Financial inclusion: catalyst for rural development and food security

An introduction to Rabo Partnerships

The collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked the end of the Cold War and the beginning of a new era. This momentous year also heralded a period in which Rabobank broadened its focus to harvest new business opportunities and raise prosperity in Eastern Europe. Drawing on over a century of experience in the field of banking, agriculture and cooperatives, Rabobank was well placed to serve the needs of this changing world.

In 1989 we created Rabo International Advisory Services (RIAS) as a dedicated consultancy company to leverage the knowledge and experience that Rabobank staff could apply in these new markets. RIAS was soon invited to start investing in the financial institutions that were benefiting from the bank’s knowledge sharing. However, it was not until 2005 that we made the first investment in a local financial institution. Not in Eastern Europe, but in Tanzania, with the acquisition of a strategic shareholding in the National Microfinance Bank. That was when Rabo Development was established as a dedicated holding company to manage investments in financial institutions in emerging markets. By linking the investment to advisory and management services, we have helped banking partners to sustainably grow their business, contribute to financial inclusion – especially in rural areas – and become leading market players.

“Our investments create non-financial impact and financial return.”


In 2018, Rabobank merged the advisory and investment activities of RIAS and Rabo Development into Rabo Partnerships. By joining forces we are even better equipped to explore new frontiers and contribute Rabobank’s knowledge, networks and finance for financial inclusion, rural development and food security in emerging markets.

Today, there is an urgent need to rethink global food systems to feed an extra 2 billion people by 2050. While many emerging markets still suffer from stagnating agricultural yields and rural poverty, they are likely to become key in solving global food issues. Today we offer advisory and investment activities in Latin America, Africa and South-East Asia, emerging markets which seamlessly align with Rabobank’s mission of Growing a Better World Together.

“We establish our partnerships for the long haul.”

Enabling access to financial services in rural areas

In many developing and emerging markets, large parts of the population are dependent on a fragmented agricultural economy consisting of many smallholder farmers. Local banks tend to see agriculture as a high-risk sector (because of its price volatility and weather impact, among other things) and are wary of providing the finance for the sector to professionalize and grow. By introducing broad-based retail banking concepts in rural markets, we demonstrate how risks and costs can be reduced to acceptable levels, leading to viable business cases. We assist local financial institutions in their efforts to grow and prosper while working on financial inclusion. This, in turn, helps to enhance rural development and food security.

Partnering is key

We believe that strong institutions are key to development. Thus, we always seek to work with financial institutions or farmer producer organizations that demonstrate a willingness to change. We know it takes a shared vision to create a strong foundation for change. Over the past 30 years Rabobank staff have worked as consultants on a wide range of advisory assignments: from IT and credit to risk management, product development and HR, depending upon perceived needs of the project at hand. Our people also advise on strategy planning, business planning and actual implementation support. Knowledge sharing and working with peers are vital instruments for driving institutional change. This is what a partnership can produce. Our investments are always preceded by advisory services. While we see an investment as the highest degree of partnership, we restrict our position to a minority stake. After all, if development is the goal, the institutions should be majority owned by local people.

“By joining forces we are even better equipped to contribute Rabobank’s knowledge, networks and finance.”

Financial return and social impact go hand in hand

Only by working on a sound financial return can our partners create a sustainable future. This does not mean that the investees should aim for maximum profits. Rather they should seek a clear balance between maximum impact in their markets and a sound financial return. Our investments are designed to create non-financial impact as well as a financial return. Which is why we establish our partnerships for the long haul. 

My look to the future

“Developing innovative solutions for F&A value chains is the future of banking in emerging markets. We further financial inclusion and food security by joining forces with our F&A clients, multilateral institutions, development banks, governments, Fintech providers and other network partners. Growing a better world together, is part of Rabo Partnership’s DNA and has proven its success for over 30 years. Holistic thinking combined with dedicated action.“

Marianne Schoemaker Managing Director Rabo Partnerships