Our Work

Delivering excellence in social development consultancy and research


SDDirect integrate safeguarding into everything that we do.  We work in a way that is safe for service users and safe for our staff members and consultants.  We support our clients to do the same: providing the highest level of technical advice and assistance.  We put in place safeguarding foundations (through policies and knowledge expansion), operationalise those foundations (through operating procedures and practices) and roll them out (through training, support, case handling functions and investigations).  We work with our clients on their safeguarding journey, no matter where they are starting from.

Our Safeguarding Vision: An ODA sector free from all forms of inadvertent harm as well as violence, exploitation, abuse and harassment. Where staff members and constituents are safe from violence, exploitation and abuse perpetrated by personnel funded by ODA and where ODA entities deliver on their responsibilities to ‘do no harm’ effectively.  We do this by offering bespoke technical support on SEAH, child safeguarding, bullying and harassment and on social and environmental safeguards.

We work on safeguarding as a means to facilitate positive change within the sector. Safeguarding acts as an entry point to sustainable impact on addressing inequality (in particular gender inequality). We integrate safeguarding expertise across other thematic areas within SDDirect and other thematic areas within SDDirect are integrated within our safeguarding offer.

 We focus on the following thematic areas of safeguarding:

  • Safeguarding against Sexual Exploitation Abuse and Harassment;
  • Child and Adult-at-risk safeguarding;
  • Bullying and (non-sexual) harassment;
  • Safeguarding in humanitarian contexts and within the Women Peace and Security Agenda;
  • Safeguarding in high-risk projects including: education; health and infrastructure;
  • Working with IFIs, donors, Fund Managers, INGOs and CSOs to ensure safeguarding within their operations is addressed;
  • Setting up and running reporting mechanisms, case handling systems;
  • Capacity development through training and mentoring;
  • Digital safeguarding;
  • Safeguarding within evaluations and MEL.

SDDirect offer an explicitly intersectional feminist approach to safeguarding – in particular on the intersections of gender, race, SOGIEs and disability.

SDDirect has developed a substantial body of experience in mainstreaming safeguarding into the technical support that we provide across a wide range of sectors and programmes in our core areas of expertise – Gender-Based Violence, Governance Voice and Accountability, Inclusive Public Services, Women’s Economic Empowerment, and Security, Justice and Peacebuilding. Safeguarding approaches have numerous synergies with our cross-cutting focus and technical leadership in gender equality and social inclusion, enabling us to pioneer safeguarding across multiple, large-scale programmes in key development sectors, including education and infrastructure.

We have provided both GBV and SEAH capacity development to numerous partners and programmes, from HQ level to smaller organisations. We have built GBV and SEAH into risk assessments, programme design, established reporting and response mechanisms, and designed monitoring and evaluation approaches to implement and assess our commitments.  We have supported IFC, EBRD, ADB, FCDO and other development delivery partners to understand, identify, address and manage safeguarding risks.

Systems Strengthening for IFIs, Donors and Fund Managers

SDDirect has direct experience providing institutional strengthening for inclusive and sustainable economic growth across diverse realities on the ground by IFIs. SDDirect does this through long-term strategic support and technical assistance, alongside shorter turnaround advice using adaptive methodologies and responsive support.

SDDirect developed the new guidance for EBRD, IFC and CDC on ‘Addressing Gender-Based Violence and Harassment – Emerging Good Practice for the Private Sector’ which summarised risks and the benefits of addressing GBVH in the manufacturing, construction and transport sectors.  The Asian Development Bank (ADB) worked with SDDirect specialists to strengthen its approach to SEAH throughout their operations and develop guidance and training for their staff members to be able to work with government colleagues to roll out systems and approaches to safeguarding and fund management.

SDDirect supported the UK government’s £1.2 billion Prosperity Fund (PF) in its regulatory and policy reform through its provision of strategic social development technical advice to help integrate gender equality and social inclusion dimensions across its economic and urban development programming. This was to ensure good practice development for inclusive growth, women’s economic empowerment and poverty reduction.

SDDirect supported the PF to strengthen its policies and to build its institutional capacity, systems, processes and incentives to integrate a people-centred gender inclusive approach for improved programme effectiveness and impact. For example SDDirect developed guidance, training and tools to support the UK PF policy ambitions using the Gender and Inclusion Framework in Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, ASEAN, Turkey, India, Indonesia and China as well as facilitated high level capacity training for over 200 top Colombian government decision makers in applying gender and inclusion to infrastructure development.

SDDirect lead the gender and inclusion mainstreaming pillar for UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development office (FCDO) Infrastructure and Cities for Economic Development (ICED) Facility. The team shaped the facility by designing ICED’s Gender Ambition Framework which demonstrates entry points and opportunities for raising gender and social inclusion ambition across different areas of infrastructure development.

