Our world is insufficiently prepared for an increasingly complex risk environment. This stirring call to arms was recently issued by the World Economic Forum in its Global Risks Report.

The Forum’s study of the planet’s most pressing problems reveals that the underlying nature of the risk is changing. The pace of political, economic, social, environmental and technological change is unprecedented. As never before, we are faced with risks that are increasingly complex, unpredictable and volatile.

The report draws particular attention to a number of concerns that affect us all:

  • Fragile societies under increasing pressure from rising unemployment and inequality;
  • Growing concerns over conflict, in a new era of strategic competition among global powers;
  • A potentially false sense of optimism over the global economic recovery; and
  • The rising dangers of climate change, environmental degradation and resource scarcity.

Yet it is when the interconnections between these risks are mapped, that we begin to understand just how complex an environment we face.

WEF Risks Connections

(Source: World Economic Forum, Global Risks Report)

In Africa, this landscape is posing extraordinary challenges for decision makers at all levels. The risks of climate and economic shocks, the fear of instability and extremism are rising. How do we prepare for and build resilience against such risks? How do we mitigate the consequences? How do we avoid collateral damage and the unintended fallout?

Complex risks transcend borders, politics and spheres of influence. And they require complex solutions. Conventional thinking won’t work. New approaches are required, new collaborations across countries and industries, which forge new partnerships to think and act differently.

Click here to view the full report Global Risks Report


The nature of war is changing. Two years ago, the State Council declared that global conflict was becoming “more integrated, complex and volatile”. Their view would appear prophetic given the recent spate of hostilities in countries such as Libya, Ukraine, Palestine and Syria, all fuelled by highly combustible combinations of social, political, geographic and resource-based triggers for violent competition.

Against this alarming trend, we also see a proliferation of the responses devised to counter what is perceived to be a growing threat to national interests. Such reactions are driven by an increasingly disparate assortment of political, economic and security agendas, backed by an dazzlingly diverse array of actors, from emerging economies seeking to flex their international muscle to enterprising private companies exploiting frontier markets.

As a result, we find ourselves witnessing the birth of whole new industries, sparking an explosion of the acronyms used to describe increasingly complex “solutions” to counter increasingly complex threats; Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), Serious & Organised Crime (SOCA), Security Sector Reform (SSR), Counter-Terrorism (CT) and Counter-Insurgency (COIN). All these and more, crowding the spaces traditionally reserved for more “conventional” military, development and humanitarian interventions.

Among such approaches now at the disposal of foreign governments is “Stabilisation”, a poorly understood and often contentious term that has been used to define western responses to a multitude of crises over the past decade. But fundamental questions have emerged to challenge the orthodoxy; what is it exactly? Is it relevant or even effective? And what of its future? Such questions were the subject of a recent international conference hosted by the Danish and UK governments.

“Stabilisation” as a mandate first formally emerged with the appointment of the Stabilisation Force for Bosnia and Hezogovnia (SFOR) in the early nineties. It has since been practiced most explicitly in military-led campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, becoming firmly wrapped up in the hubris of the US-driven War on Terror. Over that time the concept has increasingly become muddied in the waters of counter-insurgency operations, consent winning military activities, counter-terrorism initiatives and wider state building ventures. Often it has been derided as a callow attempt to ‘win hearts and minds’, an approach reduced merely to the delivery of notoriously expensive and often counter-productive ‘quick-impact projects’.

Its usefulness in tackling conflict has been further undermined by institutions – military and civilian alike – adopting a confusing patchwork of interpretations to suit their own purposes, and badging increasingly varied, even contradictory, activities under the moniker of stabilisation. Conduct a quick survey (as we did of our international partners in Somalia) and you will immediately encounter the ugly truth; “Its too difficult, we shouldn’t bother.” “Its everything, and its nothing.” “It’s had its time”.

Yet whether we like it or not, stabilisation appears set to stay. Since the mid-1990s, twenty-nine multi-lateral UN, NATO and EU missions have worked to peacekeeping, peace enforcement or political mandates which include the promotion of stability. These include the Central African Republic, Liberia, Mali, South Sudan and Kosovo. A further sixteen multi-lateral missions have been explicitly mandated to use stabilisation to achieve their strategic objectives in countries such as Afghanistan, DR Congo, Somalia and Haiti. Together, these efforts have involved budgets in the billions, tens of thousands of troops, and the engagement of many western government’s political and development ministries.

