed, over just the past half-decade, smaller international aid organizations — which make up the bulk of the NGO community — have significantly formalized and beefed up their risk management programs.

Part of that is serendipitous, as the insurance market generally has softened for NGOs, and technological advancements have improved these organizations’ ability to keep their workers safe, experts say. But court cases also have had an impact.

Shifting Legal Landscape

“There were some organizations that just weren’t appropriately sensitive to the exposures [faced by workers],” said Scott R. Konrad, a New York-based senior vice president and the not-for-profit business practice leader for HUB International Northeast Ltd.

Konrad says their “wake-up call” was the lawsuit that aid volunteer Flavia Wagner filed against NGO Samaritan’s Purse following her abduction and 105-day captivity in Sudan in 2010.

Scott Konrad, senior vice president and not-for-profit business practice leader, HUB International Northeast Ltd.

Scott Konrad, senior vice president and not-for-profit business practice leader, HUB International Northeast Ltd.

Wagner alleged the organization neither adequately trained her nor promptly paid her kidnappers’ ransom demands. Without admitting liability, the NGO settled, although it said it had trained Wagner and she had signed a hold-harmless agreement elucidating the risks she faced.

Two years after Wagner’s ordeal, four Norwegian Refugee Council staff members in Kenya were kidnapped for four days. Another was shot and injured during the abduction. A Norwegian court in 2015 ruled the NRC was grossly negligent in how it handled the incident.

“Key to the ruling was the court’s verdict that they ‘cannot see that there is a basis for applying a more lenient standard of due care for employers within the aid sector than that for other employers,’ ” said Matthew Smith, a London-based associate managing consultant for risk consultant NYA International Ltd.

“Although this was just a Norwegian verdict, this and other incidents have given the international NGO industry impetus to examine their security risk management procedures with a view to ensuring duty of care.”

Those workers’ experiences were not unique. From 2004 through 2014, the last year for which data is available, the number of major attacks against aid operations worldwide and the resulting number of aid worker victims climbed dramatically, according to the Aid Worker Security Database. The AWSD is a project of London-based Humanitarian Outcomes, an independent research and policy advisory organization.

In 2014, there were 329 attacks and 190 victims, compared to 125 attacks and 63 victims in 2004. In 2013, the number of attacks and victims reached record levels: 474 and 264, respectively.

NGOs’ Insurance Portfolio

NGOs and their workers also face numerous additional risks, which the organizations are insuring as well.

Besides being injured or kidnapped while on assignment, workers also can be injured traveling to and from assignments, and they can suffer a work- or non-work-related illness, disease or injury in a foreign land. All of those incidents could necessitate medical attention and evacuation.R9-1-16p49-50_8Aid.indd

If the NGO is large enough, it also might send supplies and assets, such as vehicles, to a country. Indeed, vehicle fleets usually are the second-highest expense after employee compensation for those NGOs, according to Washington, D.C.-based specialty broker Clements Worldwide.

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NGOs also face foreign general liability risk and professional liability risk.

“The international aid organization insurance portfolio, in terms of breadth of coverages, is looking a lot more like a commercial portfolio these days,” said Bruce Cohen, a Washington, D.C.-based managing director in the multinational client services unit at Marsh LLC.

“I definitely think [risk management] has evolved” at NGOs, said Meghan Smith, a Philadelphia-based senior account executive in the commercial markets unit at Zurich North America.

NGOs today are better informed about not only “coverages and what they should be looking for,” but also about local insurance requirements overseas regarding admitted coverage and minimum limits, she said.

Bruce Cohen, managing director, Marsh

Bruce Cohen, managing director, Marsh

While there is plenty of insurance market competition for their risks, NGOs need to be circumspect about what they purchase, brokers advise.

For example, coverage often excludes war and terrorism, said Scott Lockman, director of commercial insurance for Clements.

In some cases, war risk is excluded and terrorism is not, but the lines between those two risks “can be blurred,” said Joseph Weiss, a New York-based vice president of underwriting and the segment leader for corporate accident and sickness business at Chubb.

Sometimes, insurers do not extend coverage to certain countries or for endemic diseases, Marsh’s Cohen said.

NGOs can buy back those coverages, however.

Lockman noted that Clements and Lloyd’s of London syndicates have developed a block of coverages for NGOs that include war and terrorism coverage. Only some of the larger NGOs historically have purchased kidnap and ransom coverage.

But Christopher Arehart, a Chicago-based senior vice president and product manager at Chubb, has “seen an uptick in the K&R product from aid organizations,” including some interest from smaller organizations.

Smaller NGOs are realizing their workers might not be covered by the K&R insurance purchased by an umbrella organization that has contracted for the smaller groups’ services, he said.

“It comes down to a calculated analysis of a risk happening, and sustaining a loss, and what’s non-negotiable, like worker protection.” — Laura Schauble, vice president of risk management, ACDI/VOCA

Budgets, however, continue to affect NGOs’ purchase decisions.

