Risk Management

TNI regularly assesses legal, security, financial, reputational, and operational risks. Overall risks are assessed annually in terms of probability and severity of impact, and improved mitigation measures are put in place where necessary. An inventory is under development, which will provide the organisation with a comprehensive matrix for monitoring purposes.

Below the key high probability, high impact risks addressed in 2020, and identified for 2021 are discussed.

COVID-19

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic was a major risk identified in 2020. This was anticipated to impact on staff physically, on operations, and on priorities.

Initial mitigation measures taken to ensure the safety of staff included closing the office on 13 March 2020, allowing staff to work from home, lending equipment as required, and arranging regular online team/staff meetings until it was deemed officially safe to reopen the office. Meanwhile, for those who needed to come into the office, measures to minimize contact risk were put in place, including registration in an online roster to ensure not too many people were in the office at the same time; provision of appropriate equipment, such as shields between desks, the availability of sanitisers, gloves and masks; and agreement on safety protocols. As temperatures dropped and it became apparent that pandemic conditions would prevail for the foreseeable future, staff who did not normally work from home were compensated in line with the recommendations of the National Institute for Budget Information.

Five of our staff contracted COVID-19, though fortunately mostly mildly and none required hospitalisation. Care became a major theme within the Institute. Over time, everyone developed an acute awareness of the mental well-being of others. This was particularly important with a very international staff without strong social networks outside of work and unable to travel to be with their families, sometimes in places particularly hard hit by the pandemic. We had  parents struggling to work with children at home, single people feeling isolated, special needs people losing the structure needed for focus, colleagues dealing with long-distance bereavement and familial illness, many struggling with home-work balances, and most missing normal social contact. Resolving misunderstandings or grievances or just getting to know each other better was that much harder virtually. Interns had a much more restricted experience than would be normal. Despite all the difficulties, in many ways, the crisis pulled staff closer, brought the best out in everyone, and reinforced mutual care as a core ethic of the Institute.

Operationally, TNI managed to adapt well. Our administration was already fully digitised and there were no disruptions to normal administrative procedures. Being an international institute, most staff were used to operating virtually. Every effort was made to minimize the financial impact on TNI, its staff – including consultants, and partners. Programmatic plans were adapted as required, with all international travel cancelled and all activities going online. Where necessary, no-cost extensions and/or permission for budget reallocations were sought from funders, all of whom were exceedingly considerate and cooperative.

The pandemic has had clear consequences for the context in which TNI works programmatically too. New threats and new opportunities emerge from this. Much effort went into analysing the transformations underway and what this might mean for our programmatic priorities, and those of our funders.

Going into 2021, it is clear that COVID-19 remains a physical risk until everyone is vaccinated, and provided this happens quickly enough that mutations do not render vaccinations ineffective. Meanwhile, TNI will continue to follow the same mitigation strategies it did in 2020 and will prepare for a future in which home work is likely more the norm than the exception. A staff survey showed that most would prefer never to return full-time to the office, indicating that COVID-19 has impacted significantly on office culture. This may have implications for the office space TNI requires for its operations, as it may for other organisations who rent space from TNI. This may hold some risk for TNI in terms of finding new tenants and the implications for the costs of the building.

Security and safety

Security and safety continued to be a key risk monitored in 2020, particularly in the context of a growing climate of repression against progressive activists discernible across the world, including against partner organizations, potentially worsening in places under cover of the pandemic.

Myanmar

Our Myanmar programme involves people from conflict zones in a deteriorating political context. TNI had developed a thorough matrix of risks – along with concomitant mitigation strategies – assessed annually and updated for probability and severity. The political climate worsened in 2020 and, as planned, for each activity staff assessed risk and made mitigation plans.

With the pending 2021 elections, further trouble was anticipated and preparations duly made. In February 2021, the military coup confirmed worst fears, and mitigation plans were activated. Funders have been very supportive of the local staff and partners, also offering embassy support.

Data security and safe communications

TNI had fully digitised its financial and other administration some years back. This, along with the introduction of new laws on data privacy and growing concern about safe communications, particularly under repressive circumstances such as in Myanmar, prompted TNI in 2018 to identify data security and safe communications as a priority risk. The result was a comprehensive Information & Communication Technology (ICT) policy put in place by 2019 – including data protection, data security and data breach policies and procedures – as well as ongoing education of staff by TNI’s Computer Support team on data security and safe communications. This stood TNI in good stead in 2020.

In 2020, particularly with staff working from home during the pandemic, every effort was made to ensure that staff continued to adhere to the ICT policy and were conscious of the need for safe communications. We are happy to report there were no data breaches or other ICT incidents in 2020, aside from the odd phishing expedition which were fortunately recognised as such by staff. With the shift to online activities, special care was taken to adhere to GDPR privacy laws in collecting participant registration information and guidelines developed to safeguard events from trolls.

We did have a few connected minor incidents whereby our bank details – published on our website’s donation page – were used by strangers to make unauthorised online purchases. The incidents were quickly noticed, the companies concerned informed, and the payments reversed so no losses were incurred by TNI. The bank details were removed from our site to prevent this happening again.

In 2021, data security and safe communications will remain a priority risk area to monitor as operations will continue to take place mainly online and the situation in Myanmar is expected to deteriorate further.

Financial Sustainability

As a non-profit organization TNI is primarily dependent on grant income. Of this, nearly half derives from one source: the Dutch Ministry of Trade and Development via the Fair, Green and Global Alliance (FGG) in which TNI is a member. The single biggest risk identified for 2020 was the possibility that a new five-year grant would not be forthcoming. Fundraising for 2021 onwards was a key priority for the year.

Fortunately, we heard in June 2020 that the Fair, Green and Global Alliance (FGG) was awarded a new grant, albeit at lower rate than in the previous grant. This provides welcome security for around half TNI’s annual budget up to the end of 2025, and a strong basis from which to leverage co-financing. Additional efforts at fundraising – including investments in training of staff – paid off. Three new foundations are now supporting our work, which helps to further spread risk by diversifying our funding base. Meanwhile, we also managed to sustain the level of donations to the Institute, largely through concerted effort during online events for which we attracted big audiences in 2020.

For 2021, we foresee risks to our programme in Myanmar in light of the coup that has taken place there. Considerable adaptation of the programme is now required. We are working closely with funders to figure out new priorities and modus operandii given current conditions.

More generally, there is a perennial risk that TNI is not able to raise sufficient funds to sustain current operations. On average, TNI does manage to raise 90% of its budget before the end of the previous financial year, with the balance secured by the end of the first quarter. We monitor multi-annual projections closely, constantly scan for opportunities while staying on mission, invest in funder relations, and actively seek to diversify our funding base and sources of independent income. This does require ongoing investment of time, enhancement of staff skills and clear fundraising guidelines.

Income as a % of total grant income
2020 2019
Dutch Government 50% 51%
Other government sources 20% 20%
Philanthropic foundations 16% 21%
European Union 14% 8%

In addition to grant income, TNI raised € 172,508 in unearmarked funds. These consist of rental income (80%), donations (6%) and consultancies and book sales (14%).