NGOs and Risk


In response to increasingly challenging operating environments for humanitarian aid, the aid consortium InterAction commissioned Humanitarian Outcomes to conduct a study of how humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) perceive, define and manage risks to their staff and operations. The NGOs and Risk Review was designed and implemented with the active collaboration of 14 major international humanitarian NGOs in the first iteration of the study and 10 in the second study:


Action Contre La Faim (ACF)

Islamic Relief Worldwide


Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Holland

Catholic Relief Services (CRS)

Mercy Corps


Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)

Danish Refugee Council (DRC)


International Medical Corps (IMC)

Save the Children

International Rescue Committee (IRC)

World Vision







Research Questions

The first phase of the study (2014-2016) examined two principal questions:

  • What do humanitarian NGOs view as the primary external risks affecting their ability to carry out principled humanitarian action?
  • How do humanitarian NGOs interpret, differentiate, prioritize and manage these risks internally?

The second phase of the study (2017-2019) extends the research beyond international NGOs to examine how national and local organisations in affected countries contend with risk, and how risk is managed within national-international partnerships. Given the critical role of national actors as first-line responders and the prevalence of these operational partnerships, this represents an important next step in this research area. 

  • What are the differences in risk and risk management for national and local actors vs. their international counterparts? What are the risks entailed in the partnership itself?

  • Are risks co-owned and co-managed in partnerships, or transferred from one partner to the other?
  • What are the strengths, weaknesses and gaps in current practice that could inform more effective and ethical partnerships in future?

Research products to date

NGOs and Risk II (2019)
NGOs and Risk I (2016) 


Please direct any queries on this project to


NGOs and Risk: How international humanitarian actors manage uncertainty was commissioned and funded by InterAction, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.