Meet the Member: John Tipper

Currently working as Director of Disaster Preparedness and Response for the Swedish NGO Operation Mercy, RedR Member John Tipper is a humanitarian logistician with almost twenty years’ experience, most of those spent working in the field.

More specifically, John’s role involves supporting Operation Mercy’s project countries worldwide as they prepare for, and respond to, disasters. Prior to humanitarian work, John was working as an outdoor pursuits instructor, which as he says “has many parallels to working in an aid operation”.

His desire to use these logistical skills to make a difference in people’s lives led him into the humanitarian sector.

Can you tell us about your current role and the organisation you are working for?

For the past 5 years I have worked as the Director of Disaster Preparedness and Response for Operation Mercy. In the aftermath of a disaster, my colleagues and I provide surge capacity, sometimes through Skype and email support, and sometimes in person, depending on the nature of the disaster and the competence of the team in the particular country. I also provide humanitarian training to our own organisation and to others.

How did your career in the humanitarian sector begin and what are the major roles you have covered?

Prior to humanitarian work, I was working as an outdoor pursuits instructor, which logistically has many parallels to working in an aid operation. I had a strong desire to use these logistical skills to make more of a difference in peoples’ lives. In line with this, my first humanitarian role was as a Logistics Manager for an aviation charity. I went on to work as a Country Director in pre-independence South Sudan for several years. Subsequently I took on my current role with Operation Mercy.

Can you briefly describe the emergency responses you have been involved in?

Working in South Sudan for over half a decade gave me a longer-term perspective on a lot of the short-term initiatives of humanitarian aid. Although the civil war had finished, there were repeated cycles of human-made and natural crises, and much of my work involved supporting other aid agencies in their emergency response projects. I also volunteered as the NGO security focal point for national and international NGOs, in liaison with the UN’s security structure. I also worked with the new national government to support their development initiatives.

Despite your role involving an international outreach, you choose to be based in the Middle East rather than in Europe’s headquarters. Why?

Partly due to the Syrian and Iraqi crises, I chose to base my current international role in Jordan in the Middle East, rather than Sweden. This gives me another long-term perspective on an important regional crisis, as well as a lot more credibility with other project countries when I visit to support them. From Jordan, I have responded to the actions of ISIS in Iraq, the refugee influx through the Balkans, as well as numerous natural disasters worldwide.

The most rewarding part of my work is mentoring the colleagues that I have spent a long time with, especially in the case of South Sudan, where young men who started off as labourers and guards are now involved with flight scheduling, aircraft management and logistics management.

John Tipper

RedR Member

John with his colleagues in Sudan
John with his colleagues in Sudan

"My biggest suggestion to new aid workers is to try to respond with humility, and to learn from their local colleagues"

What have been the most challenging parts of your work?

The most challenging part of working long-term in different places is seeing people come in with so-called solutions, who don’t stay long enough to see if those solutions actually add value. My biggest suggestion to new aid workers is to try to respond with humility, and to learn from their local colleagues, who often see the longer-term picture much more clearly.

Why did you become a RedR member? And how has being a Members impacted on the way you work?

I joined RedR almost twenty years ago, because I was looking for relevant training and was also interested in being on the register of deployable aid workers. Over the years I’ve found the training very useful and often recommend it to colleagues. I’ve also really appreciated the network that RedR provides, and have enjoyed working for RedR on its MissionReady project, to provide useful and highly relevant training for newer humanitarian workers.

John Tipper is also the author of the guide to ‘Decision Making in Disaster Response’.

The aim of the handbook is to teach aid workers how to make impossible choices; thanks to its innovative format readers are faced with vivid descriptions of difficult situations and are directed to different sections of the book based on which decision they consider most appropriate