InterAction’s Laky Pissalidis Recognized as Security Industry Leader

Credit: Screen Shot from Security Magazine

Every year, Security magazine recognizes security sector’s leaders who have influenced the national and global security landscape through projects, programs, or departments. The recently released list of 2015’s most influential professionals included one individual from the NGO sector – InterAction Director of Security Basile (Laky) Pissalidis.

Laky agreed to sit down with InterAction Blog Editor Sarah Siguenza to explore how he got to this point, and what is next for the security sector.

Sarah Siguenza:  First of all, congratulations! What does this recognition mean to you?

Laky Pissalidis:  It is a great honor, and it feels good to be recognized. It is a huge surprise for me as well. However, I think the award is more about this institution and the influence InterAction has on shaping humanitarian security than it is about me. I see it as an indicator reflecting InterAction’s potential to influence, raise awareness, and ultimately help develop safe access and durable programing presence.

SS: How did you get into the field of humanitarian security?

LP:  My interest, graduate degree, and training were all in geopolitics and analysis. When I first started studying security and analysis was a rare concentration. As I was finishing my MA I got a call from UNICEF – one of the very first organizations to open an office of security. I started as an intern and eventually started to work for UNICEF as a consultant. 

SS: Now 20 years into your career, what’s one of the more poignant lessons you’ve taken away so far? 

LP:  Learn patience and persistence. Changing systems is possible but it’s very slow progress, and it’s not going to be a straight string of successes. To change attitudes or to show a different way to a community – which is usually what we are charged with – takes a long time.

For example, at the moment there is an important shift to the idea that security isn’t just there to keep us safe, it’s about making it safe enough to deliver aid. It’s a different focus. And we’re making some progress on this, but it takes time, patience and persistence.

SS: Let’s go deeper into that idea of dual objectives. You recently wrote about this in regards to the security mandate, and the inherent challenge – and necessity – to keep staff safe and enable the delivery of aid. How can the sector facilitate both aspects of the mandate?

LP:  Stated briefly, the community must learn how to leverage humanitarian security better. We have to learn - or even re-learn - humanitarian security’s principles and tools and put them to use. These principles, tools and methods must then be methodically integrated into agencies operations and organizational ethos. One of the best ways to do that is through training.

SS: It seems like over the years the number of attacks on aid workers has increased, as has the amount of humanitarian crises across the board. Are these numbers somewhat correlated, or does it represent something else that is happening within the field? And what can organizations do – maybe it’s the trainings you mention – to keep their staff safe?

LP: There are increased risks in the field, while simultaneously there is an increased demand for us to be out there, therefore there are more attacks on us. But I don’t want to read too much into statistics. There are some statistics that show a decrease in serious incidents, but that’s probably because we reducing our operational presence.

What is more important is the latter part of your question; what organizations can do about managing security risk. I think we look hard at outside forces for the cause of our insecurity. And, though there is no doubt that’s the cause of the insecurity there is not enough introspection. There is not enough of a security risk management capacity built within our own individual agencies. Focusing more on developing our own risk management systems will serve us much better than looking at outside forces and geopolitical data.

SS: In your time here, what has InterAction done to address these concerns?

LP: As mentioned, one of the biggest changes we’ve seen is the focus on delivery of aid. There is also a shift away from hard security to management of risk and softer skills. And in that capacity InterAction certainly has helped shifted the dialogue.

SS: What advice would you give someone entering the security field today?

LP: If you want to get into humanitarian security at some point in your early career go and program. It will give you the proper context to put everything else in perspective.