Actions Taken to Safeguard Team Members and Improve Accountability
Updated March 2023
Internal Complaints Committee
The ICC of Voicelogue is extremely vigilant. Every new employee and Community Correspondent is oriented on the Policy for Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace and about the POSH Act. At least two orientations are done every year for the entire network and two trainings for the ICC members. Information regarding the ICC and the means of reporting a case are posted in multiple locations in the office. The ICC diligently files its reports with the District Collector every year, as prescribed by the POSH Act. The ICC conducts at least 4 trainings every year to ensure that everyone associated with VV Network fully understands sexual harassment and how to lodge a complaint. The Rules & Procedures to handle complaints of sexual harassment was rewritten with the advice of a leading lawyer in India experienced in POSH Act. The board is in communication with the Chair of the ICC to offer any advice or help, always respecting the confidentiality of ICC proceedings. The ICC designed and conducted a survey for the whole network to assess the effectiveness of the information disseminated. The HR department has conducted training sessions with the ICC.
Every new employee or Community Correspondent joining the VV Network is proactively made aware of the 2018 allegations and the findings of the two separate investigations, and given a chance to ask questions. 13 new staff members have since joined VV and 55 new Community Correspondents have joined the network since July 2019. More than half of these 65 people are women.
After every training , participants are required to fill out a feedback form. The feedback form traditionally only asked for feedback on the training; now it asks for feedback on the conduct of the trainer as well. This is a confidential and anonymous form that allows the participants to freely express any experience of discomfort or inappropriate behaviour.
No case or instance of inappropriate behavior has been reported against Stalin by staff or Correspondents or any external party after the allegations that surfaced in 2018.
The VV board has mandated that the head of the Governance Committee provide oversight on matters related to safeguarding. She regularly takes updates from the field, visits the VV office, and reviews policy documents, presenting them back to the VV board on calls.
Dr Lieve Fransen has visited the Goa office for three multi-day visits since 2019, most recently in December 2022. During these visits she conducted a series of meetings and workshops to strengthen the management and processes at VV. She also specifically creates spaces for all staff members to speak with her, in private if necessary, about any matters.
The board chair and the head of the Governance Committee have had multiple calls with the senior staff at Voicelogue and the ICC to ensure safeguarding procedures are being followed.
The staff reviewed the four leaders of the organization using using the 360 method.
We have engaged an emotional wellbeing partner, Manah Wellness, that provides one-on-one and group counseling to our team members. At the beginning of the engagement, they surveyed all our staff on their well-being and gave them back the results to help individuals understand their own mental health and how it changes over time. They gave the organization’s HR an anonymized version so we can make more informed decisions and build a culture of wellbeing. The majority of staff have undertaken counseling with Manah Wellness. Community Correspondents have been more reticent in seeking counseling, and our team and Manah’s team work to break down the barriers that stop people from seeking therapy.
Our Covid policy and response gave staff and CCs access to our medical officer, our board member Lieve Fransen, who advised several staff and CCs when they or their families became positive. Our generous Covid policy gave financial assistance to CCs and staff who reported financial distress, as well as to everyone who became positive. Morning check-ins on Zoom during the lockdown were a space to share how people were feeling.
Our HR manual was completely re-written in in 2019-early 2020. To ensure the policies were understood, we did a day-long interactive workshop where different policies were broken down and presented back by the team itself.
The HR manual has always included policies on grievance redressal, child protection, anti-bullying and sexual harassment. In 2022, these policies were updated and put into a comprehensive Safeguarding Policy.
To address the vitiated environment of mistrust and low morale which was the aftermath of the crisis, we brought in a consultant to provide extra HR and operational support to the staff. Steps like Green Tiffin Lunches and a Discussion Forum were instituted to rebuild team cohesion, as were team offsite retreats. In 2022, the network hired, for the first time, a COO, recognizing the need for more intensive support.
Accountability and Transparency
Video Volunteers works to build primary constituent accountability through three methods:
The VV Council – the VV Council is an advisory body comprised of 36 Community Correspondents and 8 senior staff. It was constituted in July 2019 in order to begin the journey towards direction-setting and decision-making by our primary constituents, our Correspondents. The Council has met in person three times to chalk out its activities and advise on how to make the organization more accountable. For three years, multiple permanent and ad hoc committees – including welfare, communications, safety and security, activation and impacts – have formulated advice for the organization on key decisions, such as insurance coverage, new programs to launch and effective communications methods during Covid.
An Annual Accountability Survey -starting in December 2018, VV has conducted four anonymous surveys of both our Correspondents and staff. The anonymous survey was designed as part of the Resilient Roots Project of Civicus, and uses Net Promotor Score to assess our accountability through questions like, ‘does the organization treat you with respect? Does the organization do what it says it will? how accountable do you feel the organization is to you?’ VV’s scores have always been very high with our Community Correspondents, who have given us an NPS of 66-70 over the years, 8.9 or 9 out of 10. VV’s scores from staff were abysmally low in 2018 and 2019 (as low as -5) but have risen consistently since then. As of July 2022, the score is +41. Each year, we share the results back with the CCs and staff, and explain what we are going to do to improve it. We have presented the results back to Correspondents on zoom sessions so they understand feedback loops, and have met with staff to get recommendations on the changes they wish to see.
Closing the feedback loop – we publish on the WhatsApp group we use to communicate with Correspondents a kind of newsletter, called ‘VV ke Nushke’, that informs CCs on our key decisions. The goal is that all information makes its way out of the office and to the field. We use it to respond to the Correspondents and key challenges that they have shared in surveys or in discussion with the team. Our goal is to close the communications gap between the main office and the field and to ensure that the primary constituents of an organization dedicated to community voice themselves feel heard.
Mitigating power dynamics
We understand that organizations can use ‘advisory councils’ as a white-washing or window dressing. After all, an executive team or a Board has the power to choose when to consult and when not to consult an ‘advisory council’. The key is to recognise and mitigate power dynamics as best as possible, and this is something the organization has sought to do in multiple ways:
The Council always makes clear that the directors can be asked to exit certain discussions – and this does happen.
In 2022, the Council decided to recognise three types of membership: CC members, staff members and Director-level members, who can each discuss in their own circles.
The Council is exploring a model of implementing 100% consensus around certain decisions. The Council has geographic diversity, to ensure that Correspondents have someone in the Council whom they trust deeply —usually someone they know and work with closely.