In short, stabilisation matters. Learning the lessons and getting it right in the face of today’s rapidly mutating threats to global stability is more crucial than ever.

Hence the conference; a gathering of policy makers and practitioners from the Danish, UK, US, Canadian and Dutch government agencies charged with overseeing stabilisation efforts abroad. With the dust still settling on a two-year stint as Senior Stabilisation Adviser for the British Embassy in Somalia, I was roped in to help facilitate the gathering.

The event, held in the grounds of Wilton Park in East Sussex, primarily served as an opportunity for the UK and Danish governments to unveil their newly varnished stabilisation doctrine.

The UK, following an exhaustive cross-governmental consultation, has refocused its definition of stabilisation around an explicitly political aim; as “one of the approaches used in situations of violent conflict designed to protect and promote legitimate political authority, using a combination of integrated civilian and military actions to reduce violence, re-establish security and prepare for longer-term recovery.” Whilst the tighter political focus was generally welcomed, concerns were raised over how legitimate political authority should be determined and promoted.

The Danish have taken a broader view in their newly published Integrated Plan for Stabilisation Engagement. In their glossy brochure-style treatise, they propose a multi-dimensional, multi-agency approach to tackling threats to stability “lying at the nexus of security and development in fragile states” such as extreme poverty, religious extremism, economic crime, refugee flows and terrorism. Whilst the expansive approach succeeds in bolstering pan-government agendas, it risks reinforcing the notion of stabilisation as yet more empty foreign policy jargon.

Yet the similarities of the two approaches are more striking than their differences. Both governments recognise that the stabilisation of fragile and conflict affected states is a risky but essential challenge for the 21st century. Both see it no longer a question of whether to engage in stabilisa­tion, but of where and how to engage in the future. Both see stabilisation as central to forging greater unity across overseas developmental, diplomatic and defense contributions.

However, and despite the rhetoric, the real test lies in moving beyond past failings, of heeding the lessons which were all too painfully laid bare during the conference. Few attending had emerged unscarred by previous mistakes in undertaking stabilisation in far-flung war-torn corners of the globe. However with the growing mess of threats to security arising from countries as diverse as Iraq, South Sudan, and Nigeria, it is clear that the demand for stabilisation is only likely to grow.

Smarter definitions, a growing library of lessons learned and more relevant concepts hewn from experience are a good start. Yet the real worth of the exercise will be the extent to which policies are improved and delivery on the ground is sharpened. My own recent experience of establishing a two-year $18million programme designed to sustain military and political gains in the battle-scarred southern reaches of Somalia offered rich insight into the realities and shortcomings of what could be achieved through a targeted initiative overseen by a dedicated team of specialists with the freedom to innovate, move quickly and build on success.

A number of forthcoming events however will serve as the real litmus test of positive change; NATO’s strategic rethink, the UK’s Strategic Defense Review, as well as the achievements of the UK’s new Conflict, Security and Stability Fund and the Danish Peace and Stabilisation Fund. Only then, if and when we see future stabilisation undertakings moving beyond a decidedly mixed track record to an approach driving demonstrable results on the ground will we be reassured that the effort, and the cost, has been worth it.

Hamish recently concluded two years as the British Government’s Senior Stabilisation Adviser in Somalia, and now lead’s Wasafiri’s conflict and stability practice – dedicated to working with military, political and civilian organisations to help deliver change in fragile and conflict affected regions.

Partnerships are in fashion. Donors like the idea that, by asking organisations to work together, to share knowledge, expertise, geographical reach and influence- there is the opportunity to create greater impact and deliver more change. Whilst the theory of partnerships may seem simple, the practice is complex. I was recently asked to lead a workshop that would help build a real, working partnership, one capable of working on one of the most challenging issues we all face – climate change.

BRACED (Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters) is a DFID funded programme that supports NGOs to build the resilience of people to extreme climate events. To be effective BRACED demands that organisations come together to share expertise and work together to create sustainable and scalable solutions. However, delivering change takes more than commitment to a shared cause. It takes commitment to one another; it takes good understanding and a clear, shared direction; and this is where Wasafiri came in.

BRACED Ethiopia, a Christian Aid-led partnership between ActionAid, King’s College London, BBC Media Action and the UK Met Office- invited Wasafiri to lead a workshop for them. The aim of the workshop was to develop the shared commitment, understanding and direction that they needed if they were to secure full funding for a 3-year BRACED project and deliver real, lasting climate change resilience in Ethiopia.

