Wateraid Global Safeguarding Team. Credit: Wateraid
Wateraid Global Safeguarding Team. Credit: Wateraid

The benefits of investing in Safeguarding Champions

The Safeguarding Focal Points are now a unified and reinvigorated body within the WaterAid federation… This will contribute to the implementation of WaterAid’s new Global Strategy in the best conditions to limit abuse of power and thus protect the dignity and well-being of our staff, our partners, and the communities we serve.

Safeguarding Focal Point

Ensuring that our programmes and personnel do no harm, and that we have effective safeguards in place to protect those affected by our work, requires collaboration and shared responsibility.

At WaterAid, we are working to ensure that everyone has access to clean and safe water, sanitation, and hygiene, and we work in partnership with governments, civil society organisations and others to achieve this.

To deliver the safeguarding commitments underpinning our work, WaterAid’s safeguarding approach is supported by a Global Safeguarding Team and a now vibrant network of Safeguarding Focal Points (SFPs) across 31 countries. SFPs play a key role in contextualising safeguarding for their respective location. They champion preventative measures, ensure safeguarding is effectively understood and implemented by partners, and support leadership teams to reinforce and embed a safe and inclusive culture.

Members of staff take on the SFP position voluntarily, bringing diverse expertise, skills, and perspectives from their substantive roles. Historically, SFPs have attended virtual trainings. However, a lack of direct peer engagement and a sense of community was felt to be a barrier to SFPs having the highest possible impact within their countries. Intensive face-to-face training was deemed essential to address this and continue developing knowledge and exchange.

Participatory Safeguarding Workshop

In October 2023, SFPs and safeguarding champions from across the organisation came together for the first time in Bangkok, Thailand. Given the 43 participants were coming from 29 countries, Thailand was chosen for its visa accessibility.

Designed and facilitated by the Global Safeguarding Team, the five-day workshop aimed to support participants to deepen knowledge, develop skills, strengthen confidence, and foster connections. Live English-French simultaneous interpretation was also provided.

The agenda included sessions on:

  • contextualising safeguarding at WaterAid
  • preventative approaches, safe programming and community reporting mechanisms
  • practical skills for trauma informed, survivor centred approaches to receiving and responding to concerns
  • WaterAid’s approach to safeguarding investigations and case learning through an immersive case study
  • embedding learning and action planning through commitments aligned to WaterAid’s Global Safeguarding Framework.

The training was devised to be interactive and fun, with discussion, sharing and cross-learning at its heart. Despite safeguarding being serious in nature, energy and laughter were woven throughout the week, and the contributions of SFPs through presentations, group facilitation and energisers greatly contributed to the success of the training.

While it was SFPs who attended the event, leadership teams from their respective countries were also engaged. This was integral to support the implementation of the SFPs learning and accountability for the follow up actions required to strengthen safeguarding.

Promoting continual improvement and creative case learning

I learned that there is, across the organisation, great innovative examples being developed. And we shared challenges which we can learn from one another. We need to be open and speak up about our challenges.

Safeguarding Focal Point

While every SFP’s context is unique, there are common barriers to overcome to effectively implement a strong safeguarding culture. Much learning came from seeing how others have adapted approaches, tools, and messaging.

WaterAid’s safeguarding approach includes a strong emphasis on prevention and mitigation of risks, while acknowledging that incidents will occur. Encouraging people to speak up about concerns, and feel safe to do so, remains a priority, as does reflecting on cases that have arisen.

The workshop showcased several initiatives to support wider case learning. One of these is a 3-minute learning animation that draws out identified barriers to reporting. . These relate to power dynamics, fears of retaliation or backlash, concerns related to the impact for the person whose behaviour is being reported, as well as the management of incidents through traditional or customary resolution processes.

These and other materials were incorporated into a Resource Pack, shared at the end of the week to support SFPs to further disseminate learning and tools.

Is the investment worth it?

Feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive, speaking to not just the professional impact, but also the personal impact, inspiring increased motivation and confidence to challenge culture and power.

Spaces like this shouldn’t be underestimated… I had been struggling with how to put safeguarding into my context. I’m not now! I feel motivated to make safeguarding a priority within my team and within the work I do.

Safeguarding Focal Point

While the financial and human resourcing investment running a workshop such as this is significant, the benefits are far reaching. With a considerable portion of the design now in place, our intention is to run similar training events bi-annually to continue to empower the network. In future events, the format may be adapted to run smaller sessions by region to minimise environmental impacts, or to organise by language spoken to ensure the most effective learning conditions.

We encourage others to consider investing in similar training to continue strengthening safeguarding across our sector. This will not only benefit individual organisations, and our employees, but also improves protection for the people we reach.

As a sector, we need to continue moving beyond compliance to an approach where safeguarding is contextualised to ensure we are all delivering quality, sustainable programmes that do no harm. The more effective we are at this collectively, the more impactful we will be in gaining the trust of individuals to come forward and share their concerns. Investing in the safeguarding capacity of our workforce is an essential step towards achieving this.

As one Safeguarding Focal Point summed up:

We can’t stop people from doing bad actions, but we can prevent them from doing it in our organisation and strengthen the system to make it even harder for them to find where to do harm.