Interview with Director of ITF: Tomaž Lovrenčič
ITF Enhancing Human Security is proud to have a new Director heading the organization, Ambassador Tomaž Lovrenčič. Amb Lovrenčič had been the Acting Director since November 2017 but assumed the role of Director on 1 March 2018. Director Lovrenčič has had an illustrious career prior to ITF including working as the Political Director/Director General at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Slovenia, running a specialized agency of the European Union in the field of space and security, and being the Ambassador of the Republic of Slovenia to the Kingdom of Spain. In order to get to know the new Director better, he discussed his thoughts on the future of ITF and his own personal mandate.
As a new Director of ITF, what is the vision that you plan to implement and does it differ from your predecessors?
I’m taking over this position as Director of ITF, which started on 1 March after a very successful three-year period under leadership of Director Bergant, with the idea to continue and perhaps intensify donor relations, which is the number one priority for my mandate.
We have been fortunate to have a very long-lasting relationship with a number of these donors who have provided funding for a number of projects. But we need to strengthen this and have this as a number one priority as an institution, and me personally as the Director as well.
What other responsibilities do you have as a Director of ITF?
In addition to this internationalization of the donor community, we would like to look at the possibility of increasing private donations. We are looking into establishing a way to attract private donors. Primarily from the United States of America because legislation there is conducive to donations for tax purposes and we think that there is interest in human security in general, as well as specifically in demining and mine victim assistance.
We need to continue maintaining awareness about the scale of the problem and the necessity of countries continuing to be engaged in a number of areas where we work so that we will not fall victim to donor fatigue. As far as the implementing side is concerned, we must make sure that we continue to work in an efficient, effective and most importantly, safe and secure way. There are no accidents during the demining if everyone who does this difficult and dangerous job does it in accordance with standards. If there are zero accidents in the implementation, then donor countries will see this tremendous value through a method, which has been proven in the last 20 years.
What function of being the Director do you anticipate being the most rewarding and also the most challenging?
Certainly, I think that a common denominator with donors and with institutions is the fact that we are implementing part of foreign policy which has direct impact in the field. We actually go from general principles of foreign policy and then put these principles into practice. There is 148 million square meters cleared, there are 1,303 people rehabilitated and there are almost 500,000 people going through the programs of mine risk education. We have countries declared mine free, we have concrete results, and that is a tremendous source of satisfaction because it can be measured. It’s really impactful to the people in the field. So, this field impact is the most important.
The challenge continues to be, as I said, on the donor side. The idea that many of the problems can be solved in offices by exchanging Word or Excel files is not true. This is basically a field work activity. So, we have to maintain this focus on the field. The idea that funds will miraculously come out of nowhere is not true. It is a very difficult decision for all countries to allocate funds and budgets, but I’ve always presented it as not only a noble thing and important thing, but also an investment. I sincerely think that it is the underlying layer of any kind of development.
There is also, of course, safety and security. The nature of explosive remnants of war is changing. In the old days, mines were simple or automatic but they have now been replaced with a more complex reality, where we have improvised explosive devices, which are technologically more advanced, unpredictable, indiscriminate, and in many cases, programmed. They are directed even more towards civilian populations and present a huge threat, especially in urban areas. In the future, I see a tremendous challenge as far as clearance of explosive hazards in urban areas, because that’s where the conflict has moved. And so, from the point of view of the organization of demining, technology and explaining the importance to donors, I think those are a tremendous challenge. I hope we’ll be able to do it, but it’s a new element that did not exist perhaps five or ten years ago.
The concept of human security must take into consideration the changing nature of the threats. This is a fact and there is no debate about it. But there is discussion about how to adapt to the changing nature of threats, and how to work with implementing partners in the area of certification in which the work is done. And then, of course, the growing number of victims as the threat moves closer to cities and urban areas. The impact on the most vulnerable groups increases, most notably children. So, I see a rather dark picture as far as this is concerned, because the threat is actually coming closer to civilian populations and toward children.
What are you looking forward to most in 2018?
We need to be aware of the new emerging areas of operation. South East Europe continues to be very high on our agenda but we also operate in the Mediterranean region, the Middle East, and central Asia as well. We are present now in Africa through ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) countries. Also, we have a very important project in Colombia. This requires a good structure around such a wide array of projects. They are in very different environments but there is a lowest common denominator and that is a serious threat to human security. It is surprising how similar the stories of victims are in all those different places. It’s the same story of victims being neglected and forgotten with no support whatsoever, and not only surviving the terrible ordeal but then continuing to live in this terrible situation without any help. It is not only an option, it is an obligation of the international community to act, country to country, institution to institution, and people to people, in order to help those who are suffering most. We aim to be continue be engaged in this variety of contexts, and perhaps address new ones, joined by the same common denominator.
This year marks the 20-year anniversary of ITF, what would you like to see the organization do in the next 20 years?
I would like to see the world free from threats ITF is addressing. So, in away I would like to see there would be no need for ITF to continue to exist. The idea is that people with their individual dignity are the basis of any social, economic, or political development; the idea is also that people have their individual rights to be secure and that out of this comes prosperity. Now, unexploded remnants of war directly contradict this very simple and basic goal. They cause total paralysis in families, businesses, and communities. It’s impossible to have any kind of normality if you have children going to school with mines all around it or people trying to cultivate their fields but not being sure whether they will step on a mine or not. It also hinders countries trying to attract any kind of investment where the environment is littered with explosive remnants of war. You need to clean it and it’s not going to get cleaned by itself. There is no option B of waiting to see if it will simply disappear. And so, hard and very dangerous work in the field needs to be done little by little, along with a policy of small steps, in order to continue enlarging this cleared area. This is not only ITF’s objective but the objective of the international community as a whole.
Looking backwards, in the two decades of ITF, what would you categorize as its biggest accomplishment?
I think that there is an element of hope in the fact that conflict-affected countries are not forgotten. Simply because they suffered a terrible conflict does not mean that they are pushed to the edge. Donors send a clear message about how much they care that these countries be reincorporated into the international system. This message has not only been sent to governments, but most importantly to people. When we go in the field and meet people, this message is understood and you see how grateful people are in the field. I think that's the most important achievement, this message of help, solidarity, empathy and hope. It is a very human message and it also happens to help in development afterwards so it’s practical later on down the road. But also, the continuous engagement of donors is an accomplishment in itself. Again, thanks to the donors and others that have decided to have this goal as a cornerstone of their foreign policy.
ITF is relatively unknown in its native Slovenia because it is a small organization; what would you say to Slovenes just to let them know about ITF?
That every long journey starts with the first step and that everyone can contribute in his or her area to alleviate this consequence of conflict. Fifteen people in ITF’s office in Slovenia, with their enthusiasm and good intentions, manage to do wonderful things and I’m very honored to work with them because they do something out of conviction. Others are invited to join in this effort either through donations or raising awareness about human security or helping as volunteers in the field. Every little bit counts and in the end, you really achieve something and help people. For me, that’s a wonderful sense of fulfillment and I would recommend that everyone try that.