‘Innovation is the engine of a sustainable economy’

Interview with Wiebe Draijer, Chairman of the Executive Board

‘Innovation is the engine that can drive strong and sustainable growth of the Dutch economy.’ That is the firm belief of Wiebe Draijer, Chairman of the Executive Board of Rabobank.

In his previous job, as President of the Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands (SER), Draijer helped to give birth to the Energy Agreement, the plan for fundamentally making the energy supply of the Netherlands more sustainable. ‘We can no longer afford to continue wasting, depleting and polluting. We therefore have to move to an economy that is based on sustainability and the efficient use of raw materials and energy. I firmly believe that the transition to a circular economy offers a wealth of opportunities for business. I see innovation as the engine of this sustainable development.’

Dialogue with customers

It is self-evident for Draijer that Rabobank, as a socially involved organisation, should engage in dialogue with customers on improving sustainability. ‘I see that as an obligation to society and to ourselves. With due regard for customers’ requirements and ambitions, we must facilitate the shift to circular business models. We must do so on the basis of a customer-focused approach, rather than box-ticking on a checklist to verify whether progress is satisfactory.’

The Netherlands back in top 10

The theme of innovation has already been on the agenda of politics and business in the Netherlands for some time. And rightly so, says Draijer, who was closely involved in the Innovation Platform, the initiative launched by former Prime Minister Balkenende. ‘This initiative was aimed at returning the Netherlands to the forefront of innovative countries. It has been a success, because when we started we were ranked 15th and we are now back in the top 10. While the Platform itself no longer exists, the current government has continued to be very active in the field of innovation. This policy focuses on designated top sectors. These are the sectors in which the Dutch business community currently already has a leading position, such as Food & Agri and the chemical industry. This is a good approach, but I would advocate extending the innovative perspective to other areas as well, such as education for instance.’

‘I firmly believe that the transition to a circular economy offers a wealth of opportunities for business. I see innovation as the engine of this sustainable development.’

Rabobank’s track record

Rabobank has a solid track record as an innovative bank, says Draijer. ‘We were one of the first banks in the world that made it possible for its customers to do their banking via the internet. But changes in the world around us are taking place at lightning speed and we have to continually make sure we are ready for them. I believe that technical developments such as big data analysis, virtual payments, crowd funding and peer-to-peer banking present not only threats but clear opportunities as well.’

Innovative customers

Rabobank sees the importance of innovation not only in its own business operations and customer service, it also encourages its customers to look for opportunities for innovation and improving sustainability. ‘We do this by means of products including the green financing, the Rabobank Stimulus Capital and the guarantee credits available for start-ups and businesses with innovative business plans. We are also involved in a range of initiatives such as SHIFT Invest, the Mainport Innovation Fund, Innovation Quarter, Qredits and last but not least the Herman Wijffels Innovation Award, which we have successfully organised since 2002.’

Entrepreneurship

For Draijer, innovation, sustainability and entrepreneurship are a very potent combination. ‘I see sustainable entrepreneurship as the fulcrum of success for the Netherlands of the future. I am therefore very eager for us to do more with this, in line with our mission as a socially committed bank. I have talked with many successful young entrepreneurs in the past. And whoever I spoke to, they always told me that their entrepreneurship germinated while they were at school. That fact is something on which we, as a socially committed bank that is closely involved in local and regional economies, should home in even more closely. After all, with youth on your side, the future is yours, isn’t it?’