As a responsible volunteer travel operator, we know that having the right processes, procedures and culture in place to manage and mitigate risks associated with our work is of the highest importance. We acknowledge that PHIVolunteering volunteer programs take place in a wide range of regions and communities around the world and that each has its own set of risks associated with the social, political or environmental context of that area. Any type of travel abroad involves a certain degree of risk, especially when traveling to developing countries and we want everyone who volunteers with PHIVolunteering to be supported to do so safely. We also believe that PHIVolunteering staff should be empowered to work in a safe and secure environment.
The purpose of this policy is to define PHIVolunteering’s overall approach to risk management and to outline how it is governed, monitored and constantly improved.
This is an organisation-wide policy. It applies to all PHIVolunteering operations, the operations of our programs and placements, and to all direct staff members including management. Every stakeholder has a role to play in the successful application of this policy and in maintaining a culture of risk mitigation.
This policy complements and supports PHIVolunteering’s Code of Conduct as well as the PHIVolunteering Child Protection Policy and PHIVolunteering Responsible Volunteer Travel Policy, the commitments set out in each document guide our operations and the behaviour of all who work with us. The application of this policy also relies on the acceptance by volunteers of PHIVolunteering’s Terms and Conditions of Service.
We believe effective risk management relies on the following principles. They guide our approach to managing and reducing risk in our operations.
Being well prepared is essential and we take a range of steps to ensure that we’ve done our groundwork when it comes to managing risks properly. For us this means conducting risk assessments of any new programs and placements before they launch and working collaboratively with our partners to establish thorough risk management procedures and regular reporting. This helps us to build a clear picture of where risks lie, enables us to monitor performance across our network of programs, and ensures that in the unlikely event of an incident occurring, we can resolve it quickly and limit the impact on both volunteers and our operations.
It is also very important that volunteers are well prepared. We think having a clear understanding of the potential risks and how to avoid them, before setting off on a volunteering program significantly helps to reduce the likelihood of incidents occurring. That’s why as part of our pre-departure briefing, we provide PHIVolunteering volunteers with detailed information about the potential risks involved in a volunteering abroad program, a detailed guide on how to avoid them, and a summary of the basic emergency procedures relevant for their program. The biggest potential risks for volunteers are often present in activities they undertake in their free time, rather than activities undertaken as part of their volunteering program. So we ensure the pre-departure briefing also includes information about reducing risk in these situations. PHIVolunteering volunteers are required to complete this pre-departure briefing before arriving in their chosen destination and a failure to do so is a breach of PHIVolunteering’s Code of Conduct.
Identifying potential risks properly is an essential part of helping to reduce them . We work with our partners to define the events or incidents that could occur in each placement and result in risk for PHIVolunteering volunteers or our operations. These events or incidents may or may not be within the control of PHIVolunteering or our partners and our aim is to consider the full scope of risks, so that avoidance and mitigation plans can be created.
As we’ve grown, we’ve become familiar with the risks associated with operating in a wide range of developing countries and we’re constantly learning how to identify and manage them most effectively. Our partnership approach means that we have trusted program personnel on the ground in every country that we operate in who oversee the local risk identification process and spot new risks as they emerge. PHIVolunteering staff members also regularly audit our partners’ approaches to risk identification and management during program visits.
Not all risks are equal and each needs to be assessed based on the potential impact it could have on volunteers and on PHIVolunteering operations. Once risks have been identified, we assess them based on clear criteria and then prioritise the development of mitigating action plans. We regularly review and update our overall assessment of risks, particularly as new risks emerge (for example, when we open a new program) and are constantly re-prioritising our overall risk set.
Our aim is to reduce risk wherever possible. All identified risks are mapped in terms of their potential severity and then each has an associated plan that defines how it will be mitigated and reduced. Each of these plans has clear timescales for resolution and then each is assigned to an PHIVolunteering owner who has ultimate responsibility for ensuring the risk is properly addressed. Effective risk management is everyone’s job, but we think having a clear owner for every risk helps to drive ownership across the organisation and builds a safety-conscious culture.
