ACFID Blog from Trust Alliance Chair Louise Gray: How technology and collective action can protect people from misconduct

Written by Louise Gray

February 18, 2021

Humanitarian organisations and their partners have come together as the Trust Alliance, to find technology enabled solutions to the challenges facing the sector, including the prevention of misconduct. Reflecting on their work to date, the Trust Alliance shares their four key insights from applying innovative and collaborative solutions to reduce instances of misconduct in the sector.

Protecting people must be at the heart of the work

It is our job to safeguard the people and communities we work with, protect them from harm — first and foremost. And by harm, we mean ‘unintended consequences’, ‘unintentional oversights’, or ‘unfortunate miscalculations or mistakes.’

Harm through any means is unacceptable, but what happens when harm becomes far more than the above, or when it is a direct employee who’s done the wrong thing? What happens when they’ve done it on purpose? Or worse — what if we failed to do our level best to prevent this happening in the first place?

It’s unthinkable. But it’s absolutely necessary to acknowledge that this sector, and organisations that work with some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people on the planet, are targets for those who would use positions of power to take advantage of others. It’s the nature of predators to try to infiltrate these ranks.

So in January 2019, a Misconduct Disclosure Scheme was established to prevent perpetrators being ‘recycled’ through the sector, because as we know, people work across multiple aid and development organisations throughout their careers.

Complexity is unavoidable, but it can drive us towards innovative solutions

Numerous organisations signed up to the Scheme — fully supportive of the fundamental commitment to avoid staff misconduct leading to harm. But there were also concerns:

  • What about privacy legislation?
  • How could recruitment progress be done in a timely fashion?
  • How much extra work would this create?
  • Would multiple organisations be duplicating the same duties?
  • How do we ensure that it is the individual, not the employer who bears the risk?

Essentially, we all agree that safeguarding our staff and communities we assist in times of need is essential. How to do this without being disruptive to operations and compromising our capability to have a positive impact for the people we exist to serve, remain ethical and principled, ensure privacy and confidentiality of everyone is guaranteed…? We need to work smarter — not harder.

Enter: the Trust Alliance. A collaboration of non-profit, research and technology organisations committed to solving complex humanitarian problems, with a mission to lead the emergence of a useful and ethical digital identity ecosystem, which puts people at the centre and in control.

Technology-enabled solutions can power our work in multiple directions

In September 2020, one of the Trust Alliance working groups, with four agencies participating, commenced a trial. They issued a common credential (code of conduct credential) that could efficiently and securely be shared across organisations, thereby enabling greater visibility of an individual’s conduct. Using Traverse, a blockchain-based product, the organisations were able to identify how this technology can facilitate fast, accurate and trusted credential checks for the aid sector, including employees, deployees/delegates and volunteers.

Encouragingly, the model has the potential for application across many different credentials. We trialled it on misconduct disclosure as this is a high-risk area which occupies the minds of every CEO and the Board. In our sector, reputation is a hard-earned value, one that can be lost entirely through a single action or inaction on our part. These risks need to be mitigated to the best of our abilities.

Our power lies in collective action

Combining our efforts is key – our power lies in collective action. The more organisations that are involved, the lower the risk of employing someone who has committed misconduct.

And isn’t collective action what it is all about? This is what is needed to address the increasing scale and complexity of humanitarian needs and operating environments, to catalyse new collaborations to enable better outcomes for vulnerable people and communities. We must harness our collective skills, capabilities, expertise and perspectives to solve these problems, because we can’t solve them alone.

The Trust Alliance is growing and gaining momentum, bringing together values-aligned organisations wishing to collaborate on credentialling solutions to common problems. 

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