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Islamic Relief Worldwide: Building a Reputational Risk Management Strategy in the face of Islamophobia-motivated attacks

Report Date | October 2019
Type | ICSO mechanism
Region | Global
Author(s) | Sarah Pugh and Deborah Doane

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Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) is an independent humanitarian and development organisation. They have an active presence in over 40 countries across the globe, and strive to make the world a better and fairer place for millions of the three billion people still living in poverty.

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IRW has often faced disproportionate hostility and scrutiny because of its Islamic faith and framing. However, it faced a new level of threat in 2014 when it was designated as a terrorist organisation or front – first by Israel, and then by the United Arab Emirates. It responded to these designations swiftly and as robustly as possible, but the organisation felt that it was constantly on the back foot during this fight. Three years after the designations, prompted by fresh reputational risks, IRW decided to adopt a more proactive approach, and invested in developing a new strategy to manage reputational risk.

Costs
Some of the tools needed to either repel or prepare for threats are expensive, such as legal or lobbyist fees. They’re effective mechanisms, but expensive, and so need to be included in budgets.

Staff time
Often, the people best-positioned to deal with these issues are in demanding, senior roles – to find time to deal with these issues can be difficult. The new role of Senior Communications Advisor at the International Secretariat has been vital in helping to underpin their strategy, doing the legwork that the crisis management team requires. It also means that the rest of the communications team can continue with their business as usual, rather than spending all of their time on reputational risk management.

Engage with the truly influential
Engage with the truly influential, and not necessarily with your opponents. Fighting back on every false allegation or vilifying comment gives those attacks oxygen and draws more people to the debate. Time is better invested in targeting those actors your opponents are trying to influence, to make your case there.

Make friends while the sun shines
It’s important to identify your key stakeholders and invest in building relationships with them. Ensuring that you have transparent, close relationships with those groups means that you can seek their support, and where appropriate their endorsement, in the face of an emergency.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
Risk analysis and scenario planning are key.

Say who you are
In response to reputational attacks, do not to get dragged into publicly arguing about what you are not. Instead, re-double your efforts to talk about who you are and what you do. Invest the time and resources required to tell your story and represent yourself in order to protect against misrepresentation.

Collaborate
It’s important to acknowledge where issues are bigger than ‘communications’ alone, and your strategy must recognize areas where the work needed goes far beyond what you can achieve in isolation.

For example, due to continuing bank de-risking, IRW’s Head of Governance has undertaken outreach work on the issue. He is on a tri-sector committee convened by the Treasury in the UK, which brings together government representatives, banks and leading civil society organisations to discuss and analyse the ongoing uncertainty of financial services for locations of greatest need, as only a joint approach can address this issue.

  • Islamic Relief Worldwide is better prepared for any threats to its reputation and operations, and therefore more resilient. Since the designations in 2014 which were made by two influential nations, IRW has continued to grow as an organisation. That in itself is a success, and an endorsement of its actions on this front.

Report Date | October 2019     Type | ICSO mechanism     Region | Global     Author(s) | Sarah Pugh and Deborah Doane

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