Our work is conducted in diverse and difficult circumstances - and this poses a number of serious safety and security threats to children and staff. These risks also have the potential to impact on our programme delivery and strategy as well as our fundraising ambitions.
Efforts to address these risks see management teams at our Amsterdam and branch offices play a leading role. In addition, risk management is a standing topic on the agenda of all Audit Committee and Supervisory Board meetings.
Formalising Our Risk Management Framework
Wherever we work we identify, rate and - where possible - mitigate all potential risks to our operations. To this end, the year saw us formalise our risk management framework. Within this framework, risks are grouped into 10 main categories and for each category the risk ‘owner’ and ‘appetite’ is clearly stated.
The framework was approved by management and the Supervisory Board in the first quarter of 2022. Through updated policies and procedures and the implementation of a centralised reporting system, it will be further operationalised in the years to come.
Our risk mitigation is based on three key defense mechanisms - put into practice by our dedicated working group and subject matter experts:
Speak Up! Procedure
Our Speak Up! Procedure was developed with input from both international child rights organisations and sector benchmarks. The year saw War Child make a conscious effort to ensure this procedure became known across the organisation.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our internal audit was conducted remotely in 2021. This audit focuses on compliance with both internal and external policies and procedures.
On request of the donor or in compliance with local statutory requirements, War Child projects are frequently subject to external audits. On average, at least 30 per cent of institutional grants are subject to audits spread across our programme areas. They also provide valuable recommendations for further improvement of our internal control environment.
What were the main risks in 2021?
The COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdowns continued to hamper our programme delivery and fundraising activities in 2021.
Project implementation was significantly disrupted - reducing our ability to reach children in their hour of need. Despite this difficult operating environment, we successfully secured a number of no-cost extensions with donors. Investment in the pursuit of regular donors - otherwise known as Friends - also offset our lower income from events.
War Child continuously monitors the security context in the areas of our activities - to ensure the safety of our staff and the children who take part in our programmes. Our country teams are actively managing security risks and are prepared for emergency situations or security incidents.
Among others, shrinking civic space in the occupied Palestinian territory, inter-communal clashes in eastern DR Congo and the fall of the Afghan government after 20 years of foreign military and development assistance posed significant security challenges in 2021.
We anticipated and responded to these changes in context thanks to the effective functioning of our security management framework. In Afghanistan our War Child UK and Canada colleagues were supported in their communications with western governments and one staff member - including family members - was safely evacuated by the British government.
Fraud and Corruption
Fraud and corruption pose a significant threat to our organisation - not only in financial terms but also with regard to our reputation and credibility.
Among several potential fraud concerns brought to our attention during the year, we received one report with a severity level ‘critical’. The report concerned allegations of suspected misconduct within one of our country offices. The investigation is ongoing and relevant donors have been informed. Adequate prevention measures such as strengthening internal controls on procurement and awareness raising among staff and partners will be taken.
In December 2021, War Child was informed by Dutch singer Marco Borsato that he was resigning his ambassadorship with us. The decision came after a report was filed against him concerning alleged sexual misconduct with a minor. The accusation did not pertain to his work with War Child. In the years that he has been our ambassador we have not received any complaints about Borsato’s conduct towards children.
Regardless, we take any accusation of this nature extremely seriously. We have extensive preventive measures in place to ensure that everyone at War Child treats children and youth with respect and dignity at all times. This means, for example, that staff are forbidden from working alone with a child. All War Child representatives must be well versed in our Code of Conduct and are obliged to attend regular integrity and child safeguarding training. We also urge everyone to immediately report misconduct - suspected or otherwise - via our Speak Up! Procedure. A thorough investigation is conducted where necessary.
When the Code of Conduct is violated, staff are sanctioned without hesitation.