Episode 54: With Colin Pereira discussing Afghanistan, risk to journalists, and risk assessment platforms

For two decades, Colin has shaped the risk management model for journalists operating under threat. He is a Director at HP Risk Management, a consultancy assisting companies and media organisations operating in fragile environments. In 2020, he launched RiskPal, a software as a service platform focusing on streamlining risk assessment. Previously he was head of security for ITN and Deputy Head of BBC High Risk Team. Pereira has advised teams of journalists covering wars, natural disasters, terrorism and riots globally, and has worked on high risk investigations. He also was an award winning journalist for BBC Newsnight and BBC Current Affairs.

You can read more about RiskPal here and about HP Risk Management here

The International Risk Podcast Interview Transcript with Colin Pereira

l do this for six months, they’ll realize I’m a genius and they’ll put me on the evening news. It took me many years to actually make the transition into journalism. But I was always part of the risk management team. And so I was sort of loaned out to the journalism divisions. And then I would always come back to security. And during the Arab Spring, I was given the opportunity to be promoted, and I had to sort of nail my colours to the mast and become a security person full time.

Dominic Bowen – 4:08

Not a bad transition. Since September 11th, it’s certainly been very fashionable to enroll in Islamic Studies, postgrad programs, but you were definitely ahead of that trend studying terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism in the 90s. Can you talk about how useful that education was for you in shaping your work and opinions and how you approached risk management?

Colin Pereira – 4:27

I think it’s been fundamental. You know, I went to study modern than history and the university I studied at all was offering courses about terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. So I just went to them because I was interested not because I even had the foresight to enroll in them before when I was applying. As a security person who’s spent a lot of time looking at Afghanistan and the Middle East and Africa, and the rise of al Qaeda and jihadists around the world, having had that academic basis in understanding what they want, and fundamentally what motivates them has been really useful in terms of the prism that I view all of our security operations, because there initially there was this tendency to see them as a illogical and sort of nihilistic in their approach to how they did things, but they definitely have goals. They have ambitions. They have objectives, key performance indicators, if you will, and understanding that helps you build your security model to resist their activities.

Dominic Bowen – 5:21

Yeah, certainly understanding the environment is a key component to keeping yourself safe. But you’ve advised teams of journalists covering wars, natural disasters, terrorism and riots around the world, what do you find the most challenging part of giving advice to people who are heading right into high risk environments?

Colin Pereira – 5:38

Without doubt, it’s empathy, and it’s empathy for what they’re trying to do. So I think the reason why I think I’ve been successful is because I understand what journalists are trying to do. Because I have been a journalist, I know exactly what their objectives are, what their business goals are, and how long it takes them to gather the news and how long it takes them to sit in, and edit afterwards, and cut the package and put it out on air. A lot of security people who come into the field, they come from the military, they come from law enforcement, travel, risk management, and they’re very good at their jobs, but they don’t actually understand what the client is trying to do. That creates friction between them and the client, if you understand what they’re trying to do, and you align yourself to their business goals, and you say, look, I really want to make this happen. What would you want is what I want, but I want to do it in a safe fashion. There’s no journalist who wakes up in the morning and thinks today is the day I want to risk my life, they all want to come home, they all have families to see it’s understanding where that where they are, and communicating with them where you are, and meeting in the middle basically, and often you’re realize you are more like them than you realize.

Dominic Bowen – 6:38

I recall quite recently, I was giving a briefing to an editorial team and some journalists who were heading into Afghanistan, and this is before the Taliban takeover. But it was when the peace negotiations were going on, and one of the bits of advice that I gave to this team was that these peace negotiations are going on the Haqqani Network is likely to attempt to be spoilers, there’s likely to be ID bias and the editor jumped in and said to the journalists, you know, you are not to go near, you’re to keep away if there’s any blasts, she was a very experienced journalist or one of the members of the team says if there’s a blast in Kabul when I’m there, of course, I’m going to go down, you’re paying me to cover the story. And there was sort of an awkward silence. And I said “yep, that’s fine”, and you know, my job is not to tell you not to go down. That’s that’s your job and your boss’s job. But one thing you need to be aware of is the risk of secondary devices and the Haqqani Network are experts at using second and third explosive devices to catch people like yourself and emergency responders. So I’ve always found that being able to contextualize the reality of what the person is going to do, regardless of the advice and the direction you’re given them in and helping them to do it in safe ways. Have you got any tips for risk managers on how they can help their teams find the safest possible way to implement operations, whether they’re journalists were their corporates or with a government actors working in insecure environments?