SDDirect has lead safeguarding work on the FCDO’s Girls’ Education Challenge Fund for the past 9 years and has supported the operationalisation of FCDO’s Enhanced Due Diligence on addressing SEAH, along with a ground-breaking and comprehensive approach to supporting implementing partners to reach meaningful safeguarding compliance and handle cases competently, compassionately and confidentially. 

SDDirect has also recently worked with the Irish Department for Foreign Affairs to develop their safeguarding policies, practice and procedures both internally and for their work with partners.

Helpdesk management

SDDirect have extensive experience of setting up and managing helpdesk services that provide demand focused technical assistance, including rapid desk-based research. We are currently running four helpdesk services:, the GBV AoR helpdesk, for UNICEF, and the FCDO-funded Works and Opportunities for Women (WOW) helpdesk, Resource and Support Hub and Disability and Inclusion (DID) helpdesk. We are the technical and delivery lead for the FCDO-funded Resource and Support Hub (RSH), which supports organisations in the aid sector to strengthen their safeguarding policy and practice against SEAH. The very successful Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) helpdesk funded by UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID, now FCDO) came to an end in July 2020 after seven years of providing specialist VAWG support to DFID and other HMG departments. 

Selection of our relevant work

International Finance Corporation (2021 – 2022)

The International Finance Corporation commissioned SDDirect to deliver a guidance for its private sector clients on ways to meet good practice standards within SEAH prevention, mitigation and response through the development of a self-assessment tool.  The IFC additionally commissioned a toolkit for the private sector to use in the set up of reporting and response mechanisms to SEAH.

Irish Department for Foreign Affairs (2021 – 2022)

The Irish Department for Foreign Affairs commissioned SDDirect to finalise their safeguarding policy addressing SEAH and child safeguarding and to operationalise this through the development of Standard Operating Procedures, reporting and and response mechanisms, due diligence procedures for partners, training and guidelines.  This work addresses safeguarding within their operations as well as within their organisation. 

Global Partnership for Education (2020 – 2021)

The Global Partnership for Education commissioned SDDirect to benchmark their SEAH practices against other similar entities and to develop their SEAH policy.  Further, the GPE commissioned SDDirect to develop risk assessment tools for its Grants Agents and SEAH risk indicators for its own operations.  

EBRD Addressing Gender-Based Violence Risks In Investments, Good Practice Note For The Private Sector (2019-2020)

EBRD, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and CDC Group Plc jointly commissioned SDDirect to develop guidance for the private sector on addressing gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH). The Good Practice Note (GPN) provides the private sector with guidance on identifying, mitigating and remedying GBVH risks. It will serve as a comprehensive resource for two main audiences: investors and companies. The GPN provides practical guidance on how to better prevent and respond to GBVH. The GPN draws on examples of good and promising practice which support proactive approaches that seek to add value and deliver enhanced impact through investments.

The team also produced a number of capacity development tools and resources to support EBRD/ CDC/ IFC staff plus staff from the companies and investors with whom they work to be able to understand, assess and address GBV risks in their projects/ investments. For example, our team produced three mini-fiches on addressing GBVH risks in three key sectors - transport, infrastructure and manufacturing. The team will also conduct a webinar to officially launch the GPN in September 2020 to promote its use with companies and investors.

Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harassment (SEAH) guidelines and technical assistance for Asian Development Bank (ADB) operations (2019-2020 & 2020 - 2022)

ADB worked together with SDDirect specialists to strengthen its approach to SEAH throughout their operations. The purpose of the assignment was to prepare under the guidance of Gender Equity Thematic Group: (i) new guidelines on prevention and addressing SEAH in ADB operations; and (ii) a Strategy for how the new guidelines could be implemented.

The new SEAH guidelines support ADB staff and its developing member countries (DMCs) in conceptualizing, designing, implementing and monitoring projects with high standards aimed at preventing and addressing SEAH.

In an additional contract with ADB, SDDirect is developing systems, approaches and guidance notes (on the set-up and use of reporting mechanisms and on working with non-sovereign entities) for ADB staff members to be able to implement SEAH prevention, response and mitigation within its operations with government partners.

Safeguarding Resource Support Hub (RSH) (2019-2021)

SDDirect is the technical lead on the new FCDO safeguarding flagship programme – RSH. SDDirect, together with partners, support smaller, local civil society organisations in developing countries who deliver international aid to strengthen their safeguarding policy and practice against sexual exploitation and abuse, and sexual harassment (SEAH). The RSH ensures that CSOs delivering aid have access to the tools, guidance, support and training they need to ensure that they do no harm. The programme has a free online platform, user friendly and accessible to all.

