SEAH Harmonised Reporting Scheme: Enhancing Mercy Corps’ ability to deliver safe programming

25 May 2023

Interview with Steve Linick & Laura Ragan (Mercy Corps)

We know that sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment (SEAH) by aid workers occurs during the delivery of humanitarian support and development assistance. This is well established, yet there is widespread underreporting across the aid system. This means that organisations working with vulnerable people must proactively uncover SEAH cases and collectively examine how this unacceptable behaviour manifests.

To achieve this CHS Alliance and the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response have united to initiate a SEAH Harmonised Reporting Scheme. With funding from the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO), the Scheme aims to uncover the scale and patterns of cases while keeping victims/survivors safe. Because ignoring the problem simply allows abuse to thrive.

To find out the difference the new harmonisation Scheme could make, we hear from Scheme members Mercy Corps’ Steve Linick, Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer and Laura Ragan, Director of Safeguarding Investigations:

Why did you get involved with the Harmonised Reporting Scheme? 

Mercy Corps’ new 10-year strategy, Pathway to Possibility, defines how we approach our mission of working to alleviate suffering, poverty, and oppression by helping to build secure, productive, and just communities. The strategy highlights the need for our actions to be evidence-driven and focused on delivering safe programming. We believe the Harmonised Reporting Scheme is aligned with these strategic goals and builds on Mercy Corps’ ongoing commitment to safely and transparently share our PSEA incident data.

Participation in the Scheme gives us the opportunity to contribute to a broad collection of PSEAH incident data in conjunction with our sector partners and donors. Reviewing the collective data helps ensure that we are making strong evidence-based decisions to support our safeguarding prevention and response efforts, which enhances our ability to deliver safe programming.

What do you hope to achieve by being part of the Scheme? 

We hope our participation in the Scheme contributes to an increase in transparency around PSEA incidents in the sector and provides an opportunity to better coordinate safeguarding efforts with our sector partners and donors. We know the long-term plan is to share the collected PSEAH data with the public, and we hope this will lead to even greater coordination with the communities we serve around safeguarding prevention and response efforts.

Have you seen any benefits since joining the Scheme? 

Yes. For Mercy Corps, it has been helpful to compare our internal trends and patterns with the Scheme data. For example, one of the incident reporting trends we are seeing at Mercy Corps is consistent with what our Scheme partners are experiencing. Identifying broader sector trends helps to inform our own safeguarding prevention efforts.

We are also reviewing the data to help us identify any gaps in our own incident reporting.

“If our Scheme partners are experiencing higher incident reports in a region or country where we have seen less incidents reported, this may indicate a need for additional targeted training/awareness raising efforts within Mercy Corps.”

What do you think it would take for the Scheme to successfully scale up and achieve real impact?

We believe that the more broadly the Scheme is implemented by sector actors and supported by donors, the greater impact it will have. It is a unique opportunity to coordinate between INGOs, NGOs, and donors to work towards greater coordinated safeguarding efforts.

How do you encourage your partners, particularly the national NGOs, to make the most of the Scheme?

We actively look for opportunities to support the Scheme, and our Director of Safeguarding Investigations has delivered both virtual and in-person presentations on the Scheme to multiple organizations through InterAction gatherings. We encourage our partners to join the Scheme and to continue working to increase transparency around PSEA incidents.

The Scheme’s pilot phase launched in September 2022. Twenty-four organisations – including international NGOs, national NGOs and private sector organisations – are now testing out and feeding back on a proposed framework for reporting SEAH data in a harmonised way. CHS Alliance is encouraging more organisations to join and test the framework to create a system that works for all – especially for people who are victims/survivors of SEAH. The more organisations that join the Scheme, the better equipped the aid system will be to understand, prevented and responded to abuse in aid.

Find out more details on the Scheme and how your organisation can play a part in tackling power abuses in aid.