Colin Pereira – 7:51

I think the first starting point is to understand what people are trying to do. The story, you just told me, the journalist says, I’m going to go cover that no matter what, that’s the story, I’m going to go get that on the air and put that out. If you know what your client is trying to do, then you say, right, what are the risks to you doing that? How can I mitigate against them. And it might be that you can’t mitigate. We have journalists today who are covering a protest in Kabul, and we’ve had a discussion first thing this morning about how they can cover it at the Taliban. It’s about women’s rights. The Taliban are not very happy about the protests. And they have beaten up journalists who have covered these protests in the past. So we had a long discussion. And we said, look, there is a potential that you will get hit when you go down there. How are we going to mitigate against that? If you do get hit? Where are you going to go? Are you going to be able to get to a hospital if you’ve got a serious damage to yourself. So these are the realistic discussions. It’s can’t be you can’t do this, because you’ll be unsafe, unless the business says we will not want to take any risks whatsoever. But it’s what happens if something goes wrong. What are we going to do about it? And I think one of the greatest myths in certainly in the media is when you work for a big news organization, there’s this idea that the news organization will come sweep in and have people on white horses charging in to save you that’s not the case, part of my role is to educate the people doing the job to say, look, if you get in trouble, I’ve literally got nothing to help you with. So let’s not get into trouble today. It’s just being frank and honest with them really

Dominic Bowen -9:12

Such an important point. We, again, in Afghanistan before this was the, I think the Thursday or Friday, before Kabul fell to the Taliban. We were talking to a different team of journalists that were heading in at that point. I think the American State Department other actors were saying it’ll take at least 30 days before Kabul falls and of course, other actors were saying, you know, it’s probably more like days or weeks, not months. And a very similar conversation with this team about you know, we need to be looking at flights on a daily basis, because if you’re looking at flying out in the week, you could find that there’s no flights in that week’s time. And you’re right, you get those questions about “okay, so how do we do an evacuation if the airport’s closed? If you are in the center of Afghanistan and the airport’s closed, you’re in a really, really difficult spot and we can’t just charter a plane to fly into an airport. This has been taken over by the Taliban and I think that it does often get people to sort of pause for a second and go, “oh, but there must be a way”.

Colin Pereira – 10:02

Absolutely. And I think people don’t understand the logistical aspects of this, just because you have a team in Afghanistan and you want to get them out doesn’t mean that the charter plane pilots want to go to Afghanistan, and you have to convince them that they’ve got to go, it doesn’t mean that the insurance company are going to ensure that plane to land on the tarmac, and in fact, they probably weren’t any flight going to Afghanistan, they need to be paid in advance that takes three to five business working days to make a bank transfer all of these logistics slow down and evacuation, if you can actually carry it out. And you need people who are willing to go and evacuate them. It’s not like you just click a button and say “okay, now I want to evacuate them and go”, “oh, yes, I’ve got”,you know, all these people waiting to come and get you. What the whole evacuation of Afghanistan told me and, I extracted about 250 people for the Committee to Protect Journalists, which was a massive, massive logistical operation to pull these people out. And when I say I extracted them, I did not extract them. I just was a sort of coordinator, there were many, many people involved in getting them out. And so I was extracting these 250 people, while at the same time, I was putting in numerous news crews on the ground cover the story and having discussions at C suite level, exactly, as you say. So you know, we want to be on the last plane out, you don’t have that choice. You either take a seat when you get it or you stay and you find out how the Taliban are going to treat journalists. And fortunately, the Taliban have actually been incredibly accommodating so far for Western journalists, not for local journalists, they are protecting Western journalists and I have Western journalists moving up and down the country all the time. I have a team moving around country in an area that if you had said four months ago that we would be driving down the road, I would have said there’s no way that’s going to happen in today. They’re happily traipsing across the country, meeting people and going through Taliban checkpoints without any hitches.

Dominic Bowen – 11:42

Sometimes these things are very hard to predict, even with the best monitoring and the best assessments in environments that we all know quite well. It’s very difficult to foretell the future for sure. I recall several years ago, conducting post mortem investigations in Tonga in the wake of anti democratic rights –that’s why that’s actually said anti democratic rights– they were very bloody, and ultimately, seven people were killed. That was a really special experience conducting those investigations. But I understand you’ve also worked on high risk investigations. How do you approach the already complex task of conducting an investigation in the added complexity of doing it in a high risk environment?

