The power of our roots

Offering the underprivileged the prospect of a brighter future through self-reliance – that’s a form of development cooperation that’s in keeping with our times. Working together with its project partners on the basis of equality Rabobank Foundation creates opportunities, and we’ve been doing it for 40 years.


Pierre van Hedel is speaks enthusiastically of ‘his’ Rabobank Foundation. ‘What we do is help people in the Netherlands and far beyond its borders to build economically independent lives’, he explains. ‘Here at home our aid is aimed at boosting the economic and social self-reliance of the underprivileged. Through various social organisations we offer them opportunities to develop.’ Examples of those the Foundation helps are people with physical or learning disabilities, and children growing up in poverty. Thanks to the Foundation they gain access to work, education and social activities such as sport and culture.

In developing countries Rabobank Foundation is geared to helping groups of small-scale farmers seeking to boost their incomes and attain a better standard of living. “We don’t do that through individual donations or loans; rather we encourage working together in cooperatives,” says Van Hedel. “Why? Farming operations in developing countries are usually extremely small. A farmer may have three cows, or just a single hectare on which to grow cocoa, coffee or rice. These small farmers live from day to day, barely managing to keep their heads above water. They don’t have the means financially and often lack the knowhow to grow their operations or improve the quality of their product.” By uniting in a producer cooperative, the farmers can significantly improve their chances, Van Hedel says. The farmers can develop their skills and club together to buy supplies and to process and sell their products. And their affiliation to a savings and loan cooperative offers them the crucial financial leeway they need to be able to invest and grow.

“The philosophy of self-reliance lies in our ROOTS and is reflected in Rabobank Foundation’s work”

Our roots

“Rabobank is rooted in this same cooperative idea. We, too, started out as a banking cooperative, set up by farmers who were tired of being forced to seek recourse to loan sharks because ordinary banks considered them a credit risk. Even then, at the end of the 19th century, the founders were convinced that not charity but self-reliance was the way to achieve lasting change for the better. That ideal is reflected in the work of the Foundation.”

To promote self-reliance Rabobank Foundation prefers to extend loans abroad rather than donations. What’s more, the Foundation expects its project partners to do everything in their power to get their affairs in order. “We’re a Foundation, so we don’t need to make a profit. But we do expect our partners to turn a profit, because that’s a precondition to be able to survive. If the cooperatives are successful, then we can help many more people in the long term.”

Banking for Food

The aid extended to cooperatives in developing countries won’t only help the farmers themselves but in the longer run will also benefit the entire world population, Van Hedel believes. “Rabobank is the leading food & agri bank, with a huge involvement throughout the international food chain. That means we’re in a position to make a significant contribution to helping solve the problem of world food security. The work of the Rabobank Foundation in developing countries certainly plays a role in this regard. In order to be able to feed the world’s population in the future, both large and small-scale food production needs to become more efficient. Rabobank Foundation’s work represents a solid contribution to this end, in that it helps farmers to increase yields and boost the quality of their production as well as bolstering various food chains.”

Our ROOTS cookbook

Cover RootsThe link with Rabobank’s Food & Agri strategy is obvious. “Taking food as our central theme, we sought to link up with Rabobank’s new Banking for Food vision. We compiled an unusual cookery book – called ROOTS – that many people put their heart and soul into making.” The fifteen winners of the Foundation’s recipe competition for Rabobank staff were rewarded with a trip to Peru, Tanzania or Vietnam. Together with a photographer and a leading Dutch chef they visited various Rabobank Foundation projects and immersed themselves in the day-to-day lives and kitchens of the local farmers. Chefs Ron Blaauw, Margot Janse and Dick Middelweerd travelled with the winners to Peru, Tanzania and Vietnam respectively and garnered inspiration for some delicious recipes. “The book has become a runaway success and shows how Rabobank Foundation is working to improve the position of small farmers in the chain, so that they can make a reasonable living. We’re very proud of this wonderful result,” says Van Hedel. This year, too, ROOTS can be ordered by Rabobank affiliates as a business gift.