“It comes down to a calculated analysis of a risk happening, and sustaining a loss, and what’s non-negotiable, like worker protection,” said Laura Schauble, the Washington, D.C.-based vice president of risk management at NGO ACDI/VOCA.

For example, ACDI/VOCA, which promotes economic growth in emerging democracies, insures its fleets overseas for the most common losses: collision damage and theft.

But it typically does not buy terrorism coverage, since the NGO does not operate in war zones, Schauble said.

Risk Mitigation

Many brokers and insurers team with risk consultants to help NGOs mitigate risk.

“But not everybody [among NGOs] is aware of that,” said John Warren, a vice president and client executive for Marsh in Washington D.C.

“They think they have to go out to consultants, but it’s already paid for.”

In any case, experts see NGOs paying closer attention to their duty of care.

George Taylor, the Annapolis, Md.-based vice president of global operations at risk management consultant iJet International, finds that NGOs are conducting far more research on the regions they will be operating in.

Christopher Arehart, senior vice president and product manager, Chubb

Christopher Arehart, senior vice president and product manager, Chubb

NGOs also are more engaged in assessing how workers will move about the area they will be working in, where workers will lodge or camp, and other worker vulnerabilities, risk consultants said.

NGOs are taking steps to mitigate the risks to workers by, for example, establishing check-in, in-country travel and lodging protocols, Taylor said. Many NGOs also are embedding a full-time security adviser in their field teams, rather than directing a senior project leader to assume those added duties, he said.

Advances in technology are enabling NGOs to keep better track of their workers, risk management experts said.

For example, volunteers have smartphone and notebook travel apps that provide intelligence, updates and emergency alerts about the areas where they are working.

To ensure workers do not miss critical information, the apps can be set to chime when information arrives. Other apps provide GPS tracking information on workers to their organizations’ security contractors.

George Taylor, vice president, global operations, iJet International

George Taylor, vice president, global operations, iJet International

And more NGOs are outfitting workers with satellite phones in case a region’s cell phone or Wi-Fi service is interrupted, iJet’s Taylor said.

To reduce the kidnapping risk, some NGOs working in the Eastern Hemisphere are setting up local affiliates that are overseen by Westerners but tap field workers largely from local regions, Chubb’s Arehart said.

Especially significant, before workers head out on assignment, more NGOs now rehearse crisis plans with project managers, group leaders and volunteers, risk advisers said.

“You can never rehearse enough,” Taylor said. “People need to know their part of the plan” for staying safe and responding when safety and health conditions deteriorate.

“It’s all about education,” Clements’ Lockman said.

At ACDI/VOCA, that education process includes detailing the risk management program’s limitations, Schauble said. For example, medical evacuations are run out of commercial airports, not remote locations. Ensuring that workers fully understand how a risk management program is designed is critical to getting their buy-in of the program, Schauble said.

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“So what I see now is more of an organizational effort and individual commitment” to risk management, Taylor said. To him, improved NGO risk management comes down to four elements:

• Staying informed.
• Maintaining situational awareness.
• Having a communication plan.
• Rehearsing.

“NGOs can no longer simply accept security risks in the same way they did previously, given the multiplicity of threats to their personnel and a tightening legal landscape,” NYA International’s Smith said.

However, “there’s room for improvement,” Taylor said. &

Dave Lenckus is a freelance writer for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

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R&I Profile

Achieving Balance

XL Catlin’s Denise Balan stays calm and focused when faced with crisis.
By: | January 10, 2018 • 6 min read

In the high-stress scenario of kidnap or ransom, the first image that comes to mind isn’t necessarily a yoga mat — at least, not for most.

But Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin, who practices yoga every day, would swear by it.

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“I looked at these opposing aspects of my life,” she said. “Yoga is about focus, balance, clarity of intent. In a moment of stress, how do you respond? The more clarity and calmness you maintain, the better positioned you are to provide assistance in moments of crisis.

“Nobody wants to be speaking to a frenetic person when either dealing with a dangerous situation or planning for prevention of a situation,” she added.

“There’s a poem by [Rudyard] Kipling on that,” added Balan’s colleague Ben Tucker. “What it boils down to is: If you can remain calm, you can manage through a crisis a lot better.”

Tucker, who works side by side with Balan as head of U.S. terrorism and political violence, XL Catlin, has seen how yoga influences his colleague.

“The way Denise interacts with stakeholders in this process — she is very professional and calm in the approach she takes.”

Yin and Yang

Sometimes seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary and interconnected. In Balan’s life, yoga and K&R have become her yin and yang.

She entered the insurance world after earning a juris doctor degree and practicing law for a few years. The switch came, she said, when Balan realized she wasn’t enjoying her time as a commercial litigator.

Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin

In her new role, she was able to use her legal background to manage litigation at AIG, where her transition from law to insurance took place. She started her insurance career in the environmental sector.