Colin Pereira – 12:16

It kind of depends on what you’re doing. And you’ve got to break it down. It all comes down to risk assessment. It’s the basics of journalism, who’s your subject? What are you doing? Where are you doing it? How are you doing it? Are you going to get out? These are very basic questions, but they need to be answered in depth. One question I’ve left out is motivation. If you are going to say cover corruption and reveal some politicians, dirty doings basically make that person’s bank account very uncomfortable. Generally, statistically, we know that there’s a high price to pay for that, or there can be a high price paid for that. So we look at the motivation of the individual, will they get very upset? Do they have a vested interest in stopping you carrying out this investigation? Do they have a history of violence? Do they have the means and capacity to do something adverse to the investigation team? Or do they follow the rules depends very much on location. So in countries without the rule of law, or where the politicians decide the rule of law, the chance of repercussions are much greater, so we just break it down and we say what can happen? What are we going to do about it, if it does happen? How are we going to get these people out, if the worst case scenario happens? We just work our way through it. And then we present that to the commissioners or to the bosses of the department and say, “look, this is the risk, there’s a high chance of a bad outcome. Do you still want to go ahead or not?” And many times I’m reminded of that line in Argo, where the boss says, “is this the best plan you have?” And they say yes, this is the best bad plan we have. We are often in that situation.

Dominic Bowen – 13:39

Have you ever got it really wrong? You’re a professional. You’ve been doing this, as we said, for nearly two decades, you’re well educated well traveled. 

Colin Pereira – 13:47

There’s a famous faux pas I made in my career that every journalist who was in the room reminds me of on a regular basis. It was 2010 December, and the riots in Tunisia were breaking out and Liz Suzette, the World News correspondent, turned to me and said Colin, what do you think? Do you think this is going to have any impact? I said, Tunisia is a tiny little country in Africa, nothing will come with this. The demonstrations will pass by and no one will blink an eye. Yeah, 12 months later, obviously, the Arab Spring consumed the Middle East, and Liz loves to remind me of this comment that I made. So now I don’t make grand statements about forecasts and predictions. It’s quite easy to get it wrong. When we’re working on risky stories, we make a lot of decisions. And sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re wrong. And that can impact teams on the ground in terms of their safety. It’s all about hedging our bets. So whenever we decide something we say, Okay, well, how right are we in this? Let’s have a backup plan, no matter how confident we are, so that if we get it wrong, we can pull them out quickly, or manage the situation as best we can.

Dominic Bowen – 14:48

Backup plans that are informed by good risk monitoring are just so critical. Don’t feel too bad. I’m sure a lot of people got a prediction about the Arab Spring wrong.

Colin Pereira – 14:55

The thing is, is I work in a very fluid space, things change every day, as you said, this summer in Afghanistan, the CIA and the intelligence services were saying it’s going to be two years before the Afghan government falls. A week later, it was going to be six months, then two days later it was three days, it’s very hard making these predictions. And it’s easy to sit there and judge people who make them. But it’s really hard to make those predictions,

Dominic Bowen – 15:16

Colin, you’re one of the directors at HP risk management, and I know that keeping people safe is really at the center of what HP risk management has done for a couple of decades. Now, can you share with our listeners some of the types of current risk management projects that you and the team are working on?

Colin Pereira  – 15:31

Well, I can’t go into detail about our client base, because that’s confidential. But I can basically say that we work…I think we’re retained by 15 of the largest news organizations in the world, we have a number of NGO clients and do the occasional corporate tasks. But what we like to do ideally, is we like to go into an organization and build their infrastructure by which they manage risk. Some of them already have very mature models, others have very immature models. What I love to do when I get out of bed is to go into an organization and totally build that infrastructure in the sense that we train their managers on how to deal with crises, how to deal with risky deployments, we train their staff in how to make better judgments under pressure and hostile environment training. I’m sure many of your clients and many of your listeners are aware of this kind of training. But we take it a step further in the sense that we really focus on decision making under pressure, then we also build their crisis model when something goes wrong, how do they respond to it. And we also work with their insurers to make sure that they’re covered to the best degree financially. And it’s a sort of holistic model that we build for our client base. And then we will often stay alongside them advising on individual deployments on a daily basis.

