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Staying Secure While Saving the World's Wildlife

AS A RESULT OF nearly two decades of increasing security challenges for international aid workers, the World Wildlife Fund United States (WWF US), like other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operating on a global scale, is changing the way it thinks about security. It is implementing new security standards adopted by World Wildlife Fund International and formalizing international security policies and procedures.

Prior to the formalization of the enterprise-wide security program, the legal department and program operations were responsible for most aspects of security. Now these efforts will all be under the umbrella of a new safety, security, and risk management department.

“WWF [International] has had a very longstanding commitment to the safety and security and the well being of all its employees,” says Mitchell Keiver, who was hired last year to be the first director of safety, security, and risk management for WWF US. But now, he notes, the organization has given all security efforts “a singular voice, and we’ve made it a formal program, which is the big difference.”

Operating in more than 100 countries, WWF International is the largest multinational conservation organization in the world. It is composed of a network of offices, which fall into two categories: WWF offices that raise money and carry out projects autonomously and those that work under the direction of one of the independent offices.

WWF US, like other independent offices in such countries as the United Kingdom and Canada, operates autonomously as a registered corporate entity. It raises money and carries out environmental conservation projects around the world, through a network of offices.

WWF US supports 19 offices around the globe. It has a significant presence in Latin and Central America but also has far-flung offices in locations such as Bhutan and Nepal.

When Keiver arrived at WWF US last year, the organization had finalized a set of security standards for the entire WWF network of offices. The standards consist of eight rules every office must follow and seven every employee must adhere to. For example, each office must develop a health and safety policy and must have a certain number of staff trained in first aid.

Another part of the standards requires that each WWF office have a designated “safety focal point,” or security manager, to ensure that security systems and tools are in place. Prior to that standard, there was an informal network of safety focal points. For the offices under Keiver’s direction, these security managers are local nationals, and that’s by design, because security everywhere is not homogenous.

“I want them to be involved in the formulation and the implementation of locally appropriate security plans,” he says. “When you have local nationals who are playing this role, I think it gives you a much better insight into the specifics of the country,” he adds. Locals know what safety, medical, and security resources are likely to be available in an emergency and which ones might be lacking or need to be supplemented.

Another reason to have local nationals as the safety focal point in the field is to ensure continuity of operations. In the event of an evacuation, only the expatriates leave, Keiver says. The local nationals remain in charge, so that “we’re not just running away from the country,” he says. “We’re handing the keys to the shop to somebody who has the confidence and the capability to continue the presence.”

Because each WWF office has a staff composed of a mix of locals, who make up the majority, and expatriates, security plans have to consider what resources will be available to each. Expatriates often have resources available to them that are not available to local staff, like medivacs to hospitals outside of the country, Keiver says.

The most important aspect of formalizing the security program is to build a strong foundation. “If you lay down those rules and if you have those candid discussions with people about how this is going to work,” Keiver says, “I think it just becomes infinitely easier to implement standards...because you’re not reinventing the wheel every single time.”