The SDDirect team, together with partners, developed and manages the free online safeguarding Hub. The Hub’s core offer is an online open-access platform bringing together quality assured guidance, tools, support and research on safeguarding, serving any organisation working in the international aid sector. However, smaller, local organisations in developing countries are the focus of the Hub’s offer as they tend to have less access to safeguarding resources than international organisations. The Online Hub was launched on 1st June 2020. The Hub also signposts users towards quality assured safeguarding service providers and creates opportunities for meaningful engagement through discussion forums and live events.

The Hub is also a repository for the increasing volume of SEAH safeguarding materials, much of which has been developed in recent years in response to high profile SEAH cases within the sector. There are also important contributions dating back further over the last two decades, a reflection of the dedicated and determined work of activists, leaders, survivors, researchers and others working in this area.

The Girls Education Challenge – (2012-2022)

FCDO’s Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC) is the largest international challenge fund focused on innovative and cost-effective ways of getting more than 1 million marginalized girls into primary and lower secondary education, keeping them there, and making sure they learn. The GEC is operating two different funding windows, the GEC-Transition phase which aims to support girls to transition into the next stage of their education journey and the Leave No Girl Behind window which support the most marginalised out of schoolgirls to enrol in school.

As part of a consortium led by PWC, SDDirect provide technical leadership on gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) and safeguarding. This includes developing relevant policies, systems and processes to mainstream these within both the Fund Manager and the Fund recipients. To do this SDDirect’s team, made up of both GESI and safeguarding teams develop the capacity of teams and strengthens systems to monitor and evaluate impact.

On the GEC, SDDirect has led the development of the most comprehensive safeguarding systems for a FCDO fund and is currently a global best practice example of how child safeguarding can be mainstreamed. The GEC standards which address both SEAH, and child safeguarding have been mainstreamed across all teams within the Fund Manager. The GEC has placed a particular emphasis on two aspects of child safeguarding namely holding downstream partners more accountable for having their own safeguarding policies in place and holding fund recipients accountable for how they fully implement their safeguarding policies across their organisations. To do this, SDDirect’s safeguarding team has conducted safeguarding assessments of close to 200 organisations. To do this the team has used safeguarding self-audits to assess compliance across all organisations and used the findings to inform contracting, including adding special conditions for some projects to improve on certain aspect relating to safeguarding. Through this work, SDDirect has an excellent overview of organisational weaknesses across international and local NGOs in relation to safeguarding.

The GEC has also developed a new and innovative system for monitoring the implementation of safeguarding policies. Based on Ofsted’s assessment of schools in the UK, SDDirect has developed a very practical monitoring tool which helps all individuals that travel to project sites to routinely monitor the implementation of a project’s safeguarding system. This helps the Fund Manager to also have good understanding of implementation weaknesses on an on-going basis and support projects to strengthen their safeguarding systems.

DFID Safeguarding Centre of Excellence (2018)

In 2018 SDDirect carried out a scoping study on behalf of DFID to inform and shape thinking on how best to strengthen safeguarding approaches in DFID programming, assist in deciding whether the establishment of a safeguarding Centre of Excellence is required or whether the existing international architecture on safeguarding can be adjusted to cover identified gaps. The study considered sector-wide knowledge and capability gaps identified at the 8th of March 2018 Safeguarding Summit:

  • Lack of pooled evidence, understanding and guidance about best practice.
  • Lack of safeguarding capacity internationally.
  • Weak structures and enforcement capacity for dealing with complaints, investigation and sanctions.
  • Weak organisational governance and leadership.

DFID’s Infrastructure and Cities for Economic Development programme (ICED) (2016-2019)

Social Development Direct lead the gender and inclusion mainstreaming pillar for UK’s Department for International Development’s (DFID) Infrastructure and Cities for Economic Development (ICED) Facility. Through ICED SDDirect also offered expertise to DFID advisers on how to take best practice in principles of disability inclusion and apply them to infrastructure and urban programming in practice.

Some examples of applying social development issues to infrastructure and economic development:

  • Safeguarding – Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harassment (SEAH) tool developed to support programmes that involve infrastructure. The tool supports UK government staff to improve the identification, management and oversight of SEAH risks on infrastructure projects (including transport, energy, water and sanitation, waste, schools/health clinics, etc.)
  • Social Development Direct has provided training and capacity development support on social safeguards (using IFC Standards) to DFID country offices, central teams, and government partners including technical advice and training to DFID Rwanda and Increasing Capacity on Social Safeguards for Infrastructure in Uganda.