Risk Management in Practice ICVA Learning Stream

Humanitarians inherently work in places of high fragility, conflict, or instability. These characteristics are part of defining where humanitarian action is needed in the first place and impact their ability of humanitarian actors to accomplish their mission of reducing human suffering.

The humanitarian imperative requires humanitarian organisations to accept a culture of risk in order to operate effectively in such environments. While risk awareness is embeded in the culture of humanitarian work, risk management is not. Therefore, it is critical for NGOs to understand how to identify and manage risk.

In this context, ICVA and PHAP’s fifth online Learning Stream “Risk Management in Practice” provides a platform for the NGO community to share their current practice, discuss, and learn from one another in order to better understand how to manage risks when working in the humanitarian sector and apply it in their day-to-day work.


RECORDINGS of all the webinars in this Learning Stream are available on each of the individual pages. 


The “Risk Management in Practice” Learning Stream provides NGO staff, including field, policy and headquarter staff an opportunity to:

  1. make the discussion on risk management more accessible to practitioners and decision-makers;
  2. Examine some of the core risk management issues unique to the humanitarian space;
  3. ensure existing risk management tools and lessons are identified and understood;
  4. explore the avenues available for humanitarian actors to improve how they manage risk in their organisations;
  5. hear from different actors working on these issues on how to build synergies;
  6. understand the challenges, risks, and opportunities for principled and effective humanitarian action, especially at the country and regional levels;
  7. become acquainted with the efforts underway to help NGOs and other actors improve how they manage risk;

The ICVA-PHAP Learning Streams are open to anyone interested in improving their understanding of the risk management in the humanitarian sector.

To get an introduction to the topic of this new Learning Stream, we suggest that you view the ICVA-PHAP webinar  Risky Business: Reframing the fundamentals of risk management for humanitarians (part of the Learning Stream Navigating Change)



Topic 1: Security Risk Management and Duty of Care during COVID-19, 03 June 2020

This event unpacked security risk management and linked issues of duty-of-care in humanitarian programming from the perspective of INGOs, local and national NGOs, Donors and UN agencies, framed around the mounting challenges presented by COVID-19 response.

The event covered:

  • ICVA SRM paper (coming soon)
  • Duty of Care – including risk transfer and risk sharing
  • COVID-19 specific risk (health, violence against expats, lack of evacuations)
  • Localisation – reliance on local NGOs due to above challenges 


Topic 2: Balancing Risk Appetite and Risk Tolerance in Humanitarian Operations, 08 September 2020

This event will focus on the twin concepts of risk tolerance and risk appetite. Following an introductory briefing on these concepts, the event will cover the practical challenges in identifying risk appetite and risk tolerance for NGOs together with a panel of experts.

Risk appetite is the willingness or desire to take on risk. While this can (and should) vary between organisations, risk appetite in the humanitarian community is generally high due to the inherently high-risk contexts in which humanitarian operations take place. If risk appetite is the willingness to take on risk, risk tolerance is the ability to do so. Tolerance may vary depending on the individual risk areas faced by humanitarian organizations in their operations.


Topic 3: The Impact of Bank De-risking on Humanitarian Action: 22 October 2020

ICVA and PHAP's webinar focusing on the bank de-risking and its impact on humanitarian action discussed with a panel of experts the practical challenges faced by humanitarian NGOs and how to approach this issue from a risk management perspective.

An opaque banking system which has limited accountability to humanitarian organisations and their principles leave little to be done for individual organisations in term of appealing or objecting to what sometimes seem like arbitrary decisions. Bank de-risking is lacking research and advocacy since most organisations avoid discussing how it affects them. This is why humanitarian organisations need to step up both the management of this risk and common advocacy towards both donors and financial regulators.


Topic 4: Culture matters: Risks and opportunities related to leaderships, staff well-being and living our values - 03 December 2020 

Humanitarian organizations have faced situations reminding us that how we carry out our work is as important as what we do – including how agencies approach the mental and physical well-being of staff members to avoid long-term exhaustion, burnout, injury, or illness. Apart from the direct impact to individual staff members when the duty of care is compromised, organizations also face potential risks of an operational, reputational, safety and security, fiduciary, or legal and ethical nature.

The joint webinar by ICVA, the CHS Alliance and PHAP shared the findings from a joint ICVA-CHS Alliance project supporting reflections on the CEO role in driving culture change to enable a positive workplace culture, safeguard staff well-being and live our humanitarian values. The panel discussed practical challenges faced by staff and management as well as insights into solutions to improve the ability of senior executives to promote the necessary change.

Topic 5: Risk Management & Funding Partnerships 10 June 2021 

Risk management practices are playing an increasingly important role in partner selection and engagement when NGOs receive funding from UN agencies or government donors. For funders of humanitarian programming of NGOs, risk management is playing an increasing role in both the decision to offer funding and the terms and conditions of partnership once a grant is secured. Funding from UN agencies for NGO partners now includes an assessment of risk management practices in partner selection. Most also use a risk rating system with partners to determine funding limits and levels of required oversight.

Donor governments currently have a wider range of practice, some with extensive risk management systems in place. For NGO partners, there can be major consequences if donor government funding is accepted without a proper risk assessment being carried out. Accounting and compliance requirements for NGOs can be difficult to meet without appropriate training, and there are often serious legal consequences if the terms of funding agreements are not met.

The joint webinar by ICVA and PHAP examined the role of risk management in good funding partnerships as NGOs engage with external funders. 



ICVA’s 2020 Annual Conference Protecting principled humanitarian action: an honest conversation on risk”, 19 March 2020

ICVA’s briefing paper “Reinforce, Reinforce, Reinforce: Localisation in the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response” (30 March)

ICVA’s Risk Management resource page

ICVA briefing riefing paper, "Risk and Humanitarian Culture"

ICVA-PHAP webinar "Risky Business: Reframing the fundamentals of risk management for humanitarians", 21 November 2019

All ICVA briefing papers are available here 

Global Inter-agency Security Forum (GISF) website

InterAction, Resources on NGO Risk Management


You can access more resources related to the topic under each of the webinars.