How we work
The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) works with partners to build knowledge and skills that enable sustainable peace, development and prosperity in Africa. Established in 1991, the ISS is Africa’s leading multidisciplinary human security organisation, with a unique operational model that combines research, policy analysis, technical assistance and training. The ISS has also developed a powerful forecasting capability to identify future risks and opportunities in fields as diverse as development, industrialisation, demographics, technology and climate change.
The ISS is independent, credible and has a reputation for delivering impact locally, nationally, regionally and internationally.
Headquartered in Pretoria, South Africa, the organisation has regional offices in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Dakar, Senegal and Nairobi, Kenya. The institute’s decentralised approach is underpinned by efficient governance structures and financial sustainability.
Our work covers African futures, transnational crimes, climate change, migration, maritime security and development, peacekeeping, peacebuilding, crime prevention and criminal justice, and the analysis of conflict and governance.
Using our networks and influence, we provide timely and credible analysis, practical training and technical assistance to governments and civil society. This promotes better policy and practice, because senior officials can make informed decisions about how to deal with Africa’s human security challenges.
Areas of work
Africa in the world: ISS analyses the dynamics that shape Africa’s role in the world and advises on how to strengthen the continent’s position on global human security issues. Research and technical support help governments and regional organisations understand external interests and respond to global challenges.
African futures: Comprehensive forecasts help governments and development partners set the course for a prosperous continent. A data platform features integrated projections for 14 sectors, covering all African countries and regions. Our analysis is grounded in academic literature and maps ambitious but realistic forecasts, which are regularly updated.
Climate change and human security: ISS explores climate insecurity and its links to resource conflicts, corruption and organised crime. We offer research and technical support to governments, regional and continental bodies and ensure that African perspectives and priorities are included in global policy debates.
Gender equality: ISS considers the gendered nature of insecurity and promotes the need for gender equality. Gender cuts across all the ISS’ peace and security research, technical assistance and training, and we collaborate with organisations and networks skilled in achieving gender equality.
Governance, peace and security: ISS promotes national, regional and continental governance processes that are accountable, equitable and inclusive. Our work covers elections and democracy, conflict prevention and management, maritime security and the blue economy, migration and forced displacement, and security and governance of new technology.
National and transnational crime and violence: ISS examines transnational organised crime, corruption and violent extremism and the links between these threats. Research also covers community conflicts, criminality and inter-personal violence. ISS works with governments, regional bodies and civil society networks. We provide advice and technical support on policing, prosecutions, violence prevention, strategy development and inter-agency cooperation.
What gives ISS the edge?
The ISS is able to improve human security in Africa and achieve impact because:
- We are African. ISS is invested in and committed to the continent. We are sensitive to the African context and responsive to Africa’s needs and complexities.
- Our approach is collaborative. We partner with those who can improve policy and practice. By providing practical support, these partnerships enable the ISS to bring about lasting change.
- We build trust with governments and civil society by being credible, independent and committed to the best interests of Africa.
- We harness our networks in Africa and globally to build connections and influence debates and decisions in a constructive way.
- Our authoritative and relevant research responds to African priorities and informs policy and practice. Research and analysis underpins the training and technical support that ISS provides.
Who does ISS work with?
The ISS collaborates with government and civil society at national, regional, continental and international levels. The media is key to the ISS’ goal of improving accountability by providing independent analysis to the public.
The ISS is registered as a non-profit trust in South Africa and is accountable to a board of trustees. The trustees are listed below.
- Dr Jakkie Cilliers is Head of African Futures and Innovation at the ISS and Chairperson of the ISS Board of Trustees. He is the co-founder of the ISS and was the organisation’s executive director until 2015. Jakkie is an Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria and is on the advisory board of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, and the Centre on International Conflict Resolution, Columbia University, New York.
- Cassim Coovadia is Chairman of the South African Banking Risk Information Centre. He is also Managing Director of the Banking Association of South Africa and Chairman of the Johannesburg Civic Theatre.
- Professor Gilbert Khadiagala is the Jan Smuts Professor of International Relations and Head of Department at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. He trained as a political scientist in Kenya, Canada and the United States, and specialises in African international relations, conflict management and resolution, African regional and sub-regional institutions, and comparative political institutions.
- Dr Iraj Abedian is the founder and Chairman of Pan-African Capital Holdings and founder and Chief Executive Officer of Pan-African Investment and Research Services. Iraj’s experience includes group chief economist at Standard Bank and non-executive director at Transnet and SA Tourism. He was also on former South African president Thabo Mbeki’s Economic Advisory Panel.
- Lindiwe Mazibuko is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Futurelect, an Apolitical Academy. She was the first black woman in South African history to be elected Leader of the Opposition in Parliament. Lindiwe has served as fellow of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University and the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study in South Africa. She is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, a Fisher Family Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science & International Affairs, a trustee of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, and an advisory committee member at the UK government technology start-up, Apolitical Group Limited.
- Dr Marianne Camerer is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Cape Town's Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance where she teaches ethical leadership and public accountability. After starting her research career at ISS in 1995 she co-founded the international non-governmental organisation, Global Integrity, in Washington DC. Marianne is a Yale World Fellow and currently serves on the advisory board of the Allard Prize for International Integrity.
- Maxi Schoeman is Professor Emeritus (Political Sciences) at the University of Pretoria. She is a visiting professor at King’s College, London and a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa. She also serves as deputy chairperson of the Institute for Global Dialogue.
- Saki Macozoma is the Non-Executive Chairman of Safika Holdings, Chairman of Tshipi é Ntle and Ntsimbintle Mining, and a Board Member of Volkswagen SA. He is former chairman of Liberty Holdings and former deputy chairman of Standard Bank. Saki also served as managing director of Transnet and was a member of parliament and a member of the African National Congress National Executive Committee. He is now politically unaffiliated.
