• The Open University

Implementing Safeguarding in the International Aid Sector

Learn how to implement effective safeguarding measures in different programmatic contexts.

1,002 enrolled on this course

A circle of arms, with hands resting on one another in the middle.
  • Duration

    6 weeks
  • Weekly study

    4 hours

Improve the safeguarding standards in your international aid organisation

Safeguarding is vital for protecting the children and vulnerable individuals that international aid organisations work with, as well as their staff and personnel from all forms of harm. This has also been identified as an area that needs strengthening in the international aid sector.

This free six-week course will help you consolidate your understanding of the causes of harm, abuse, and exploitation and learn how to implement improvements in your organisation’s safeguarding measures in different programmatic contexts.

Ultimately, the course will equip you with the skills and tools you need to effectively prevent, report, respond, and learn from implementing safeguarding in your work.

Understand the risks posed to safeguarding in the international aid sector

On the course, you’ll have the chance to examine the risks to safeguarding people that are commonly found in different areas of international aid work.

You’ll also get to evaluate the prevention mechanisms used to minimise these risks and consider how these processes could be strengthened.

Develop effective safeguarding procedures and learn improvements for reporting and responding to exploitation and abuse

The course covers appropriate responses to disclosures and survivor-centred referrals, complaints and whistleblower mechanisms, safe marketing and accountability.

Access safeguarding training from the experts at The Open University.

This course was co-created by senior academic safeguarding specialists from The Open University and an international human rights and safeguarding expert who has worked with several international aid and humanitarian agencies.

The course material was developed with advice from BOND, CHS Alliance, and the learner community and reviewed by Safeguarding Leads in international agencies.


  • Week 1


    • Introduction to the course

      This introduction provides a brief orientation to the course and its learning outcomes, introduces the authors and the educators and offers some important guidance on how to keep yourself safe as you study this course.

    • Getting ready to engage with others!

      This section introduces the idea of social learning, whereby you learn from and share experiences with your peers. It also explores your reasons for studying this course and considers what you already know about safeguarding.

    • What is safeguarding?

      This part of the course unpacks in more detail what you know about safeguarding, particularly international standards and their application.

    • The safeguarding cycle

      An introduction to the safeguarding cycle which is based on the project cycle. This will help you incorporate safeguarding principles into the work that you do during the implementation of your projects and activities.

    • Implementing safeguarding

      Apply your learning to a case study scenario. The setting is a refugee camp, and you are asked what you would do. You are also encouraged to check your knowledge and understanding of the learning from the week.

  • Week 2


    • Identifying safeguarding risks and vulnerable people

      The ability to understand the factors that influence people's vulnerability, and how they can be identified, is a key element of safeguarding that will be explored in this section.

    • The role of gender in safeguarding

      Gender plays a significant role in safeguarding, with differing groups in differing contexts having an important impact on identifying risks. We explore the role of gender and the considerations that need to be accounted for.

    • Safeguarding in research

      Organisations working in the international aid sector often undertake research. This section covers how principles governing research and data collection can be applied with a focus on safeguarding.

    • Assessing risk

      We have covered a number of different factors that affect ‘risk’ and how it is perceived. This section will discuss the methodologies that can be used effectively to conduct a formal assessment of these risks.

    • Lessons learnt

      This section considers the lessons to be learnt, and what else you should think about when incorporating safeguarding measures.

  • Week 3


    • Introduction

      This week of the course looks at how to implement safeguarding procedures to prevent harm from occurring. This is important and requires planning and implementation across all aspects of programmes and operations.

    • The nature of power

      Power is a vitally important concept in safeguarding. Sometimes it is obvious, sometimes it can be subtle and hidden. We explain the different forms that power can take and explore ways that challenge it to enhance prevention.

    • Safeguarding people with disabilities

      We look at the importance of safeguarding children and adults with disabilities, and explore the importance of including them and their carers when developing safeguarding measures to prevent harm.

    • Safe recruitment

      We outline an important theory about the perpetrators of sexual abuse and explore how safe recruitment policies and practice is a key preventative step.

    • Code of conduct

      This section focuses on the important contribution that codes of conduct can make to prevention in safeguarding.

    • Digital safeguarding

      Safeguarding in the digital and online worlds has become a serious source of concern. This section considers the scale of the problem, some of the major risks, and how we might mitigate against them.

    • Review what you have learnt

      Review your learning this week by taking the week 3 quiz.

  • Week 4

    Report and respond

    • Introduction

      This week we look in more detail at issues around reporting and responding, including barriers and making reporting more accessible.

    • Barriers to reporting

      This section explores the important issue of how a range of attitudes and beliefs around gender can be a major barrier to reporting.