In a chance meeting in 2007, Balan met with crisis management underwriters who told her about kidnap and ransom products.

She was hooked.

Because of her background in yoga, Balan liked the crisis management side of the job. Being able to bring the calmness and clearness of intent she practiced during yoga into assisting clients in planning for crisis management piqued her interest.

She then joined XL Catlin in July 2013, where she built the K&R team.

As she became more immersed in her field, Balan began to notice something: The principles she learned in yoga were the same principles ex-military and ex-law enforcement practiced when called to a K&R-related crisis.

She said, “They have a warrior mentality — focus, purpose, strength and logic — and I would say yoga is quite similar in discipline.”

“K&R responders have a warrior mentality — focus, purpose, strength and logic — and I would say yoga is quite similar in discipline.” — Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin

Many understand yoga to be, in itself, one type of meditation, but yoga actually encompasses a group of physical, mental and spiritual practices. Each is a discipline. Some forms of yoga focus on movement and breathing, others focus on posture and technique. Some yoga is meant to relax the mind and create a sense of calmness; other yoga types make participants sweat.

After having her second child and working full-time, Balan wanted to find something physical and relaxing for herself; a friend suggested yoga. During her first lesson, Balan said she was enamored with it.

“I felt like I’d done it all my life.”

She dove into the philosophy of yoga, adopting the practice into her daily routine. Every morning, whether Balan is in her Long Island home or on a business trip, she pulls out her yoga mat to practice.

“I always travel with my mat,” she said. “Daily practice is the simplest form of connection to routine to maintain my balance — physically and mentally.”

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She said the strangest place she has ever practiced was in Lisbon. She was on a very narrow balcony with a bird feeder swarming with sparrows overhead.

After years of studying and practicing, Balan is considered a yogi — someone who is highly proficient in yoga. She attends annual retreats with her yoga group, where she is able to rejuvenate, ready to tackle any K&R event when she returns.

In 2016, Balan visited Tuscany, Italy, where she learned the practice of yoga nidra, a very deep form of meditation. It’s described as the “going-to-sleep stage” — a type of yoga that brings participants to a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping.

“It awakens a different part of your brain,” Balan commented. “Orally describing it doesn’t quite do it justice. One has to practice Nidra to fully understand the effect it has on your being.”

Keeping a level head during a crisis is key in their line of business, Tucker said. He can attest to the benefit of having a yogi on board.

“I’ve seen her run table-top exercises where there is this group of people in a room and they run an exercise, a simulation of a kidnap incident. Denise is very committed to what we’re doing,” said Tucker.

“She brings that energy. She doesn’t get flustered by much.”

Building a K&R Program

When Balan joined XL Catlin, she was tasked with creating the K&R team.

Balan during a retreat in Sicily, Italy, 2017

She spent time researching and analyzing what clients would want in their K&R coverage. What stuck out most to Balan was the fact that, in these situations, the decision to purchase kidnap and ransom cover is rarely made because of desire for reimbursement of money.

“I asked why people buy this type of coverage. The answer was for the security responders,” she said.

“These are the people who sit with the family. They’re similar to psychologists or priests,” Balan further explained. “Corporations can afford to pay ransom. They buy [K&R] because it gives them access to these trained and dedicated professionals who not only provide negotiation advice, but actually sit with a victim’s family, engaging deep levels of emotional investment.”

“I’ve learned to appreciate all moments in life — one at a time. The ability to think clearly and calmly guides my work, my practice and my personal life.” — Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin

Balan described these responders as people having total clarity of purpose, setting their intentions to resolve a crisis — a practice at the very heart of yoga. She knew XL Catlin’s new kidnap program would put stock in their responders.

“I’ve worked closely with the responders to better understand what they can do for our clientele. These are the people who run into danger — warrior hearts married to dedication to our clients’ best interests.”

But K&R is more than fast-paced crisis and quick thinking; Balan also spent a good deal of time writing the K&R form and getting the company’s resources in order. This was a huge task to tackle when creating the program from the ground up.

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“A lot of my day-to-day is speaking with brokers and finding ways to enhance our product,” she said.

After a few months, she was able to hire the company’s first K&R underwriter. From there, the program has grown. It’s left her feeling professionally rewarded.

“People don’t often get that opportunity to build something up from scratch,” she said. “It’s been an amazing experience — rewarding and fun.”

“She brings groups of people together,” said Tucker. “She’s created a positive environment.”

Balan’s yogi nature extends beyond the office walls, too. Her pride and joy, she said, are her kids. And while it may seem like two large parts of her life are opposite in nature, Balan’s achieved balance through her passions.

“[Yoga] has given me the ability to see beyond only one aspect of any situation” she said. “I’ve learned to appreciate all moments in life — one at a time. The ability to think clearly and calmly guides my work, my practice and my personal life.” &

Autumn Heisler is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]