The IOM Office of the Ombudsperson (OOM), from 1821 September 2018 in Nairobi, conducted a series of orientations for the Respectful Workplace Focal Points (RWFPs) from Africa to Asia missions, and a special session for the IOM Kenya Country Office and the Regional Office for the East and Horn of Arica colleagues. The training helped IOM setup over 50 RWFPs across the globe. The RWFPs were trained on various conflict prevention tools with the aid of case studies. The list of trained RWFPs is posted on the OOM intranet portal. IOM is a very diverse organization with a global staffing of 9,000 plus individuals consisting of 161 nationalities, of which 46% females and 54% males. Conflicts are inevitable in any setting.
Mr Rogelio Bernal Gascon, the IOM Ombudsperson, cited the lack of a respectful workplace environment as a significant source of conflict. And conflict accounts for USD 13.6 trillion worldwide, and IOM is not the exception. IOM estimates that conflict costs between USD 1.2 and 5.3 million. Training and expanding the network of RWFPs are critical to IOM’s work. RWFPs become “firstline responders” to promoting respect in the workplace, and help empower staff to fulfill IOM’s mandate in a collaborative manner.
Mr Bernal, formerly the head of IOM’s Human Resource Management Department, is the first-ever chartered Ombudsperson in IOM. The RWFPs are individuals nominated by their peers from their respective Missions, and not part of the Administration or the Staff Association (SAC) to ensure impartiality and independence. The RWFPs will support the work of the OOM in providing safe space for informal conflict prevention, management, and resolution process of IOM. The OOM assists all IOM staff, consultants, and interns with concerns and conflicts related to employment in IOM. Issues related to prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA) are covered by the Ethics and Conduct Office.
Mr Mike Pillinger, Chief of Mission (CoM) for IOM Kenya Country Office, noted that IOM’s impact is largely determined by the health of its field teams. And in his 25 years with IOM mostly in conflict-affected operations, there is a need to find a delicate balance in addressing - “the source of conflict”, “why is the situation dividing the team”, and “how the proposed alternatives will lead to better relations and acceptable results for conflicted parties.” Mr Jeff Labovitz, Regional Director (RD) of IOM Regional Office for East and Horn of Africa, recognized the importance of the Ombudsperson and the trained RWFPs in conflict prevention and de-escalating tensions at the workplace.
The key messages for the various sessions, including question and answer segments, with the Ombudsperson included: Conflicts when addressed constructively and in a timely fashion lead to improved organizational effectiveness and individual relations; the problem is not the conflict - it is how we respond (i.e. my way, your way); respecting diverse perspectives; understanding fairness; and improving communication skills. The field offices in Kenya joined remotely the sessions via videolink. After the weeklong orientation series, individuals from the country office and regional office had bilateral dialogues with Mr Bernal.