Dr. Markus Lipp, senior food safety officer, is Officer in charge of the Food Safety and Quality Unit at FAO, coordinating FAO’s work on providing chemical and microbiological food safety risk assessment and capacity development work to strengthen national capacities for food safety. Dr. Lipp previously worked in various public and private organizations focusing on various topics related to food safety, biotechnology and standard-setting, including the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), the International Bottled Water Association, Monsanto, Unilever and the European Commission. Dr. Lipp holds a PhD in analytical chemistry from the University of Karlsruhe, Germany.
Please could you tell us a little about yourself and your professional background?
Growing up in Germany, I obtained a PhD in analytical chemistry, but then left Germany immediately to work in Italy, The Netherlands and the United States of America before returning back to Italy. A central point of interest in my career has been food safety and, in particular, food safety standards and specifications to answer the two most elemental questions: how do we know it is safe, and how do we know that we actually got the right material. The latter may sound funny for food (I know it is an apple when I see it), but becomes very relevant the more processed a food is (how do I know the apple juice is pure and not diluted). I spend about equal time working in the private, civil and public sector.
When and why did you choose to work for FAO?
I am passionate about global common goods that are created in the most inclusive manner possible without given particular benefit to any specific commercial, national or other interest. This may be a strange passion, but such global common goods provide the language for all of us in establishing a common point of reference and thereby meaningful discussions. FAO is the preeminent organization for the generation of global common goods with regard to food safety.
What do you believe are the most important skills needed to work at a specialized agency such as FAO?
Self-awareness, we all believe that our views are correct, but we all bring our own biases. Patience, and lastly the ability to step back, knowing that we are in this together and whichever solution we implement, we will never be able to find out how the alternative would have worked out (#YouOnlyLiveOnce)
What are the main benefits/challenges of working in an organization that is working towards the eradication of hunger?
After air and water, food is the third most essential and critical basic need for all humans. And food is the most intimate of all consumer products, it becomes part of us. This makes it challenging (everyone has an opinion on food) and rewarding (everyone needs it) at the same time. I am not sure I can imagine many other areas than food that need to integrate that many facets of human thinking and feeling.
What according to you, is the most effective way to empower women working in agriculture?
Wow, big question. The feeling of being empowered is intrinsically connected to a person’s sense of having agency. Empowering women will require fostering women having agency, which calls for, among others, their equitable inclusion in all decision-making processes, the equitable distribution of political and economic power and doing this in an enabling environment (access to all family planning options, health care, equal rights, equitable distribution of care obligations, etc).
Do you have a personal habit or trait that has been critical for your success?
That depends on your definition of success . Maybe patience, persistence and the ability/desire to think through issues from many different angles.
What is the best piece of career advice you have ever received?
No one will remember what you did, but everyone will remember how you made them feel. The outcome is almost always less important than how we treated others on our path to achieving it.
We know that many of our audience would like to hear some advice on how to peruse a career with an international organization such as FAO, do you have any good tips to share?
Be in it for the long haul, the opportunities are scarce and the competition fierce. So keep trying. In the meanwhile, learn what you are passionate about and focus on that, most of all, gain as varied experience as you can, change country, change sector, etc. For most vacancies, varied experience is a big plus. And for better or worse, learn at least two UN languages well.