This is a guest post by AIRIP member Shana Tarbell. Ms. Tarbell is the Deputy Director for Risk and Threat Analysis within the Global Security Team at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She has 18 years of experience in the federal government crafting and overseeing intelligence analysis on a range of issues and countries, and has been in the non-profit sector for a year and a half.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest private foundation in the world with roughly 1500 employees and an endowment of over $40 billion. Guided by the belief that all lives have equal value, the Foundation works in developing countries to improve health and give people a chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, we seek to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. To accomplish these goals, we fund about $4 billion in grants and innovative partnerships per year, often taking financial risks that governments and the private sector will not or cannot take. The Foundation’s headquarters are in Seattle, and it has offices in Washington, DC, London, Beijing, Abuja, Addis Ababa, Johannesburg, and New Delhi and Patna, India.
I came to the Foundation last summer after 18 years producing and overseeing intelligence analysis on a range of issues in the federal government, and now serve as the Deputy Director for Risk and Threat Analysis within the Global Security Team. I was drawn to the non-profit sector by the prospect of being able to bring my analytic skills and management experience to bear on a different, but equally compelling mission. There are many similarities between the analytic work in the government and the non-profit sector, to include a need to develop a solid understanding of the needs of your audience, to craft clear intelligence questions, to ensure that analytic judgments are well supported and to write in a clear and concise manner. The team I lead has a brought set of responsibilities and a diverse customer set, ranging from working-level colleagues in the Foundation’s support units to the senior leadership of the programs that are directly engaged in carrying out the Foundation’s mission around the world.
Our analytic work covers six areas:
Risk to Overseas Travelers and Offices. Foundation personnel travel to and in some cases live in far-flung regions of the world, where they gather information to best target resources, oversee grants, and consult with partners. Often the locations with the greatest need are in countries facing the greatest security challenges. Our job is to produce assessments of the risks to Foundation travelers and local operations, which can trigger additional security protocols, or potentially lead to a decision by Foundation leaders that the risks outweigh the benefits of travel to a particular destination. Our analysts scour open-source information, consult with Foundation personnel in our regional offices, and compare notes with counterparts in other organizations and with other experts.
Political and Security Challenges. In addition to assessment immediate threats to Foundation personnel traveling to or living in an area, our analysts work to identify relevant political and security developments and emerging threats in a country or region that may have an impact on Foundation staff, operations, or grantees working there. For example, we recently produced a piece highlighting the implications for Foundation operations of the leadership split in Boko Haram. Our flagship product is an annual assessment of the anticipated security challenges over the next year in each of the countries in which the Foundation is operating or considering operating. Its publication is timed to support the program offices’ annual strategy development process.
Persons of Interest. Our team assesses the risk from individuals who have demonstrated a potentially threatening interest in or attitude toward the Foundation and its staff. We track and review their correspondence and communication with the Foundation, looking for indicators that the latest research in this field tells us might show signs of escalation toward an imminent violent act. When a potential threat is identified, we work closely with our partners in the Security Team and our legal department, and with local and Federal law enforcement to take appropriate steps to mitigate any threat. We produce a monthly summary of the most important cases to enhance the situational awareness of the Foundation’s Chief Operating Officer and the General Counsel, as well as other members of the legal and Security Team.
Opposing Voices. The Foundation’s humanitarian efforts have earned it widespread respect and support, but some groups oppose various aspects of its work or investments. Most often these views are expressed peacefully, but it is our team’s job to look for signs that a group or members of it might be planning to commit violence or to physically disrupt Foundation offices or operations. When such signs emerge, we alert Foundation leaders and we work with our guard force, other security elements, and law enforcement to ensure that appropriate security measures are put in place.
Due Diligence. As part of the Foundation’s processes for choosing grantees and making other investments, we look for reputational concerns or violations of US international sanctions and corruption regulations.
New Hires. In collaboration with human resources, we manage the Foundation’s background screening process. We verify that candidates have represented themselves honestly and assess whether an applicant might pose a security, behavioral, or financial risk.
This material is provided for information purposes only and does not represent professional advice. We make no representation or warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of the material and do not undertake to keep recipients advised of relevant developments. This material should not be relied upon to validate, endorse, or recommend any particular data, product, service, methodology, or organization, whether named or not. Accordingly, we expect you will consult competent professional advisors, as you deem necessary, when evaluating and utilizing this material. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation shall not be held responsible for any claims or losses that may arise from any error or omission herein.