    • Disclosure, reporting and supporting survivors

      How disclosures are handled is crucially important if safeguarding reporting is to be effective. This section is an opportunity to explore and discuss good practice.

    • Whistleblowing and a ‘survivor-centred approach‘

      Whistleblowers are an important source of reporting, and this section will consider how agencies should ensure they are protected. Once we have received a report it is important that our responses are survivor centred.

    • Mapping and a response checklist

      This section provides guidance on ensuring we have a clear response mechanism and promotes discussion on how we know what services are available to survivors.

    • Duty of care and the importance of safeguarding staff

      The whole process of reporting and responding is difficult and may be traumatic. In this final section we consider the issue of the duty of care to staff that arises from this.

    • Review what you have learnt

      Test your knowledge from your work this week by taking the quiz.

  • Week 5

    Improving accountability in safeguarding

    • Introduction

      This week looks at accountability and how to build it into safeguarding policies, processes and practices across your organisation.

    • Accountability is at the heart of safeguarding

      We are accountable to the communities we work with and serve, to those who represent us, to our donors, partners, regulatory bodies, and national and international agencies.

    • Accountability to affected people

      Accountability to affected people is important in order to tackle SEAH in the aid sector. Where harm is caused by staff, affected people should know how to hold the organisation to account.

    • Guide the development of accountability processes and tools

      Developing an accountability strategy in organisations is important for building an accountability culture and creating the necessary accountability processes and tools.

    • Strengthen knowledge and information in the people we serve

      Community views should inform the development of safeguarding policies, processes and mechanisms across organisations. In this way a 'speak-up' culture can be promoted.

    • Mainstreaming safeguarding through all communications

      Safeguarding should be mainstreamed through all organisational communications. This promotes ownership of a safeguarding agenda across all departments of an organisation, as well as all the organisations we engage with.

    • Review what you have learnt

      Review your learning this week by taking the week 5 quiz.

  • Week 6

    Learning and organisational culture

    • Introduction

      This week’s learning supports you on how to strengthen organisational culture and learning.

    • How to develop a positive safeguarding culture

      Organisational responsibility to foster a safe and positive environment.

    • Useful tools to reflect on safeguarding values

      Tools to support organisations strengthen their organisational culture.

    • Monitoring, learning and good supervision

      Organisational responsibility to support staff to learn and reflect on current practice.

    • Review what you have learnt

      Review your learning this week by taking the week 6 quiz.

When would you like to start?

  • Date to be announced

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Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Mitigate and prevent against safeguarding risks associated with programmatic and organisational practice.
  • Adapt existing tools using a safeguarding lens to implement activities that minimise harm to those who have direct and indirect contact with your organisation.
  • Respond to challenges of safeguarding concerns using a survivor-centred and ‘do no harm’ approach.
  • Support greater accountability and an organisational culture where safeguarding concerns are always reported and responded to appropriately.

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for all staff in development and humanitarian agencies. It will strengthen current individual and organisational knowledge and practice of safeguarding and support the career pathways for those aid workers who are looking to become safeguarding specialists.

This course is intended for those who are aged 18 years and above only.

This online course has been funded by UK aid from the UK government; however the views expressed do not necessarily reflect the UK government’s official policies.

Please note: this course is facilitated by Vicky Ferguson, Simon Vorley and Haifa Ungapen from 29 November 2021 until 23 January 2022, with reduced facilitation during the holidays, between 20 December 2021 – 2 January 2022.

Who will you learn with?

An international human rights lawyer and expert in safeguarding children and vulnerable adults, gender and sexual violence, and human rights and IHL in the international aid sector.

Jan Webb is the Associate Head of School for Nursing and Health Professions at the Open University. She has extensive experience of teaching and developing safeguarding and child protection courses.

Andy Rixon is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Health Wellbeing and Social Care at The Open University, specialising in children, young people, and families. Andy has a background as a social worker

Susan is an Open University tutor and a seasoned development researcher. She works extensively with international development organisations to deliver training and author teaching materials.

Simon is currently the Transition Officer & Global Safeguarding Lead at an INGO. He has led projects and operations in India, East Africa and Latin America over the past 12 years.

Vicky currently holds the role of Global Safeguarding Lead at an INGO. She has 15 years' experience in international development and supporting children and young people in a range of settings

A protection and safeguarding expert with 15-year experience in international development & humanitarian emergencies, with a focus on children, women and girls, and persons with disabilities.

Who developed the course?

The Open University

As the UK’s largest university, The Open University (OU) supports thousands of students to achieve their goals and ambitions via supported distance learning, helping to fit learning around professional and personal life commitments.

  • Established

  • Location

    Milton Keynes, UK
  • World ranking

    Top 510Source: Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020

Endorsers and supporters

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