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Learning from Amnesty International's management malpractice crisis

The recent discussions of harms caused by EAs vaguely reminded me of controversies around misbehaviour committed by leaders of Amnesty International. Very horribly, these apparently only came to light due to two suicides that were as I understand partially caused by workplace bullying at AI offices.

From Wikipedia:

2019 report on workplace bullying

In February 2019, Amnesty International's management team offered to resign after an independent report found what it called a "toxic culture" of workplace bullying. Evidence of bullying, harassment, sexism and racism was uncovered after two 2018 suicides were investigated: that of 30-year Amnesty veteran Gaëtan Mootoo in Paris in May 2018 (who left a note citing work pressures); and that of 28-year-old intern Rosalind McGregor in Geneva in July 2018.[91] An internal survey by the Konterra group with a team of psychologists was conducted in January 2019, after the 2 employees had killed themselves in 2018. The report stated that Amnesty had a toxic work culture and that workers frequently cited mental and physical health issues as a result of their work for the organization. The report found that: "39 per cent of Amnesty International staff reported that they developed mental or physical health issues as the direct result of working at Amnesty". The report concluded, "organisational culture and management failures are the root cause of most staff wellbeing issues."[172]

Elaborating on this the report mentioned that bullying, public humiliation and other abuses of power are commonplace and routine practice by the management. It also claimed the us versus them culture among employees and the severe lack of trust in the senior management at Amnesty.[173][174] By October 2019 five of the seven members of the senior leadership team at Amnesty's international secretariat left the organization with "generous" redundancy packages.[175] Among them, Anna Neistat, who was Gaëtan Mootoo's senior manager directly implicated in the independent report on Mootoo's death. According to Mootoo's former collaborator, Salvatore Saguès, "Gaëtan's case is merely the tip of the iceberg at Amnesty. A huge amount of suffering is caused to employees. Since the days of Salil Shetty, when top management were being paid fabulous salaries, Amnesty has become a multinational where the staff are seen as dispensable. Human resources management is a disaster and nobody is prepared to stand up and be counted. The level of impunity granted to Amnesty's bosses is simply unacceptable."[176] After none of the managers responsible of bullying at Amnesty were held accountable a group of workers petitioned for Amnesty's chief Kumi Naidoo to resign. On 5 December 2019 Naidoo resigned from his post of Amnesty's Secretary General citing ill health[100] and appointing Julie Verhaar as an interim Secretary General. In their petition, workers demanded her immediate resignation as well.

Potential next steps

(I likely won't find time to do more here. :/ )

Amnesty hired the Konterra Group which subsequently wrote the "AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL Staff Wellbeing Review", which seems generally insightful and potentially applicable to EA on a very very quick skim.

  • Skim the report and extract useful lessons for EA.
  • Make a quick evaluation whether the report's quality and value suggests that EAs might want to work with the Konterra Group to review the EA community:

KonTerra specializes in qualitative and mixed-methods evaluations and synthesis exercises for UN Agencies, Funds and Programmes (including WFP, OCHA, PBF, UNICEF among others) as well as other humanitarian and development clients. For more than ten years KonTerra evaluation teams - drawing on a network of more than 100 professional evaluators - have conducted over fifty evaluations and related assignments. Keeping each client’s purpose and needs at the forefront, KonTerra teams develop data collection, analysis and reporting methods best suited to answering evaluation questions. Stakeholders’ insights shape the evaluation during data gathering as well as through structured commenting on evaluation deliverables.

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