No.171 Safety and Security Management for International Volunteers: A Case Study of Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers in Colombia during the War on Drugs

  • #Working Papers

The safety and security of aid workers has emerged as an important theme for humanitarian organizations and in scholarly literature. However, there is a dearth of research on volunteers who work abroad with governmental programs such as the US Peace Corps and the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV). In particular, no research has been published on the safety and security issues faced by those within the JOCV program.

To this end, the paper aims to explore how JOCV volunteers managed their safety in Colombia between 1985 and 1991 by analyzing their first-person accounts in their Taiin hōkoku sho or JOCV working reports. It also looks at how the safety and security challenges of Colombia at that time affected their ability to carry out their projects. Their experiences provide rich material for study because Colombia experienced frequent domestic terrorist attacks and growing instability during this period.

As the study will demonstrate, the stringent security approach introduced by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) worked to protect JOCV volunteers in Colombia. The volunteers demonstrated growing awareness of their personal safety and security, in addition to complying with JICA’s security mandates, adopted individual strategies to stay safe. Thus, the numbers reporting encounters with crime and violence fell annually even though Colombia’s security situation continued to deteriorate. However, JICA’s security requirements, such as restricting where and when volunteers could work, created significant challenges for the advancement of their projects and their need to deepen trust in their working relationships with locals. The study also raises key implications for contemporary security management. These include recognizing volunteers as a rich source of field intelligence when assessing safety and security, avoiding a ‘one-size-fit-all’ approach to security protocols, and communicating about security measures that could be construed as insensitive to local staff.

Keywords: Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV), Safety and Security, International Volunteering, Security Management, Colombia.

This working paper was originally released in March 2018 and we posted updated version of the paper with updated Table 3 in July 2021.

Kumiko Kawachi
Date of issuance
March 2018
Related areas
  • #Latin America
  • #Civil Participation
Research area
Development Cooperation Strategies
Research project