The ‘BRACED Ethiopia Workshop’ was held in April 2014 in Addis Ababa. Over four days it was attended by more than 40 people representing key partnership members, local implementing partners, government, and DFID amongst others. Wasafiri created a process that was participatory and action-focused. We created the space for organisations to build the relationships and understanding of one another that they would need to work together. And then to build a plan and structure that meant everyone knew what they were responsible for and how they would deliver their part. At times the workshop was challenging, there were issues of leadership and participation to address, and agreement of tangible outcomes to achieve. However through shared commitment, a willingness to listen and learn and the co-creation of a tangible plan – together we built a partnership capable of creating real change.

“Thanks Wasafiri – a lot of high energy work in a short space of time” (workshop participant)

“…we all were fascinated by the quality of Katie’s facilitation, light, embracing, probing deeper in to the issues and alternative ideas as well as proper time management and eventually amazing results” (Country Director, Action-Aid)


STOP PRESS: It has just been announced that the partnership has been shortlisted for 3 years of  BRACED funding from DFID.

For more information on BRACED see here



photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/ciat/5366738845/”>CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>

“Grow Africa, your immense contribution to African agriculture is exemplary.”

Akin Adesina, Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture

 Grow Africa has received some remarkable and enthusiastic plaudits. Yet what is it about it that has enabled it to rapidly deliver change at scale, where so many others have failed?

Grow Africa can claim some big numbers. In May 2014, they announced that, during 2013, the partnership’s private sector commitments to invest in African agriculture doubled to a total of $7.2 billion. Of which $970 million was already invested, creating 33,000 new jobs and reaching 2.6 million smallholder farmers across 10 countries. At Grow Africa’s Investment Forum, leaders, including five Heads of State heralded this as remarkable progress for an initiative that is barely 2 years old. Raj Shah, head of USAID, stated that Grow Africa has shown that “success at scale is now possible. This effort can effectively end poverty and hunger in Africa.” Amena Mohamed, the UN Secretary General’s Special Advisor for post-2015 MDG planning, saw Grow Africa as a model to replicate to ensure that the vision for next MDGs could rapidly translate in to action, in a way that traditional development approaches have not proven able.

For Wasafiri, which has played an instrumental role in conceiving and managing Grow Africa, these accolades are clearly affirming and gratifying. Nonetheless, such unbridled enthusiasm begs the questions “What has made Grow Africa such a success?” and “Why is its approach not adopted more widely to deliver change on other systemic challenges?”

A recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review entitled “Shaping Global Partnerships for a Post-2015 World” examined Grow Africa alongside five other pioneering cross-sector initiatives to ask how to unlock collective impact at a global scale. It concluded, “The most important condition is establishing a backbone structure that acts as the glue, holding the partners together and ensuring that the other four conditions are in place. The backbone provides strategic coherence around the common agenda, establishes shared measurement and learning systems, supports the mutually reinforcing activities of the different partners, and facilitates continuous communication.”

While Grow Africa certainly embodies all those features, I believe the story of its success is more complex. Or rather, I think there are underlying aspects of the global political economy that usually subvert the emergence of such elements when people attempt to collectively tackle change at scale.

Alignment of interests

Grow Africa is blessed by emerging at a moment of alignment for political, commercial and social interests. The 2008 food crisis changed the underlying economics of agriculture. The world realized that Africa must become a global food basket if we are going to feed 9 billion by 2050, while accommodating changing consumption habits, and linking food to energy through bio-fuels. Enlightened businesses – small and large – realized that African agriculture was going to grow, and they had a strong commercial interest in being in the vanguard. Africa’s politicians serve citizens who are primarily rural, and half of whom are under 20. Their political imperative is to increase rural incomes and generate jobs, or risk wide-scale unrest and disaffection. And for development aficionados, agriculture represents the best opportunity to reduce poverty and hunger. Everyone from smallholders to multinationals, and from African Heads of State to G8 Development Ministers, could rally behind Grow Africa’s common agenda of accelerating investment for sustainable agricultural growth. The only sustained dissonance has come from a few Western-based, ideologically-driven voices who fundamentally distrust the private sector.

Few other global issues currently benefit from such alignment. Climate change is riven with competing interests and public health issues struggle to attract strong commercial engagement. However, the same would have been said about African agriculture a decade ago. Perhaps part of the secret is sniffing out the right historical moment when interests align, and then to forge global partnerships to drive change at scale as fast as possible while the political window of opportunity lasts.

