The ICRC’s primary goal is to protect and assist conflict-affected populations. But keeping their humanitarian staff safe is equally as important. Now the ICRC is testing whether an approach can systematize diversity and inclusion into security and safety risk management by rebuilding it entirely.


The ICRC is a field-focused organization specializing in places of conflict and instability. It must constantly balance the demands of humanitarian intervention with risks to its staff. Across the world, across societies and across industries, issues of identity, gender, diversity and inclusion are coming evermore strongly to the fore.

In the humanitarian sector, it is increasingly clear that while everyone is deserving of equal security, not everyone is equally at risk.

“As a humanitarian organization our very mission is inclusive, to assist people without any kind of discrimination,” says Annika Norlin, the ICRC’s Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion. “So we have to evolve internally: all our staff have to experience true inclusion to be able to lead from within.”

A new initiative, supported by ICRC Innovation, will foster cross-departmental collaboration and co-design to supplement ICRC’s Security and Safety Risk Management methodology while building on diversity and inclusion approaches.

A Security Perspective

“We want to define what diversity and inclusion is, from a risk assessment perspective, and how to ingrain that within our security management methodology,” says Jean-Philippe Kiehl, Deputy Head of the Security & Crisis Management Support (SCMS) Unit. “Security has always been a transversal process within the ICRC that required significant collaboration, but this approach aims to really expand how each staff individually views and absorbs risk.”

Beginning with a context analysis per location, SCMS is responsible for helping ICRC managers identify and assess on-the-ground risks, then put in place mitigation measures for staff – steps that can mean the difference between life and death.

But humanitarian security risk assessment does not systematically consider the variety of individuals within a context. The new project seeks to fine-tune the ICRC’s methodology for security management by incorporating a specified approach to diversity and inclusion.

“We must understand any and all threats faced by individual staff during a risk assessment” says Kiehl. “Within a team, each person represents a diverse profile and these need to be absorbed in order to fully protect them.”

Diverse People, Diverse Risks

The range of risks are many and varied. Potential risks look different to different people and groups. There is a need to better integrate how different risks expose different people. With this initiative, the ICRC attempts to build the capacity of staff to read the complexity and risks in situations that can better protect everyone.

Crucially, the project is about giving, not taking. ICRC does not ask staff to reveal details about themselves that they prefer to keep private. Instead nuanced, granular, contextual, information could be provided, allowing staff to be more deeply informed about specific risks in specific places.

“Staff need to know not just where they are going, but what are the precise risks associated with that, and what are the mitigating measures in place,” Kiehl explains.

Achieving such a deep level of insight begins with absorbing a diverse range of voices on security issues and mitigation measures. It is follwed by co-designing approaches with users who bring new questions and fresh perspectives and leads to a collective, inclusive assessment of the situation.

In this way, those who need to be involved are not just heard but take part in the decision-making of the revised guidance and pedagogy.

Cultural Sensitivity, Emotional Intelligence

“It sounds obvious but it’s crucial to integrate different voices and perspectives before taking decisions on security,” says Norlin, “And we can always improve in this area, especially when we are in the phase of assessing and taking precautions, to take the time to listen to people.”

Listening, engaging and acting with, as Norlin says, “cultural sensitivity and emotional intelligence” reflects a willingness to see the world as it is—complex, shifting, messy and uncentered. This is a perspective that is crucial to effective security management.

And there is little doubt the initiative is timely and essential. “If the information is not granular or specific enough, we’re not doing our utmost to ensure people have the information they need to stay safe,” says Kiehl. “And keeping all ICRC staff safe is part of our duty of care.”