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The Safe from the Start (SftS) Initiative Evaluation was performed between January 19, 2019 and November 15, 2019, with the final report submitted on November 11, 2019. The Department of State (DOS), Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) contracted SSG Advisors, d.b.a. Resonance to undertake the evaluation.

Purpose of the Evaluation and Questions Addressed

As part of U.S. leadership to address gender-based violence (GBV) in emergencies, SftS is an initiative that complements and reinforces existing gender and protection policies by dedicating new resources and providing leadership to better address the needs of women and girls and other groups at risk of GBV in emergencies.  The PRM-funded evaluation of the initiative documented the ways in which PRM’s SftS investments have produced the intended changes in how the humanitarian system responds to GBV and identified ways in which PRM could design, tailor, and increase the impact of these investments.  

The evaluation responded to three questions: 

  1. To what extent are PRM’s SftS investments meeting their intended aims?   
  2. What evidence exists, if any, that PRM’s SftS investments have affected the way the humanitarian community addresses violence against women and girls in emergencies (and in what ways)? 
  3. What changes or updates need to be made to ensure PRM’s SftS investments are as strategic, sustainable, and impactful as possible? 


The evaluation scope was limited to four of 16 SftS-funded implementing partners: 1) International Medical Corps (IMC); 2) International Organization for Migration (IOM); 3) United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); and 4) United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); as well as two countries of operation – South Sudan and Uganda; and two partner headquarter cities – Geneva and New York City.  

The evaluation design was primarily qualitative with a focus on evidence from stories of most significant change (MSC), a process involving the collection of significant change stories from the field level and the systematic selection of the most important of these.  Key online survey data was also quantified and evaluated.  The evaluation focused primarily on the SftS primary beneficiaries – humanitarian staff and managers of the implementing partners – and secondarily on populations of concern and community leaders.   The evaluation’s main limitations were a lack of generalizability across the humanitarian sector and operations. 

Key Findings

Increasing Capacity

SftS funding increased the capacity of the four implementing partners, their local partners, and national government staff to reduce and/or mitigate GBV risks and provide services for survivors.  Headquarter leaders across all four partners committed to new system-wide policies, operating procedures, and training to address GBV at the onset of most (if not all) major emergencies.  All four implementing partners, through the impressive dedication of the GBV specialists and other humanitarian workers, met their specific SftS programming aims, as evidenced in the South Sudanese and Ugandan operations.

Institutional Scale Up

SftS’s top-down strategy led to institutional changes in the four evaluated implementing partners, as evidenced in policies, operations, planning, training, and M&E systems. Senior management of the implementing partners observed that addressing GBV at the onset of emergencies saved “costs and time,” especially given the relatively small amount of SFtS funding invested relative to total humanitarian funding. GBV coordination, referral pathways, case management, and risk prevention were mainstreamed across sector operations and pilot projects, and engaged a range of international, national, and local humanitarian actors in addressing GBV.  

Sector-Wide Impact

The SftS focus on GBV risk reduction and services may have provided continuing international momentum by operationalizing the Call to Action Road Map 2016-2020 and Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) GBV Guidelines.  SftS GBV programming also helped to focus international attention on addressing survivors’ needs in cases of sexual exploitation and abuse by humanitarian workers.  Over time, SftS programming and pilots provided evidence of the importance of engaging the humanitarian-development nexus and localization strategies in protracted emergencies.   


The evaluation provided 17 “updates and changes” aimed at ensuring that future SftS investments will be “strategic, sustainable, and impactful.” 

To be strategic, PRM should:
  • Continue the current SftS investment strategies of addressing GBV at the onset of emergencies, as cost- and time-saving investments, and of earmarking GBV funding to ensure this expertise at the onset of emergencies; 
  • Support localization strategies from the onset as local community based organizations (CBOs), women’s organizations, and governments are critical to obtaining access in dangerous regions, reaching diverse and dispersed populations of urban refugees, and sustaining long-term interventions; 
  • Support interventions to improve GBV risk reduction and access to quality services for urban refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs);  
  • Advise SftS implementing partners to address sexual exploitation and abuse cases in their own organizations by applying the IASC Guidelines   about treatment and services for survivors and by stopping perpetrators from moving to other organizations through performance reviews and other HR mechanisms; and 
  • Continue to organize informal fora at headquarters and national levels for humanitarian implementing partners’ GBV experts to meet and exchange ideas, knowledge, and information about their work and challenges. 
To be sustainable and building on progress to date, PRM should:
  • Monitor SftS implementing partners’ institutional and organizational changes to ensure they are fully rolled out and maintained as part of standard organizational policies, operations, and performance standards; 
  • Encourage implementing partners’ GBV experts to engage local, government, development, and private actors early on in training, coordination, and programming as part of the humanitarian-development nexus; 
  • Support pilot initiatives of youth CBOs to increase awareness and interventions to reduce GBV risks for future generations; 
  • Support IOM, UNHCR, UNICEF, and other international organization partners, as standard operating procedure, to train national and local staff at the onset of emergencies and/or as part of emergency preparedness;  
  • Coordinate with development and national organizations to address gaps in infrastructure and services and to scale up livelihood, education, energy, health and psychosocial support, shelters, legal assistance, local CBO and WASH interventions in protracted emergencies with a protection lens; 
  • Support and/or engage in fora of religious and traditional leaders, women refugee and IDP leaders, judges, and legal experts who oppose early marriage, to inform policies, legislation, and leadership to reduce GBV and increase protection of women and girls; and 
  • Publicize ways that government, local organizations, international organizations, the private sector, and development actors can engage to address urban IDP and refugee populations’ GBV vulnerabilities and risks in their programs.  
To be impactful, PRM should:  
  • Continue to prioritize resources for livelihoods, basic education, and mobile courts by engaging development and national agency involvement early on to go to scale and to address long term GBV practices and prevention; 
  • Support operational humanitarian partners’ headquarters to provide high quality GBV training for all staff onboarding as well as ongoing training to continue mainstreaming and integrating GBV issues across sectors; 
  • Support GBV specialist expertise of both men and women inside humanitarian organizations, their career advancement, and self-care and/or time out to counter burnout;  
  • Prioritize prevention and emergency GBV readiness of local organizations and governments; and 
  • Keep GBV issues and responses on the forefront of international and humanitarian partners’ priorities.

Read the Evaluation

Safe from the Start Initiative Evaluation: Action Plan [129 KB]

Safe from the Start Initiative Evaluation: Report [15 MB]

U.S. Department of State

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