Dominic Bowen – 16:36

I always feel so much better when working with clients when you work on the holistic package, not because of the size of the contract, or the amount of time you get with the client. It is just so much more comforting when you can work on the entire, make sure they’ve got the policies and practices in place, a senior leadership team have the skills, the people working on crisis management have the capacity to respond to a crisis, the users will be working in the field have the relevant skills, and then as you said, either assisting them in house to have the capacity to conduct those assessments or working with them on a day to day basis to make sure that they’re assessing and was correctly.

Colin Pereira  – 17:07

What I always say to our client base is the word risk management is wrong, we don’t manage the risk, we don’t control the risk, the risk has its own life, and it does its own thing. The only thing we control is the caliber of the people we send in and the caliber of the people managing those people in the field. That’s the only thing we control. And the only thing we can influence. If you try and do that, while you have a problem or your crisis, it’s very difficult. So it’s better to try and set it up in advance. Obviously, that’s in an ideal world, we’ve actually built our relationships on the basis that they’ve come to us and said, we’ve got this massive problem, something’s gone wrong here. Can you help us and ,you know, we try and unravel it and fix it. But ideally, you would start at the beginning when there is no problem. And you can foresee problems coming up and build the model to resist that. I’d say to all our media clients and NGO clients is we’re not factories of just news or goodwill. We’re factories of people, we’re factories of journalists, we’re factories of NGOs, workers, and we’ve got to build a platform that allow them to be their best possible selves and deal with whatever problem comes their way. That’s quite challenging. Because there’s a lot of change management in there. There’s a lot of people transformation, but it’s not risk management. It’s making people cope with different situations.

Dominic Bowen – 18:15

And I think media houses and journalists are generally quite good at understanding that they are working in high risk environments, and there are risks that need to be identified and mitigated. But how do you convince them and when you’re speaking with other clients and NGOs, and as you said, the occasional corporate client, how do you discuss with them about the value in the benefit of spending money now on setting up good practices and processes and building the caliber of their staff when there’s no risk today that they have to be dealing with? 

Colin Pereira – 18:42

Well, for the bigger clients, it’s a cultural thing. I started my career at the BBC, which suddenly was for many years, the sort of market leader in safety in the media space. The reason why they started a security team is because they lost a journalist in the Balkans. His name was John Schofield, he drove down a road that possibly he shouldn’t have been driving down, and he got into an ambush. And he was killed, unfortunately, and this came as a huge shock to the BBC, because his bosses didn’t even know he was in the Balkans. And this is back in the 90s. And they didn’t have any sort of risk management model, or any sort of control of what people did. They built a team. And that team had a carte blanche to go in and change the way they did things. But I think one of the better things that we had is I actually had a boss at the time, who said, we’re not there to say that they can’t do stuff. We’re just there to minimize the risk, point out the rest of them, and they still have to be in charge. And that’s something that I take to all of our clients is, you know, editorially, they are in control. They tell me what they want to do. I don’t say you can’t do that. Because otherwise you’ve just got a security person in charge of your journalism. And that’s not what journalism is about. When I go into other clients, often they are responding to a bad experience that they’ve had, something’s gone wrong. And they say, how did we get into this terrible situation? We can never let that happen. Again, we need to manage that, there is a real danger of a hindsight bias. So they say how could this have happened? All the signs were there but also obviously, when you’re in the heat of the moment, and you’re making decisions fast, you don’t necessarily register those signs. And it’s easy after the event to say, oh, yeah, we should have seen that. There’s a real danger of having a knee jerk reaction after an incident or an event and introducing way too much bureaucracy, way too much control. That actually then negates the business goals. And I’ll tell you a little story about an organization that I knew quite well. So I think it was about 2012, I was on the Syrian border, the Turkish Syrian border, I had a crew in Syria. And what we would do is we’d always put a security person on the border in case there was some sort of incident so we could respond. And I had just drawn the short straw, or actually the good straw because I love Turkish food. And I love being down on that border. So I was there. And I bumped into a crew from a different organization that I knew. And they said, let’s go out for dinner. And we’re having dinner and one of the team members said to me, hang on a second, you mustn’t tell our bosses that you’ve seen us here. I said what, what are you talking about? And they said, well, the bosses think we’re in Syria, they don’t realize we’re back in Turkey. I said, Why? Why would they think that and said, oh, well, because we were in Syria today. And we gathered our news piece, we did all our filming, but it’s quite dangerous. So we decided to come back to Turkey to edit the piece. And we might go back tomorrow, we might go back the next day. This is all worthwhile, the sensible, common sense from the crew, they’re managing their risk really well. And I said, Well, why don’t you want to tell the boss of this at all? Because we have to fill out another risk assessment, and then we’ll have to get it approved. And it will take forever, and we’ll just never get that done. And we’ll be sitting here in three weeks time trying to go back in. I said, so you’re willfully misleading your bosses? And they very happily said, yes, yes, we are. That is an example of a compliance system gone wrong, when your team are actually managing their risk well, but the system is working against them and creating hurdles for them. So they’re having to navigate around the system rather than deal with it. If something had happened, you know, the bosses would have said, you’ve lied to us, you misled us, it would have been a terrible situation. That’s for a culture when we come in that they accept that they have to make changes. There are some organizations that we come in, and they say, oh, well, everyone else is doing this. But we have to do this, because it’s the industry standard, but they don’t really want to make any changes to the way they manage things. And that is the hardest customer to deal with. Because they say, well, we’ve done this for 1000 years, why should we change just because some risk management consultant has walked in. There’s a lot of friction. And it’s my job to show them that there’s a benefit.

