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Published: August 27, 2014

Business Development Director of international security risk specialist Pilgrims Group Limited, Peter Kaye, was invited onto BBC Radio 4’s The Bottom Line recently to discuss the real dilemmas faced by companies working in politically unsettled parts of the world.

On the programme he explained how companies can plan for safety during political unrest, if they have three key measures in place.

Host, Evan Davis, introduced Kaye alongside Bryan Disher, Ukraine Country Manager for international accountants PWC, and Mary Bahsoon, Co-owner of Sierra Leonean baby food manufacturer, Bennimix, who were both unwittingly caught up in political disturbances in the territories they worked in.

In the Ukraine, Bryan Disher had to manage a team of 400 staff as the country plunged into civil disobedience followed by regime change, the secession of Crimea and civil war in the east. In Sierra Leone, Mary Bahsoon was forced to flee with her children as her home and business were overrun by rebels.

In the first situation, Bryan Disher supervised the safety of his staff, co-ordinating and communicating office closures, withdrawing teams in potential danger and eventually evacuating personnel from PWC’s Donetsk office, while managing staff who occasionally found themselves on different sides of the political divide.

In Mary Bahsoon’s case, both her home and business were ransacked by rebels as she fled with four children. Her only warning was a conversation with a missionary a few days previously who feared that a violent attack was imminent.

Kaye pointed out that, although the military often says, ‘No plan survives first contact with the enemy,’ a well thought out plan based on a clear command structure, a network of local contacts and appropriate arrangements on the ground can allow companies to respond effectively and safely to crises of this nature. He presented a recent case study in Iraq of how Pilgrims made the decision to evacuate a client based two hours’ drive south of Mosul, when Isis insurgents took over the city and threatened to march on the capital, Baghdad.

Kaye said that, drawing on local contacts, a Pilgrims consultant alerted the company’s Baghdad headquarters to the threat and the decision was speedily taken to evacuate the client. The company also offered to help other businesses leave the area. As Pilgrims had already prepared an evacuation plan, the operation to remove the client from the area took place swiftly and safely.

Kaye commented after the broadcast: “Radio 4’s programme highlighted in a very real way how preparation, local intelligence and the ability to act swiftly on the ground is key for companies operating in high risk environments. There’s no doubt that Mary Bahsoon’s conversation with the missionary saved her life and those of her children. I made the point about the importance of intelligence and of running scenarios to understand your clients’ needs and what your responses might need to be so, when the circumstances arise, you are better able to respond to them.”