Natasa Loizou: I believe in the talent and the capacity of Cypriots here and abroad
Marianna Nicolaou 07:11 - 03 February 2024
Natasa Loizou has done it all – or so it seems. She was the first migrant to work for the arms and explosives control agency of the Argentine government; she has destroyed more than 21 tons of ammunition; she has fought to prevent gender violence; she is one of the architects of Argentina’s modern R&D business ecosystem and she now offers advice on strategic planning to private and semi-private companies in Cyprus and Argentina.
“I won a battle in Geneva, wearing this jacket,” says Natasa Loizou as she poses for the GOLD photographer, and I make a mental note to ask her about that later. Despite her young age, Loizou has lived an extraordinary life. Serendipity, disguised as love, led her to Argentina, her husband’s homeland in 2006, but it was her curiosity, talent and passion for learning that enabled her to thrive there. Loizou, who is currently working on her PhD on The Defence Science and Technology of the Republic of Argentina, explains that when she arrived in the country, the fact that she had a Master’s degree in International Security gave her an edge, as it was quite new in Europe and had not been introduced in Latin America yet. “As a professor for the Master’s in International Relations course at the Universidad del Salvador, I was talking about new theoretical and conceptual frameworks, while also trying to navigate my way through Latin America’s defence system structure,” she recalls. “I started researching the Argentine state, the last dictatorship and the return to democracy in order to comprehend the security framework. I had a very European-centred Western perspective, so I had to reconfigure my whole mindset.”
Loizou’s journey through Argentina’s public sector began in 2008, when she was employed by the Ministry of Defence as an external consultant, and a veritable avalanche of positions followed: Programme Coordinator of Defence R&D Institutions at the Ministry of Defence, Programme Coordinator at the National Council of Science and Technology, Director of Management Evaluation of the Airport Police, Mayoral Consultant and, finally, Executive Director of the National Agency of Controlled Materials (ANMaC). This is the highest national authority, dealing with the control of arms, explosives, ammunition and other sensitive materials, disarmament and destruction policies, and the management of the biggest deposit of arms on the South American continent.
“Argentina is a leading country in Latin America in the production, commerce, export and import of explosives, so this was a great challenge. I was only the second woman – and the first woman migrant – in charge,” she says with evident pride. As a young woman who spoke her mind in a male-dominated arena, she naturally faced some hostility along the way. “I was not a white man over 50 and I never hid my political identity,” she says with a shrug. “I was in charge of the access to and the use and distribution of arms by private security companies and the authorisation of personal guns for the police. There was hostility due to my gender and age; it was really quite funny because I thought I would be attacked for being a migrant, but no! Throughout my career I’ve had to negotiate, communicate and cultivate common ground; I gained authority and respect by being coherent, with well-constructed arguments and remaining unwavering in my beliefs when governments changed. And I will always be grateful to those who opened doors for me and the women who shared their experiences with me.”
In 2013, Loizou’s task at the National Council of Science and Technology was to create the first five Regional Centres of Research and Technological Transfer (incubators) in Argentina. “We had to find regions with the capacity to transfer knowledge to the manufacturing sector, equipped with strategic resources such as water, wind and lithium. Then we worked on connecting the knowledge generated by academics and researchers with that sector. I worked alongside the Centres’ directors – academics and scientists – who were forced to realise that they were not teaching abstract science anymore! They were aiding the transfer of knowledge to the production of specific services and consumer goods. We repatriated Argentines from Europe, who assisted us in this task, and we made scientists and businessmen sit at the same table and find a common language in order to generate this process.”
Loizou is currently in Cyprus to teach the first course in Mission-oriented Strategic Planning for Innovation and Business Development, with a specific orientation on innovation development, approved by the Human Resource Development Authority (HRDA), to companies here. “We are extending the invitation to companies in the IT, maritime, transport and pharmaceutical sectors, as they are focused on innovation and are in a process of growing and developing, with European multinational and Cypriot players headquartered on the island. Coming back after all these years, it's very interesting to me to see how the Government is promoting innovation, research and development policies,” she says.
However, when asked to assess the country’s business ecosystem, she becomes sceptical. “I’ve been looking at statistics from the Digital Economy and Society Index,” she explains. “We have this idea that Cyprus developing its IT sector and striving to be an IT hub but there is a conflict with reality: for example, only 5%-6% of the enterprises in Cyprus analyse Big Data but if they fail to do this, they won't really comprehend market demand and the gaps they need to fill. Also, Cyprus lacks certain cross-border government and digital services which would enable interaction with other countries,” she says and adds. “My objective is to relaunch the course for the second semester, opening it to other business sectors and integrating it into the island’s business reality. I believe in the talent and the capacity of Cypriots here and abroad – people such as myself who would be interested in reconnecting with our country and have the opportunity to share all their experience and knowledge with the private, public and academic sectors. And if Cyprus really wants to be an innovation hub, it has to start exchanging and interacting more dynamically with the rest of the world.”
After talking for over an hour, I had to ask the question that had lingered in my head since her photoshoot. “I need the jacket story now, Natasa” I say, and she smiles.
"In 2022, as Executive Director of ANMaC, I participated in the ninth Conference of State Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty Conference in Geneva on the promotion of a Best Practices Guide for the risk mitigation of
gender-based violence prevention prior to
export authorisations issued by States. We studied the treaty documents, and found out that article 7.4 on the prevention of violence towards women, children and youngster was not in effective implementation. So we decided to present the proposal on gender violence prevention; time was not on our side, but we worked meticulously and in 2023, I presented formally our proposal – wearing this jacket – and the Assembly approved the incorporation of risk mitigation due to gender-based violence in exports of controlled materials in the agenda of the next Arms Trade Treaty Conference. So yes, this is one of my favourites!” she says looking down at it. “I have other special ones too, for example, I have a jacket that I used for my first destruction of firearms in Argentina, where I destroyed 17,000 weapons.”
“What colour is that one?” I ask. “Green,” she answers laughing.
I had half-expected her to say red, picturing her fighting more battles like a Cyprus-based Scarlet Witch.
“No,” she replies, “I haven’t found the right red jacket yet!”
This interview first appeared in the February edition of GOLD magazine. Click here to view it.
(Photo by TASPHO)