Dominic Bowen – 22:15

You speak about journalists doing things for eons in the same way. And I know there’s a big reliance from journalists on fixers. Now many of our listeners will have heard the huge value that so many of our guests from completely different industries, from governments, from intelligence, from corporate entities from humanitarian organizations– the huge role and the need that they have for quality, local context for national staff, for staff on the ground who can support and lead and provide them with advice. But one of the things that I think I’ve come across quite regularly is there’s perhaps a concern that there’s an over reliance on fixers that if a journalist has a good fixer, someone that can organize their transport, hotel, advise them on a few things, but that fixer is also a security expert, also an analyst and a researcher and advisor all in one. How have you found that? Have you found that fixers can really be that fix all? Or do you think that at times there is an over reliance on fixers when journalists are going into high risk environments?

Colin Pereira  – 23:10

I wouldn’t call it an over reliance, but there’s definitely a strong relationship between the local producer or the local journalist and the crew. I won’t call them a fixer because one local journalist who was performing this role said to me fixers is a very derogative term, actually, why wouldn’t you call me a journalist just like you call your journalists? Because most of the fixers are journalists in their own right, yes, we’re highly dependent on the local people to facilitate our objectives and our reach and our goals. Without them we would be lost. There is, as you say, this tendency to say, well, this person lives here. And therefore they’re an expert on the risk without really questioning what their risk tolerance is or what their values are, when it comes to risk and safety. And sometimes they don’t want to take any chances themselves, because they’ve had bad experiences. And they don’t want to push the envelope. But at the same time, I’ve had local facilitators who are newer to danger, because they’ve had so many things happen to them that they have to go into a mindset where it will never happen to me, I know best. And those are actually the most dangerous. And this is the same for the visiting crews, individuals who lack the intellectual humility to say, well, we’re not experts here, we might have been here 10 times, 20 times –that doesn’t mean that we know everything. Sometimes it’s very hard to spot that. So I’ll just tell you a little story. During the Arab Spring in Syria, a number of television crews would cross into Syria, they would go into refugee camps. And the initial line that they used with people in the refugee camps is tell us your story. We will put you on the news and the world will see your desperate plight, someone will come and save you. One, two years into the conflict, no one was coming to save them. But they had mobile phones and they were seeing on the internet that all these journalists were winning awards for the news coverage that they were doing in Syria and the refugees started getting upset with us. And then when Islamic States arose, they often paid or they often coerced the refugees and the facilitators to help kidnap foreign media. And in many cases, the facilitators were happy to oblige, because they had been told this story that someone will come and rescue you by the international media. And that wasn’t happening. And they were feeling betrayed, you know, the risk changes, and we have to be conscious of that someone who you trusted yesterday doesn’t necessarily mean that you trust them today.

Dominic Bowen – 25:26

And there’s a lot of stresses involved in dealing with these risks and providing advice. You and I have spoken previously about that. And I understand during the evacuation of many people from Afghanistan, you had some difficult cases of families being separated and different family members being able to get on planes and others not. Are you able to explain or describe some of those stories to our listeners today.