Coalition of the willing

Grow Africa is also unusual in welcoming all parties, without finding itself paralysed by the outcome. Many multi-stakeholder initiatives end up crippled by one of two effects. Firstly their governance often demands consensus, which means they become hostage to minority interests. For example, whilst a reasonable number of governments and actors seemed willing to act on climate change, negotiations, in attempting to accommodate everyone’s demands, have either ended up in a stalemate or conceding to the lowest common denominator. Secondly, successful initiatives are asked to layer on issue after issue, until their mandate is too diffuse and complex to meaningfully deliver anything. CAADP (Africa’s overarching plan for agriculture) is at risk of this as it is expected to address issues as varied as nutrition, climate change, job creation, regional trade, tertiary education, natural resource management.

So far, Grow Africa has evaded these pitfalls. Its clear focus on the commercial and development opportunity presented by agricultural investment, has allowed it to welcome all parties who are committed to advancing the agenda – a coalition of the willing. Co-convened by AUC, NEPAD and the World Economic Forum, but serving a wide range of stakeholders from Farmers Organisations to Multi-nationals to donors, it has created a space in which minority voices are heard, but that majority interests then drive action.

The World Economic Forum’s role in this cannot be underestimated. Most influential development actors are effectively civil service in culture – whether governments, African institutions, donors, or multilaterals. Too often their accountability pressures are to avoid obvious failure, rather than to deliver results at scale – leading to an aversion to taking risks, a focus on appeasing all interests, and a default towards extending timelines rather than making swift decisions. The World Economic Forum brings a refreshing private sector orientation that, whilst very protective of reputation, is ultimately dependent on showing it can deliver.

For more insight into the work of Grow Africa, view the latest report

Wasafiri has been commissioned to advise NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) on how to strengthen its planning for, and response to, complex crises in fragile, conflict-affected regions.

The ARRC, based in the UK, is a high readiness multinational force headquarters designed to deploy quickly to support crisis management operations worldwide at 5-30 days notice. They understand first-hand how today’s conflicts are becoming more complex and mutating more rapidly. In response, NATO is itself evolving, becoming more agile, adaptive and integrated with their civilian and political counterparts.

With first hand experience at the sharp end of joint civilian-military operations in South Sudan, Afghanistan and most recently, in Somalia, Wasafiri is well placed to share lessons on what does and does not work in such complex, fragmented environments.

Over the next 6 months, we will work within the ARRC’s operations and planning teams, advising on coordination with civilian actors, understanding cultural, social, economic and political factors, developing approaches for community engagement and protection within the framework of international law.

Wasafiri’s Director Hamish Wilson has been invited by the UK Government to help facilitate an international conference to consider the future of stabilisation. Co-hosted with the Government of Denmark, and joined by representatives from NATO, the EU and the United Nations, the event, to take place in late June, will explore lessons and best practice emerging from contemporary stabilisation operations in Somalia, Mali, DR Congo, South Sudan and others.

In doing so, the event will examine how stabilisation has contributed to conflict prevention and resolution, and will seek to establish a common approach and shared principles for actors engaged in stabilisation.

Hamish has recently concluded a two-year assignment with the British Embassy in Somalia as Senior Stabilisation Adviser and is leading Wasafiri’s efforts to help improve the delivery of stabilisation approaches in fragile and conflict affected states.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders annually, with many more trafficked within the borders of their own countries. The practice is fuelled by demand for cheap labour in a number of sectors, including for domestic workers.

In Cameroon, migration both to and within the country has led many people, including women and minors (under 18 years), to perform domestic work in order to improve their standard of living. While the government has ratified a number of international treaties against human trafficking, including the UN Convention against Transnational and Organized Crime, the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Domestic Workers Convention (C189) has not yet been ratified. The area is still largely governed by an obsolete decree from 1968.

Working in an under-regulated sector and with a poor grasp of any rights and entitlements they may have, migrant domestic workers frequently face situations of exploitation, moral and physical abuse, and employment under illegal working arrangements.

Wasafiri was contracted by the IOM to support Cameroon’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Ministry of Labour and Social Security in a bid to strengthen their capacity to deal with the consequences of trafficking in domestic workers. The assistance included conducting a feasibility study on ratification of the C189 Convention, so as to facilitate government approval of the same. Wasafiri also developed tools such as standard operating procedures and designed a communications strategy and materials (including sensitisation leaflets, posters, and so on), as well as training modules. These will help raise awareness and equip relevant stakeholders with skills to provide assistance in cases of abuse and exploitation.

