ICVA's Virtual Annual Conference 2020: Protecting principled humanitarian action: an honest conversation on risk

Banner for the ICVA Annual Conference 2020

Each year, ICVA holds an Annual Conference, which provides an important opportunity for members to connect and discuss issues relevant to the humanitarian sector, as informed by ICVA’s membership base. On 18 March, the first-ever Virtual Annual Conference discussed the topic of principled humanitarian action and risk management. This took the form of three webinar sessions organized in collaboration with PHAP.

At ICVA’s 2019 Annual Conference on “Translating Commitment to Action,” ICVA members and partners highlighted the importance to of looking more closely at the risk to principled humanitarian action and in turn the risks taken by NGOs to deliver effective and efficient humanitarian assistance to those most in need. In order to deliver on our mandate, as humanitarian actors, we have committed to uphold and respect principles enshrined in international legal frameworks (i.e. Human Rights, International Humanitarian Law, Refugee Law, and International Criminal Law), the humanitarian principles, the global humanitarian standards, the Principles of Partnership, principles on localization, safeguarding principles, etc. In the meantime, NGOs often operate in volatile conflicts and extremely complex humanitarian settings and are placed under even more pressure to deliver better with less resources and under increased legal, bureaucratic, security and political restrictions. How does this all impact NGOs and our commitments on principled intervention? It definitely requires us as NGOs to take more risks. What are the additional risks and how do we choose whether to accept them or not? How does this all impact on the individuals and populations we are working with?

ICVA’s Annual Conference brought together members, States, donors, UN agencies, experts and other stakeholders who shared their experiences, lessons learned, challenges and ways forward around these issues. The Annual Conference was held on 18 March in the format of three interactive webinar sessions, delivered in collaboration with PHAP.

Session 1: Principles at Risk

Principled humanitarian action may be more important than ever for humanitarian actors managing risk in highly political and volatile operational contexts. However, humanitarian principles are being challenged on multiple fronts. This first session helped frame the discussions of the Annual Conference and explored the importance of protecting and promoting principled humanitarian action.

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Session 2: What Risks?

With challenges to principled humanitarian action, NGOs are facing increased risks in their work. While NGOs accept risk as part of their work, many organizations are taking on more risk than they may be aware of and have the capacity to manage. In the second session, we explored the types of risks faced by NGOs linked to the humanitarian principles, how they can be managed, and how the gap between risk appetite and risk tolerance can be addressed in the sector.

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Session 3: What Next?

In the first sessions of the conference, we had heard from NGOs and other humanitarian actors on the challenges and risks related to principled humanitarian action faced in their work. In the third and final session, we looked at relevant initiatives for mobilizing collaborative and collective action among NGOs, UN agencies and Member States, donors, and affected people.

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Recommended resources

Background reading

We recommend everyone who is attending the Virtual Annual Conference to read the following resources:


Suggested resources from participants and speakers

The following resources were recommended by speakers and participants during the conference:

Conference documentation:

Speaker bios

ICVA was planning on a sharing session during the face-to-face conference, however due to the shift to the virtual conference, we have compiled NGOs and partners who were supposed to present during that session into a document with more information on how to connect with them:

Briefing Paper on Risk and Humanitarian Culture:

Other shared resources:

ICVA’s statement on COVID-19

Risk management

On risk sharing from a local perspective:

PSEA and harassment

More on UNHCR’s actions to address sexual misconduct:

Other initiatives presented

Call for Humanitarian Action

For a list of countries that are supporting the Call for Action:


For more examples of concrete youth engagement, UNMGCY Migration website with statements, impact reports, and outcome documents:

  • Youth for Migration (United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth / Children and Youth International)

On trust, distrust, and partnerships:

Localization and the Grand Bargain