Colin Pereira – 25:47

I mean, it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. So I basically had a team of individuals working for the Committee to Protect Journalists, one, as the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists had said to us very early on that our directive was to get as many people out as possible into safety and through contacts that the CPJ has, we were able to leverage flights and transportation with various different governments and organizations. So we started to coordinate lists of Afghans who were desperate to be removed and their families. This was 67 journalists and their families, which amounted to about 250 people. And then this operation became a logistical nightmare. So if you’ve ever dealt with sort of manifest lists they are difficult to manage, we have these long manifest lists and requirements, which was on day one, they just needed some sort of ID card on day three, an ID card was no longer valid. This has created a massive problem for a lot of Afghan families, because in Afghan families, often the male patriarch will have a passport, but the wife and the children will not. The manifest list that we had of hundreds of people had to be rewritten in hours, because lots of those people on that list didn’t have the right documentation to travel. This meant that some people got left off. And we dealt with one case where unfortunately, a baby had been left off a family, the manifest list with a family, and we had to have a discussion with the family, they were standing in line waiting to be transported to the airport when we realized the baby could not travel with them. And we said, look, we’ll take you off the flight. This has all been done on WhatsApp, by the way, I should say we weren’t with them. And we said we’ll take you off the flight. And we’ll try and get you on a flight tomorrow. They came back about 10 minutes later saying we have to go, the Taliban are hunting us and just to paint this picture, they’re standing in the street, waiting for a boss to transport them, Taliban fighters all around them. They’re terrified. They’ve left their house, all they own is in small little rucksacks. And they’re preparing to be transported to a country where they have no idea where they’re going. And we’re saying to them, you can’t take your baby, your 18 month old little girl with you. They came back and said we have to go because the Taliban are hunting us and we will be killed if we stay here one more night. We said, what are you going to do with your child and said, well, we’ll leave them with the youngest daughter, we were saying what does that mean that you’re going to leave them in the street. And we’re saying, well, we can’t be responsible for leaving two young girls behind in the streets of Kabul. Fortunately for us, after about 30 minutes of anguish, a flight was actually canceled that day. And I did not have to make a hard decision. But it was very, very emotionally draining on all my team. And it took us a long time to get over it, quite frankly. But we did manage to get the family out to a few days later with the little girl.

Dominic Bowen – 28:20

I like the ending of that story, but not the middle part. But definitely the ending. That’s fantastic. I understand also, you know, the situation with the Taliban. And of course, we’re all watching with bated breath, as we had colleagues and friends in Afghanistan, what the Taliban response to international and local journalists would be. I understand you’ve also had colleagues where the Taliban have been chasing them down the road, but not for the reason you’d expect. 

Colin Pereira – 28:44

One of our correspondents told us a story that when she got back to Kabul, after the Taliban had taken over, carry on coverage, she went to the office, and the Taliban had sealed the green zone because they didn’t want any theft to occur. And when she got back the gave her a tour of our office and they said, you know is anything missing. She then got back in her taxi to head back to her hotel. And this bearded fighter came out with sort of bandoliers of ammunition. And he started chasing her car down the street. And she thought, oh, gosh, what’s gonna happen? Now I’m in trouble. She went out the window and said, you know, what can I help you with? He said, we need the name and telephone number of your gardener, she said, why? What are you going to do to him? He said, Oh, no, no, we’re not going to do anything to him. But it’s hot, and the plants are dying, and we need someone to come and water them. It’s this sort of surreal world where, you know, we have journalists who have very credible threats being made to them by these same individuals who are worried about the plaints being watered.

Dominic Bowen – 29:34

Gosh, what a complex environment. You and I have talked previously about making fire extinguishers friendly and you and I agree that making risk mitigation and building risk resilient organizations and people, you know, relies on making the processes as frictionless as possible, and this is a really important component of achieving risk compliance and risk management compliance. I understand the work that you and your colleagues have been doing is around creating a successful assessment platform around risk assessments and focusing on user experience and compliance. How have you been able to add value to clients with this platform?