We offer volunteer programs in a large number of countries and all have a different associated risk profile. However, there are some core focus areas that are included in our risk management plans everywhere we operate. These include:
We want PHIVolunteering volunteers to not only feel comfortable in their program accommodation, but also safe and secure at all times. Volunteers on our programs stay in either volunteer houses or home-stays, and our partners are required to certify that all accommodation provided on their program adheres to our standards for volunteer safety. Our risk mitigation plans for accommodation include fire prevention measures and evacuation plans in the case of emergencies.
A wide range of emergencies can occur and we support our partners to develop detailed emergency response plans for many of them. These include but are not limited to the following situations; fire, natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and civil unrest. In each case, our plans include 24-hour contacts, evacuation procedures, agreed communications plans for volunteers and their families, and processes for engaging with embassies, if necessary.
3. Illness and physical harm
Maintaining sound physical and mental health is the personal responsibility of each volunteer, but we also take a number of steps to help reduce the risk of illness and harm, and our programs all have plans in place with their placements to quickly resolve incidents when they occur, and to communicate with PHIVolunteering staff and volunteers’ families in an open and timely fashion. We also have procedures that partners are required to follow in the unlikely event of a serious-harm incident occurring while a volunteer is on their program. We provide information to volunteers about staying safe in their free time but PHIVolunteering and our partners are not responsible for the actions of individual volunteers during their free time. These actions include but are not limited to: weekend visits to tourist sites, transport to or from free time activities, and the use of alcohol or drugs.
4. Assault and theft
The communities where PHIVolunteering volunteers are placed are generally safe, but travel anywhere has its risk and incidents of assault and theft can occur. The risk mitigation plans put in place by our local partners in each country reduce the chances of these incidents occurring and partners are all briefed and supported to take the appropriate actions with police or emergency services should a volunteer become the victim of theft or assault. Mitigation and response plans in this area extend to sexual assault.
5. Illegal substances
PHIVolunteering’s Code of Conduct contains commitments that volunteers must adhere to in relation to the possession and use of illegal substances. As in any country, the procurement and use of illegal substances in the regions where we operate is dangerous and it is incumbent upon volunteers to take responsibility for their own behaviour in this regard. However, we also take steps to ensure volunteers understand these risks appropriately and have procedures in place on all programs to manage the impact of a breach in this element of the Code of Conduct.
ROLES AND GOVERNANCE
Whilst effective risk management is owned and delivered by all PHIVolunteering staff and partners, the ultimate responsibility lies with PHIVolunteering’s Senior Management.
1. Senior Management and Staff
Executive Director and a group of senior managers oversee the application of risk management procedures across our network of program partners. They ensure partners understand and support the procedures, adhere to them at all times, and provide regular compliance reporting back to PHIVolunteering’s head office. They also periodically review and refine this policy and ensure it is communicated appropriately with volunteers and other relevant stakeholders.
PHIVolunteering staff members are responsible for implementing an audit process to assess a partners’ compliance with this Policy during their visit to programs, with the support and guidance of senior managers and a clearly defined audit framework.
2. Program Partners
Our program partners are critical in the application of this policy and are relied upon to ensure procedures are followed. Each program partner is responsible for overseeing risk management in their region, collating information from placements, monitoring the delivery of local risk mitigation plans, and reporting updates to senior management on a regular basis. In the event of an incident, our program partners coordinate the right response, with support from senior management.
Placement staff members are often the first people to identify potential risks and they are well placed to take the actions necessary to mitigate them. As the personnel working with PHIVolunteering volunteers on the ground every day, placement staff are responsible for ensuring all necessary steps have been taken to help volunteers stay safe and it is their job to provide the initial response in the event of an incident, with support from the program coordinator. They also work closely with program partners in the development of mitigation plans.
Volunteers have a responsibility to comply with all PHIVolunteering Policies, the Code of Conduct and Terms and Conditions of Service. Their role in managing risk is outlined in these documents and we expect them to honour the commitments they make by choosing to volunteer with us. The safety of other volunteers is often affected by the actions of individuals, so we take any breach of these commitments seriously. Volunteers have a personal responsibility to keep themselves safe and avoid unnecessary risks and they always have the right to decline to participate in an activity if they feel unsafe.
Audits take place periodically when PHIVolunteering staff members visit programs in person.