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Published: February 9, 2021

From Hydrogeology to Security: meet GISF’s longest standing member Sicko Pijpker

By: Tara Arthur

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What is it like to be one of the longest standing members of GISF? We recently spoke with Sicko Pijpker, from Cordaid in the Netherlands, about his experience in the security sector.

Sicko’s journey into security could be considered unusual. Unlike many security professionals who first gained experience in the security sector through the military, Sicko began his career as a hydrogeologist. However, this expertise led him to provide clean water and sanitation in some of the world’s most complex security environments – from Darfur and Rwanda after the genocides, to Sierra Leone and the Balkans during and after the civil wars.

Sicko’s path within security risk management

‘My security ‘professor’ was [an OXFAM GB colleague called] John Howard, who was very conscious and aware of staff and beneficiary security. Working with him is where I learned a lot of what I know about practical security risk management. These were the 1990s, so hardly… [any] organised security systems were in place. Only the Red Cross and MSF had proper security policies and protocols. Many staff working in the humanitarian sector had no experience with security nor training.

Sicko’s first official security responsibilities came with his role as a DRA (Dutch Relief and Rehabilitation Agency, the predecessor of CARE Nederland) project manager in the Balkans, where he was responsible for staff security.

After 15 years of working abroad in the humanitarian and development sector, Sicko returned to the Netherlands and started working for the ICCO Cooperation, a Dutch NGO that mostly focuses on sustainable agriculture. By 2021, ICCO merged with the Dutch NGO Cordaid, and Sicko joined the Cordaid security team. ICCO was an influential member of the Action by Churches Together Alliance (ACT Alliance).

At the time, Sicko was ICCO’s program officer for the Great Lakes region and Eritrea. To improve reporting and support local implementing organisations, his team deployed a staff member to the field, for whom a security working environment had to be created. Once the word had gotten out about Sicko’s security insights, he played an essential role in security risk management (SRM) at his organisation and was appointed as Security Advisor. He was formally trained in security as one of the first NGO staff members in the Netherlands by the Centre for Safety and Development, established in 2007.

‘EISF foundation came out of the need to bring together experience and knowledge’.

Some members within the ACT Alliance formed a security advisory group in 2007 that soon began reaching out to other organisations within the alliance, to improve their understanding and practice of SRM. A grouping of British and French NGO staff with security responsibilities came together. In parallel, members of the Dutch Security Network (DSN), which was also established in early 2007, voiced their interest in establishing a more comprehensive network. This high demand to collaborate on security issues lies at the heart of the European Interagency Security Forum’s (EISF) founding, which became global in 2020 (GISF).

In the 1990s and early 2000s, there was limited knowledge about security, so those appointed to security were often not formally educated in security risk management […]. Creating networks and communicating with others in similar situations brought a lot of knowledge together. This was crucial for me and many others […]. Over the years, the GISF forum became key in enabling the field to become more and more professionalised’.

What are some of Sicko’s reflections about GISF?

I have always been impressed with the quality of the forums.’ Because of its extended network and the wealth of knowledge shared through GISF, the forum has become an invaluable centre of excellence for NGOs. Sicko appreciates that he can share GISF’s diverse and high-quality resources with colleagues across the world. He particularly recalls the usefulness of the comprehensive set of training modules developed by James Davis, Global Security Advisor with the ACT Alliance, which eventually formed the basis of numerous ICCO and ACT members’ trainings. From thought-provoking experts to intimate incident information sharing and informal networking opportunities, the network’s richness reinforces GISF’s value to him. He also recounts how communicating effectively with other GISF members enabled them to navigate the 2010 Haiti earthquake’s volatile situation.

Looking to the next generation of security professionals

His advice to the next generation of security professionals is to remember that ’80 per cent of security is communication’, underlining the significance of sharing experience, knowledge and lessons learned with others in the sector. He further encourages more women to get involved in security, as a more diverse group of security professionals implies a better understanding of the sector and ultimately, better security practices.

He is also an avid voice for the importance of training. Looking at the evolving digital challenges facing security and training, he believes that trainers must update their skills to be better prepared and more responsive to new threats, reminding us that SRM has to evolve with its environment.

At GISF, we remain proud to have such involved and long standing members. With his diverse professional background, Sicko is a fascinating example of the various ways in which people have come to shape humanitarian SRM.




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