New Grants for Research on Security of Aid Workers


Kroc Institute professor Larissa Fast, along with scholars and practitioners from Johns Hopkins University and Save the Children, has been awarded a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development for research that aims to increase security for international relief and development agencies worldwide.

Targeted killings, kidnappings, and attacks on aid workers are on the rise, Fast says, leading to growing concerns about how to protect people who work for the Red Cross, the United Nations, or organizations such as World Vision, Oxfam, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services, and thousands of smaller relief and development organizations worldwide.

Fast and her colleagues will travel to Sudan, Kenya, and Uganda to field test the “acceptance” approach to security, one based on the idea that threats can be reduced if an agency’s staff develops good working relationships with local people. This approach is challenging, Fast says, because it involves actively building relationships not only with the community, but with the very people who might cause you harm — rebels and insurgents, local armies, or local authorities. 

Research results will be used to create recommendations for the humanitarian community on the implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of the acceptance approach to security, Fast says.

In a related effort, Fast has received a Kroc Institute faculty research grant to build a global database that includes the more than 2,000 incidents of violence that affect aid workers and interfere with the delivery of emergency and development aid around the world since the mid 1990s.

Currently, only violent incidents that result in death, kidnapping, or severe injury are adequately documented, Fast says. “But if I am a victim of a carjacking, or I get a death threat on my cell phone, there is no record of it and no way to track it. By expanding the database, we can begin to see patterns of violence and make strategic decisions about how to minimize risk and vulnerability.”

Fast is assistant professor of conflict resolution at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and department of sociology. Her research focuses on violence against aid workers, humanitarian politics, development and conflict, evaluation, and peacebuilding. She has worked for several international organizations, primarily in North America and Africa, as a project manager, consultant, and trainer. The author of numerous chapters and articles and co-editor of a textbook on conflict resolution, she is completing a book manuscript titled Aid in Danger.

Contact: Larissa Fast,