Colin Pereira – 30:08

One of the things that we’ve done thawed know is working is we’ve adopted a behavioral science approach of nudging. In the media and NGO world, most media organizations have a manual of risk and it’s got a lot of best practice guidance on it –this is how you will respond to a terrorist attack, and in there, there was a mention of secondary attack as you were mentioning the team that was there previously in Kabul. So it literally is what you have to do when you’re facing different scenarios but this manual is usually hidden away somewhere in the internet, you have to go find it, copy and past it into the risk assessment to say this is how you’re going to behave. What we’ve done in our platform is say, what are you doing? are you covering a terrorist attack? and when they say yes we are, then it presents the best practice guidance on the left hand side and on the right hand side they have to write down what they’re doing. You can actually see that this nudges them towards better behavior. In a terrorist attack, that’s quite a complex situation but say for example, we have journalists everyday, renting boats, to go into the English Channel to film migrants crossing the Channel – I believe, a few number of them died last night, unfortunately, migrants this is. This is quite a dangerous activity, before you jump on a boat, what you need to understand is the insurance of the vessel, the sea-worthiness of the vessel and the licensing of the skipper. Many journalists are not experts of this, when they fill out a risk assessment form, the best practice guidance tells them to do this, they actually go off and do this and therefore are on a safer boat. They are doing their due diligence, which they previously weren’t doing before using our platform. One of the most important things we’ve done with the system is we’ve enabled the ability to capture user feedback. In our constituency of journalists, our journalists are often experts on the risk –they know where they’re going and they know these places inside out. The traditional model is the security department tells them what the risk is in Afghanistan or Djibouti or whatever it is, but often they know and they don’t like being told something that they know already. What we do is that when they come back from their assignment, they get an email and it says “Welcome back, is there anything that happened to you from a safety perspective that you would like to share with colleagues?” and tell us about your driver, and your local facilitator and the journalists you used and any supplier that you engaged with. And they literally can give the suppliers a rating or it can say, look we got to the airport, and the customs went through all of our stuff and they took away our satellite phone and we had to sit in a waiting area, cell, for quite a while, don’t bring satellite phones into this country. That can then be fed back into the risk assessment and the country pages in the system. That is a very powerful tool. Suddenly, your users have ownership of their risk and being able to pass things onto their colleagues, and they really like this. And this is a classic behavioral science technique called the IKEA effect. People who buy a piece of ready-made furniture, they love it. But if you build your piece of furniture from IKEA, you like it even more because you’ve had a role in building that even if the drawers don’t come out, doesn’t work, which is most of the IKEA furniture I’ve had to build unfortunately. If you have a role in building the model, in building the risk model, you value it even more, and that’s what we’re seeing with our user base and our clients. 

Dominic Bowen 33:31

Makes total sense that people have more buy-in and appreciate something that they’ve contributed to, for sure, I think that’s a really great model and fantastic if you can limit the time people are spending doing the administration and formatting, giving them time to consider the risks which is what you want them to be doing when they are going through the risk assessment process. Sounds like a really good platform, Colin. As we look into 2022, what are the main risks that concern you?

Colin Pereira 34:00

Oh! Big question. We’re actually going to be running an event at the start of the year called Global Outlook, where we’re going to discuss all of these topics. What I’me seeing is I think the economic effect of the pandemic and lockdowns, it will have a big impact. You know, we’re seeing protests around the world, from Colombia to South Africa to Asia and I think that will continue. The erosion of democracy and rights will continue in many parts of the world, creating friction between those people that want to maintain democracy and I’m talking about places like Hong Kong, Myanmar, governments that want to revert back to authoritarianism. And I think this year, I don’t know the number, we’re actually looking at the number of coups that have occurred this year in Africa because just anecdotally we’ve been seeing so many that it seems to be a definite optic. I also see the rise of cybercrime but in our field this in the form of deep fakes, stealing people’s identities, attacking people online– that just grows exponentially and there does not seem to be much control of it. We’re working with our clients to reduce the risk of people’s digital footprint to ensure they’re not being harassed at home and having their bank accounts hacked. Those are probably my three top lines. 

Dominic Bowen – 35:13

Thank you so much for sharing that Colin and thank you so much for being with us on the International Risk Podcast today, Colin Pereira. 

Colin Pereira 35:18

A pleasure! I listen to the podcast so it’s great, always glad to be on a show that I listen to. 

Dominic Bowen 35:24

Well, I really appreciated listening to Colin’s thoughts today on journalist safety, on creating improved risk practices and some of his recent experiences supporting journalists and clients around the world. Thanks very much for listening to the podcast again today and we’ll see you again next week. 

Harriet Tyler 35:41

You’ve been listening to the International Risk Podcast hosted by Dominic Bowen. Please go to wherever you download your podcasts and give this podcast a five star review. Your positive reviews on this podcast and subscribing to future downloads is critical for our success. If you enjoyed the show, tell a friend about this podcast. Consider if you know someone that would appreciate or benefit from today’s conversation and send them this podcast right now. Thank you for listening. And join us again next week for your effects of risk related stories.

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