Expert advice was also provided by Wasafiri to top ministry officials on wider issues associated with migration and human trafficking.

In 2011, the World Bank had ranked Rwanda’s statistical capacity as 10th in sub-Saharan Africa. By 2012, the country had jumped to being second only to Mauritius. The intervening year saw Wasafiri embedded within the National Institute of Statistics to manage a change programme that would transform Rwanda’s capacity to manage statistics.

Monitoring a country’s development progress requires a variety of socio-economic data. Until 2005, this was collected in Rwanda by several institutions under different government ministries. The National Institute of Statistics (NISR) was then created to establish a more integrated approach, with a UNDP-managed basket fund set up to support its implementation.

However, NISR performance fell short of stakeholder expectations due to a number of shortcomings, including poor budget execution, no release calendar for producing quality data, inadequate coordination of statistical activities, and limited dissemination of statistics.

In 2010, the Institute launched its National Strategy for the Development of Statistics (NSDS), complete with a now NISR-managed basket fund for implementing the 5-year plan. This posed a question of how a young institution with limited management capacity and only 50% of staff in post, could effectively raise and manage around US$80 million where the better-resourced UNDP had not succeeded?

One of Wasafiri’s Principal Consultant’s, Liberal Seburikoko, was embedded in to NISR and led the transformative change required to ensure the plan’s successful implementation.

Our starting point was to hold one-to-one consultations with all key internal and external stakeholders to assess the prevailing situation, whilst identifying opportunities for forging authentic partnerships. We then embarked on a clear systemic change agenda, focusing from the outset on empowering identified champions of change to drive the process.

Throughout our engagement, we focused on shaping new behaviours at all levels (e.g. more disciplined budgeting and planning, and improved accountability and delegation), with flexibility and adaptability also encouraged within the NISR and among donors. Finally, we developed management tools and frameworks to transition from capacity enhancement to an enduring legacy of actionable mechanisms.

The outcome has been extremely rewarding, with the NISR now perceived as an institutional role model both locally and abroad, drawing positive assessments from auditors and stakeholders alike, and securing additional resources from newly-interested non-traditional sources. The NISR is now on course to breaking yet another record, by releasing its 2012 Census results six months ahead of schedule.

The Rwandan Ministry of Natural Resources (MINIRENA) has a remit to coordinate, formulate policy and provide guidance on policy implementation to the environment and natural resources (ENR) sector. The latter is made up of a number of sub-sectors (environment, lands, water resources management, mines and forestry) that provide critical inputs towards poverty reduction efforts within the country, including in rural areas.

Policy implementation in particular is often a daunting task and calls for a dynamic, iterative process that unfolds differently in varying contexts.  One of the key considerations in this regard is the need for sustained capacity at individual, institutional and organisational levels. MINIRENA is a relative newcomer, having only been created in 2011 following a merger between the former Ministry of Lands and Environment and the Ministry of Forestry and Mines. As such, it is still in the process of rebuilding itself.

To assist with this process, UNDP Rwanda commissioned Wasafiri to assess the gaps in MINIRENA’s capacity to effectively deliver on its mandate within the ENR sector. The recommendations which resulted have highlighted specific areas that need strengthening within MINIRENA, which has in turn helped inform UNDP Rwanda programming with respect to capacity building interventions for the next 5 years.

Women in Burundi have faced structural inequalities and systemic discrimination due to attitudes deeply embedded in the collective psyche of Burundians. These inequalities were exacerbated by cycles of political violence (and impunity) that shook the country. Yet despite bearing this heavy burden, women have played a crucial role in the search for peace and in reconciling warring communities.

In 2011, the Government of Burundi established a Technical Committee (which submitted its report in October 2011) with a view to paving the way for the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Women’s groups led advocacy and awareness campaigns for the inclusion of gender equality issues within the terms of reference of these transitional justice mechanisms.

In late 2012, UN Women contracted Wasafiri precisely to develop a strategy for mainstreaming gender into the country’s nascent transitional justice mechanisms, and specifically as a crucial contribution towards the establishment of the TRC, which was anticipated to take place in 2013. The strategy was used by UN Women to lobby and advocate for a gender-sensitive TRC. In early December 2013, the Burundian Minister of Gender and National Solidarity drew on the strategy in his defence of the government’s proposal on the TRC before the country’s parliament.

Although the parliamentary debate on some TRC issues remains heated, a large consensus has been built around the need to integrate gender into the TRC, based firmly on the benchmarks highlighted in the Wasafiri-produced strategy.