- Dr Solange Rosa is Director of the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Graduate School of Business, University of Cape Town, South Africa. She has been an independent public policy consultant, associate faculty adviser with the Allan Gray Centre for Values-based Leadership at UCT, and lecturer at the UCT Graduate School of Business and UCT School of Economics. Solange also headed the Western Cape government's Policy and Strategy Unit in the Department of the Premier.
- Dr Wendy Ngoma is the Chief Executive Officer of a management consulting firm and an alumnus of the INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship Programme. She is the former director of the Wits Business School at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, and worked as an academic at the Wits Graduate School of Public Management.
- Dr Ayanda Ntsaluba is an Executive Director of Discovery Limited. He has extensive expertise in health care, government relations and general management. He is a member of the Lancet–University of Oslo Commission on Global Governance for health and serves on the board of Albert and Nokukhanya Luthuli Peace and Development Institute. He is also a member of the Council of the University of Kwazulu-Natal, a member of the South African Chapter of the BRICS Business Council, a trustee of the Clinix Health Group and the Trustee of South Africa’s Solidarity Fund.
An international Advisory Council meets annually to advise the ISS on strategic policy and management issues. Members of the council are:
- Mohammed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative and Head of the UN Office for West Africa
- Ibrahima Fall, independent consultant, Senegal and former UN Special Representative for the Great Lakes Region
- Frannie A Léautier, Partner and Chief Executive Officer, Mkoba Private Equity Fund, Tanzania
- Susanne Luther, Director, Hanns Seidel Foundation, Germany
- Vijay Makhan, independent consultant and resource person, Mauritius
- Amb Konjit Sinegorgis, Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Prof Elrena van der Spuy, University of Cape Town, South Africa
The work of the ISS is made possible through the generous support of donor partners. Current ISS donors are:
Government of Denmark
Government of Ireland
Government of the Netherlands
Government of Norway
Government of Sweden
Hanns Seidel Foundation
Open Society Foundations
Adelphi Research Gemeinnutzige GmbH
Berghof Foundation Operations GmbH
British Peace Support Team (Africa)
Conseil de L'Entente
Eastern African Standby Force
Embassy of Chile in South Africa
Embassy of Finland, Pretoria, Fund for Local Cooperation
Embassy of Spain
Embassy of the Czech Republic
Federal Department of Foreign Affairs
Foreign & Commonwealth Office/Conflict Stability & Security
Government of Australia
Government of Germany
Government of Namibia
Government of Senegal
Government of Switzerland
Government of United Kingdom
Government of the United States of America/USAID
International Committee of the Red Cross
International Development Research Centre
Istituto Affari Internazionali
Norwegian Institute for International Affairs
Omega Research Foundation
Open Society Foundation
Open Society Policy Centre
Seven Passes Initiative
Social Justice Initiative
Southern Africa Trust
United Nations Development Programme
United States Institute for Peace
University of Denver Pardee Centre
University of Edinburgh
University of Exeter
Wellspring Philanthropic Fund
World Childhood Foundation
ISS financial records are published in the Annual Review. To access the Annual Review, click here
What led to the establishment of the ISS?
The ISS was founded in 1991 as the Institute for Defence Policy by the former executive director, Dr Jakkie Cilliers, together with Mr PB Mertz. In 1996, the organisation was renamed the Institute for Security Studies.
‘We often forget the difficult times of our past and where we come from’, says Cilliers reflecting on the origins of the ISS. 'The idea and motivation for the ISS was born during a meeting organised by Institute for Democracy in Africa (IDASA) between a number of concerned South Africans and members of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the ANC, in Lusaka in May 1990. This was a groundbreaking conference of South African and other security specialists and analysts – the first of its kind despite the unbanning of the ANC earlier that year’. The meeting was dominated by a debate on the future of the military in a post-settlement South Africa that took place between Chris Hani, commander of MK, and Cilliers. Several years before this meeting, Cilliers had resigned from the South African Defence Force (SADF) for political reasons.
Shortly after the May 1990 meeting, the forerunner of the ISS – the Institute for Defence Policy (IDP) – was established with a staff of three people. 'These were difficult times as South Africa was still under National Party apartheid rule’, says Cilliers. ‘Former military comrades considered me – a former Lieutenant Colonel in field artillery – a traitor, so the phones of the IDP and its staff were tapped; we were under heavy intimidation by the Civilian Cooperation Bureau and the lives of staff and those associated with staff were in considerable danger. Ironically, our credibility was guaranteed by an MK enquiry into whether the IDP was an apartheid government military front organisation, only to find out that military intelligence thought we were an ANC front organisation’.
For a non-governmental organisation, working on security issues at this time in South Africa was a major challenge. ‘We shouldn't forget that civil war threatened’, explains Cilliers. ‘The true transition of power in South Africa didn't happen during the elections of 1994, but during the events in the former homeland of Bophuthatswana. The SADF neutralised the right wing coup there organised by the leader of the Freedom Front, a former chief of the SADF, General Constant Viljoen, and a band of rag-tag racist thugs (the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging). The former SADF was a formidable military force and "white" South Africa was a heavily militarised society during a time of regional war and internal unrest’, says Cilliers.
Nevertheless, despite the challenges, the applied policy work of the IDP meant that the organisation played a key role in South Africa’s transition from an apartheid state to a democracy. After 1996 the work of the ISS focused less on South Africa and took on a regional dimension, resulting in the thriving continental organisation that exists today.
The development of the ISS would not have been possible without the support of partners from South Africa and the international community. The first funds that ISS received were from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Bonn, and Anglo American and De Beers Chairman’s Fund. Subsequently the Hanns Seidel Foundation became an important partner of the ISS, along with many valued local and international partners.