Interview with Lieutenant-General Martin H. Wijnen, Ministry of Defence & DCHI Board Member

“I am talking about dismantling old ways of thinking; social innovation, daring to be creative and building new bridges.”

Cooperative approach

After graduating from the Royal Military Academy in 1989 I started as a lieutenant and platoon commander. Now, I am Commander of the Royal Netherlands Army. The positions that I have held up until now are diverse, but share one common denominator; collaboration with partners from inside and outside the Ministry of Defense for peace and security. I have been deployed in diverse missions and operations across the globe; clearing mines in Cambodia and providing emergency-relief on Saint-Martin after hurricane Luis, and participating in IFOR (Bosnia) and ISAF (Afghanistan). And today I continue to contribute to peace and security as a policy maker.

I am convinced that a cooperative approach from various disciplines contributes to better results, and that people sometimes need to leave their comfort zone to learn from others. I have practiced this while working at the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism. Working outside of our organization is uncommon for soldiers. This shouldn’t be the case, and I stimulate this type of work. On a more personal note; I am married to my wife Alette. Together we have two children, Marit (20) and Anne-Jan (17), and in my leisure time I like to do sports and go motorcycling.

Why is Ministry of Defense on the board of DCHI?

I am a firm believer in the power of cooperation. Looking at the DCHI board, at first glance the Ministry of Defense may appear as a stranger in our midst. But this couldn’t be further from the truth; all of us are pulling at the same end of the rope. During missions and operations we even have a name for it; “a comprehensive approach to operations”. By getting to know each other, here in the Netherlands, short lines of communication start to form. Being able to find each other quickly contributes significantly to our ability to deliver in times of need. A practical example of such cooperation occurred in the first few days following Hurricane Irma on Sint-Maarten, and I was approached via DCHI to provide logistical support to a relief organization.

No one can do it alone, we need each other! There is a clear win-win situation in which we can join forces and contribute to a world in which we take that extra step to achieve peace and security. On top of that I believe that a better world will not come to exist by itself; to achieve this you need to get moving. I perceive my contributions and membership at the board as a gentle push in order to achieve this movement.

Dismantling old ways of thinking

Technological and social changes cause our world to be in a constant state of change, and this happens at such a rapid pace that it becomes increasingly difficult to predict the near and far future. Take this, and combine it with a security situation that is subordinate to change, and one this is certain; we need to be adaptive. Adaptivity for me means robustness and agility; we apply this concept in the armed forces. We develop our robustness to be able to operate under all circumstances, and we are agile in order to adapt when needed.

I would like to draw a parallel with the humanitarian sector. Increasing complexity emergencies across the globe ask that the humanitarian sector is able to operate in more diverse situations. On top of that, new technologies provide the humanitarian sector with opportunities to work more effectively, smarter and differently. Innovation is indispensable if one wishes to achieve this. And by saying this I am not just talking about adopting the latest technology and cooperating with the private sector. No, I am talking about dismantling old ways of thinking; social innovation, daring to be creative and building new bridges. A different, more open culture for organizations, and a different mindset for the people working at those organizations. Simple? Not by a long shot, and I see this within my own organization. But is it necessary? Absolutely, because like I said; no one can do it alone. Which is why I am thankful for DCHI; I am convinced I can give and take cooperation from this community.

“We must keep an eye out for the smaller innovations and developments. At the end of the day those are the ones that make the difference. The bigger game changers will come from other sectors, the question for us is; what will we do with them?”

What fascinates me is people that dare to think big. Let me name two examples; SunGlacier and Justdiggit. The first is a startup that developed a method to extract water out of the dry dessert air, and the latter wants to improve people’s living environment by reforestation, simultaneously contributing to the question of climate change. Both initiatives are, aside from “thinking big”, also very tangible and concrete. An outstanding combination, worth of full support to continue working to incrementally confront these megaproblems. To – speaking for myself – limit the ecological footprint of our (the military) presence in a country. So that we can continue doing our jobs while making a minimal intrusion on the local environment. Another fascinating initiative is the White Flag Protocol ; a trusted communications network powered by blockchain technology, allowing actors to exchange authenticated information to achieve a shared situational awareness within an area of operations. And just to be clear; I am referring to “actors” that would otherwise have no means of sharing information, like relief organizations, journalists, soldiers, diplomats, development workers, etc.

I see that in the future the world will be even smaller than it is today. We will increasingly see and be confronted by the existing problems. At the same time I see smarter opportunities to provide disaster relief. Technological solutions to map out problems and analyze them before having to take a single step. Providing more tailored assistance. Increasing the opportunities of people that are dependent on that assistance. Not just on the short run, but also structural solutions will become better. Not just from within the humanitarian sector, but specifically by looking at the developments that businesses, organizations and different sectors – think about the medical sector, education, agriculture and fishery – have gone through. In my opinion only one thing will remain unchanged, and that is that the best solutions will continue to be found through intensive cooperation.