The more partnerships, the bigger the impact  

Urgent global challenges – such as climate change, social and economic inequality, urbanisation, and security – are attracting increased attention. By addressing these issues globally, the Belgian development agency Enabel strives for a sustainable world in which everyone can develop to their full potential. And preferably in a safe way, considering the increasing threat landscape. 

Development cooperation agency Enabel has been active for over 20 years in a variety of fields, supporting projects in domains from education and healthcare, through agriculture and environmental protection, to digitalisation, employment, and governance. “Enabel’s expertise is called upon by the Belgian government, European institutions, governments of other countries and even the global private sector,” explains Information Security Officer Thijs Braem. 

Although it is not a cyber security organisation, Enabel aspires to achieve a mature level of cyber security. “This is highly important for our organisation, and I am proud to be able to contribute in my relatively new role as Information Security Offer.” Thijs recently moved from a technical role into his new responsibilities, and today ensures that the impact made at the IT level is felt in every service of the organisation, by every partner and for every project. 

Building partnerships 

Enabel’s 2,200 staff members carry out projects in 20 different countries, especially across Africa and the Middle East. “In Belgium, we are mainly working around citizenship awareness. What we do has a significant impact, so we want to create as many partnerships as possible with people in the field to maximise that impact,” Thijs continues.  

Within the organisation, this is also his aim. “Due to our global scale, while performing our tasks, we often bump into security issues. I have built a good relationship with all internal departments so that I can immediately call on their expertise. This is key, because with cyber security issues, the IT department does not solve the problem on their own; the HR (Human Resources) and communications departments, for example, also play an important role.” 

Similar yet very different  

When sharing insights with other Cyber Security Coalition members, Thijs finds that Enabel sometimes faces different hurdles than other organisations. “We are still dealing with, for example, the risks associated with exchanging data on USB sticks. Since our work is often done in places with lower connectivity, USB sticks provide the solution. But these risks thus become a bigger problem for us than e.g., phishing,” Thijs outlines one of the differences. 

“We have country offices in about 20 different countries, but outside those offices we are also active at 200 distinct locations for specific projects. Some of these are very remote. Therefore, it is not always easy to reach our colleagues. IT people on site do not necessarily have a fast connection with everyone, either. That makes it harder to compare us with other organisations. However, there are still significant overlaps and similarities, so we can draw a lot of inspiration from exchanges within the Cyber Security Coalition,” Thijs comments. 

Give and take 

Enabel’s own risk list, from which the risks with the greatest impact are addressed first, is supplemented by risks from colleagues. “The cyber threat scope is a gigantic puzzle. It is not always easy to know which piece of the puzzle we must deal with. Here, meetings with Coalition members are of significant help. We are still in the exploratory phase where we can learn a lot through the Awareness and Risk & Compliance Focus Groups and explore where we can add value ourselves.” 

The Coalition’s members are diverse: large and small companies, public and private sector, each needing its own approach. “Enabel is somewhere in between. Therefore, we can add value towards developing tools and communication for that target group. Our mission is to forge partnerships both to strengthen ourselves and to be a reliable partner for others. This can certainly be the case with the Coalition, and we are very happy to share the knowledge we gain with our peers there,” Thijs concludes. 

The Coalition has a key role to play, because our society is not yet sufficiently prepared for the growing cyber risks. Working together on certain cyber security topics adds value to any company, but it also makes each person stronger and more secure. The Coalition’s impact on society is very positive, and the bigger the network gets, the more significant that impact will be. 

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