By the SPHEIR team

18 November 2021 - 10:07

SPHEIR is committed to ensuring that everyone involved in the programme is protected from sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment (SEAH). In this blog, we look at how the Fund Manager team is working with partner organisations on consistency of approaches so that a strong culture of safeguarding is created across the SPHEIR portfolio and beyond. 

The SPHEIR programme includes a network of 58 partner organisations across 16 countries and, as a starting point, the SPHEIR Fund Manager team - drawing on the British Council’s expertise and experience in safeguarding - guided the partners through a self-assessment against the enhanced safeguarding due diligence standards set out by the Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) for development partners to work towards.

For the SPHEIR Fund Manager team it was particularly important to conduct this safeguarding exercise with partner higher education institutions to ultimately foster an active culture of safeguarding beyond the life of the SPHEIR programme, especially in light of the issues highlighted recently at the British Council’s Going Global 2021 conference session Equally safe? Challenging sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in higher education. The session explored the increasingly prominent issue of sexual and gender-based violence in higher education institutions around the world and underlined that prioritising safeguarding – especially at an institutional level – can play a critical role in addressing this problem. 

The SPHEIR Fund Manager team engaged with partner higher education institutions, and other partner organisations, to raise awareness and worked closely with them to strengthen knowledge and access to suitable tools to prevent and respond to SEAH incidents. The SPHEIR team initially worked with the lead partners of each project to identify existing good practice and gaps and then proposed areas of support and guidance for all projects. 

Using the gaps identified, the Fund Manager team developed and delivered – together with relevant specialists - three awareness-raising sessions aimed at all SPHEIR partners (lead and downstream) on the key areas highlighted in the enhanced safeguarding due diligence standards:

  • Safeguarding and whistleblowing – looking at how organisations can develop a safeguarding policy and deal with concerns at the appropriate level.
  • HR and code of conduct – focusing on standards of behaviour expected from all staff and how these are best integrated across the entire employment cycle, starting at the recruitment stage. 
  • Risk management and governance – highlighting the importance of having a risk register and how to increase organisational accountability for safeguarding at different levels.

As the self-assessment exercise against the FCDO standards showed the partners to be at varying levels of understanding and compliance, the Fund Manager adopted a collaborative approach to improvement. The subsequent sustained engagement, through the awareness-raising sessions and regular communications, supported lead partners to work actively with their downstream partners to better manage safeguarding risks and offer a safer environment to anyone who works or comes into contact with their organisations. 

As part of this collaborative effort, King’s College London – the lead partner for the Prepared for Practice (PfP) and the grant agreement holders for the Assuring Quality Higher Education in Sierra Leone (AQHEd-SL) projects – focused on raising awareness about expected standards of behaviour, how to raise related concerns, and available support for survivors of abuse. Hannah Lewis, Project and MEL Manager, Assuring Quality Higher Education in Sierra Leone, King’s College London commented:

“Through Assuring Quality Higher Education in Sierra Leone we have been given the opportunity to raise the issue of safeguarding with our partners and explore the services that are available in Sierra Leone should an incident occur. It is vital that local and international development actors alike do everything to ensure that their integrity and trusted position is not compromised. The most important lessons we have learned in this process of improving safeguarding standards, are that we need to meet people where they are at, without assuming knowledge or understanding, and we need to openly discuss areas where cultural norms and safeguarding come into conflict to find acceptable solutions.” 

As well as developing Safeguarding Survivor Support guidelines for partners in Somaliland and Sierra Leone, practical examples of tools developed by King’s College to raise awareness around safeguarding include visual posters explaining in an easily accessible way what constitutes unacceptable behaviour and how to report a safeguarding concern within the project’s respective institutions. 

INASP, the lead partner for the TESCEA project, also worked with its downstream partners on improving safeguarding standards. Professor Flora Fabian, TESCEA Safeguarding Lead at the University of Dodoma, commented "The programme approach to safeguarding was an eye opener. At the start of the TESCEA project safeguarding was an unfamiliar concept to most partners. The training on safeguarding that was conducted by SPHEIR contributed greatly to capacity building among the partnership. Following the introduction of this by SPHEIR, all members of the TESCEA partnership have developed safeguarding related policies although most of these are still in approval process by the institutions."

To further strengthen partners’ capabilities, in September 2021 the Fund Manager team delivered a safeguarding briefing session aimed at Vice-Chancellors and senior leadership from SPHEIR partner institutions to encourage the adoption of safeguarding good practice at institutional level. The Fund Manager is also exploring the possibility of running in-person training early in the new year, at the request of some partners.  

Zainab Dhanani - Partnership Manager for the AQHEd-SL and LEAP projects, SPHEIR Fund Manager team  - commented  “The responsibility for safeguarding lies at various levels, and both the Fund Manager and partners worked together to create safer and more conducive learning environments in SPHEIR-supported higher education institutions. It is hoped that these efforts will be institutionally recognised as best practices and their impact will be felt well beyond the programme’s lifetime.”

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The Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform (SPHEIR) programme is funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and is managed on behalf of FCDO by a consortium led by the British Council that includes PwC and Universities UK International. To find out more about the SPHEIR programme, please sign up for our updates, or alternatively, please contact us at any time.