No simple road map to working in conflict contexts

Written by Maya Assaf Horstmeier, Associate Director for Conflict Sensitivity

Over 530 million children today are living in contexts affected by conflicts and disasters. Beside causing loss of lives, physical devastation, and forced displacement, conflict permeates every facet of a child’s life. It robs them of their friends, families, and communities and affects every aspect of their well-being. The long-term psychosocial and health impact of witnessing conflict and enduring either bombardment or relocation can ripple for generations.

World Vision’s global strategy is focused on increasing its presence in areas where children face the greatest risk of violence. This requires the organisation to adapt current operational and programming models and to build organisational capacity in order to respond better to the needs of children in those contexts.

In light of that new direction,  World Vision has produced a report titled “Adaptation and Innovation: meeting humanitarian needs in fragile and conflict contexts” which captures World Vision’s learnings through real-time evaluations and case studies carried out in more than 10 fragile and conflict-affected contexts including South Sudan, the Central African republic, Uganda,  the Kurdistan Region of the Republic of Iraq.

The report acknowledges that there is no simple solitary approach for operating in fragile and conflict affected contexts; however, the cumulated experience across geographies and settings has allowed World Vision to identify some core lessons to improve its systems and processes internally, but also to share with its counterparts externally.

Lesson one: Understand your operational context

In order to be agile, flexible, and responsive, organisations must understand their operating context. This can be done through using World Vision’s conflict-sensitive tools (MSTC[1], GECARR[2], and IPACS[3]) or other tools used in the industry, whose results can be triangulated with  security assessments and stakeholder mapping. Those tools, coupled with the use of principled approaches to programming (HISS-CAM[4] tool) have allowed World Vision to make difficult decisions in keeping with humanitarian principles in highly politicised (and even militarised) contexts. 

Lesson two: Integrate social cohesion and peacebuilding from the onset

Integrating social cohesion and peacebuilding from the onset of a response can contribute to safer, more dignified and meaningful access to immediate humanitarian assistance while at the same time addressing some of the root causes of conflict and potential triggers. 

Lesson three: Keep children at the centre

Organisations (particularly those that are child-focused) should keep children at the centre of all humanitarian assistance as they are always disproportionately affected by conflict. In humanitarian  responses where World Vision has used child-centered programming (focused mainly on child protection, peace building, life skills, and mental and psychosocial health support), children were able to demonstrate that they could be agents of real change in their conflict-affected communities[5]

Lesson four:  Increase organisational flexibility, agility and threshold for risk

The nature of fragile and conflict-affected contexts demands a higher threshold for risk and exceptional organisational flexibility and agility. Therefore we need to continually improve to align current internal systems and policies related to finance, staffing and procurement with the needs of fragile-context programmes. In addition, we need to continue investing in funding models that allow for rapid scale up and continue to develop skills of national staff to respond to emergencies. Also, operating in fragile and conflict contexts demands being able to adjust operating modalities instantly from direct implementation to remote management. This also requires of us to hire the right staff at local and managerial level, and also credible and capable partners, when we are unable to implement directly.

Lesson five: Investing in security training and security risk management is critical

It is  critical that we continue to invest in security training and security risk management, particularly in highly militarised contexts where we need to maintain the perception that humanitarian workers adhere to the concepts of impartiality, neutrality, and independence. In addition to security procedures, staff should have access to internal and external avenues for mental health well-being and resilience building. These should be seen as necessary costs for doing business in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. 

There is no simple roadmap for operating in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. The nature of these contexts requires constant learning, adaptation and revision. However, as the report identifies, there are core principles that can be applied across various contexts to ensure NGOs can continue to deliver principled humanitarian operations to address the needs and reduce the vulnerabilities of children affected by conflict.

Learn more

  • Read more about our work with children in fragile, conflict and humanitarian contexts.
  • See more blogs from other World Vision thought leaders







[5] See CAR case study of the “Adaptation and Innovation: meeting humanitarian needs in fragile and conflict contexts” report, p. 27