Two years ago, Relief International publicly disclosed that we had uncovered actions from 2020 that may have violated our core policies related to negotiating humanitarian access with an armed group in a conflict zone. RI took extraordinary steps to address the issues, including the removal of the staff leaders who were involved, appointment of a new interim CEO, full voluntary disclosure to our donors, and the launch of an external, independent investigation by a qualified law firm.
Our donor partner, USAID, initially suspended RI’s funding, but restored it in just 3 months. USAID has placed RI under an administrative agreement through May 7, 2024. Under this agreement, RI has committed to developing compliance systems and practices to help ensure we do not have such incidents in the future. We are extremely grateful to donors for their restored trust and willingness to continue working with RI to serve people in the most fragile settings around the world.
Now, more than two years later, we have developed an effective ethics and compliance program.
We improved our policies. We issued a new RI Code of Conduct in April 2021. The Code leads with a message from our CEO and Chairman of the Boards of Directors. It emphasizes our mission, vision, and values; and that we are guided by humanitarian principles. We enhanced a number of our most relevant policies addressing sanctions compliance and due diligence, and we are currently reviewing other policies for potential enhancements.
We hired leaders who are committed to ethics and compliance. RI appointed an interim CEO, Ann Koontz, who ably led RI through the extremely difficult challenges we faced. RI’s new CEO, Craig Redmond, succeeded Ann in November 2022. Craig has worked in humanitarian programs for more than 30 years. See his statement upon joining RI.
In addition, RI’s senior management team includes several new leaders, including myself. I joined RI in September 2022, excited about the opportunity to help continue this journey to strengthen our organization. I report to Craig, with a dotted reporting line to the Audit and Risk Committee of the RI Boards. We also recently expanded the Ethics and Compliance Department to ensure we are properly investigating all credible allegations of misconduct, and properly assessing and managing risk.
We strengthened our compliance systems and processes. We have informed staff and the communities we serve on how to report concerns about alleged misconduct by staff or partners, as well as concerns about our program delivery. We have improved our process for receiving and responding to allegations of misconduct. Most allegations are investigated at the local level, with oversight from our director of investigations. We have standardized our process for informing donors when an incident has affected programs that they are funding.
We trained all staff on our updated policies, procedures and systems. Every new staff member must undergo our Code of Conduct and other compliance-related trainings within 30 days of hire, with few exceptions. This includes staff in the most fragile settings we serve. In addition, we train all of our staff annually on the Code, in varied formats and discussing different topics. This helps to ensure that we are all on the same page when it comes to ethical behavior at RI.
We manage incidents professionally and take prompt corrective actions. When staff or partners engage in misconduct, we take action. We do not tolerate misconduct by any staff, no matter how senior. We take corrective action up to and including termination of employment or partner agreements, within the bounds of local laws. And we recognize that no one is perfect, and there are times when an incident presents an opportunity to learn from one’s mistakes, or further educate the team on what is appropriate and what is not. We certainly have learned this as an organization.
We have fully integrated risk management throughout our operations. Because we specialize in operating in fragile settings, we are constantly assessing and managing risks to our operations and capabilities. This includes compliance-related risks. Our security teams, country office leaders, and regional directors consider and implement methods to reduce the risks of misconduct, injury, and financial loss, among other things.
Today, I believe Relief International has the right people in the right places, doing our best work – and we are committed to achieving our mission ethically. I joined this organization knowing the challenges we face. No one wants to experience downturns, but at RI, we are using it to become a stronger organization that can serve communities even better.
Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer, Relief International