Vetting in International Programming: Pre-Program Evaluation of Staff, Vendors, High-Impact Activities and Providers

According to Wikipedia, vetting is a term that comes from horse racing. It referred to a requirement that horses be checked out for health and soundness by a veterinarian prior to being allowed to race.

As the hegemony of the OSHA certified world is carried into the furthest corners of the globe, an American vision of responsibility is sweeping away all notions of accident, bad luck and karma before it. Anything bad that happens is someone’s fault. Who is at fault and to what degree is most likely to be determined back in the U.S in a civil court as per a participant agreement.

A positive aspect of this is that liability from a cross-cultural point of view is a much less squishy concept than is safety.  When talking about safety with a Kenyan, a Bhutanese or a Costa Rican, it is difficult to be sure that you are all understanding the same things in the same way. However, everyone gets the concept that if anyone gets hurt, this program dries up and blows away or that the following year’s budget will be substantially reduced.

In this digital age there is coming into being an expectation that if something can be known, then a program should know it. If knowledge, information and skills can be applied to a health, safety and security issue, a program should be applying it.

Traditional programs whereby a faculty takes their students off to a low or middle income country with little or no oversight or support from their institution, tend to fall very short of this expectation and are at risk of becoming well acquainted with the American vision of responsibility should anything untoward occur while overseas.

And had we but world enough and time - and money, it is possible to thoroughly assess, analyze and document one’s staff, vendors, third party providers and the relative safety management of such things as transportation, accommodations, home-stays as well as surfing, whitewater paddling and canopy tours.

But we don’t. Most programs do not have the expertise, the time or the money to do all that can be done.  Doing all that could be done might be the equivalent of requiring a full surgical team to travel with a student group as part of the program medical strategy. It is prohibitively expensive and impractical.

So the question becomes: what can we do and what should we do? What’s the low hanging fruit? What can sensibly be done by a program and what external entities can assist either for free or for a fee? It seems clear that programs should understand the basic hazard landscape and should know about their 3rd party providers and vendors. However, it is very unclear as to where due diligence lies and what the liability exposures may be. Lodestone will be looking at these questions throughout 2014 both in articles and in conference presentations.