‘It felt as if I was Kees Raiffeisen’
Kees Jasperse, Chairman of the Board at Rabobank Alkmaar, spent three weeks in Laos earlier this year. He visited one of Rabobank Foundation's project partners with a view to strengthening small savings and cooperatives in Laos. 'Here you realize that the joy of life has nothing to do with materialism.'
The Asian country of Laos consists almost entirely of mountains (96%) and while the other 4% of the land area is suitable for agriculture, only 0.3% is actually used for this purpose. ‘When you consider that agriculture is the single most important source of income in the country, you begin to realize they still have a long way to go’, explains Jasperse. Rabobank Foundation is helping: it is supporting the Association of Asian Confederation Credit Union (AACCU) in its efforts to establish local savings and credit cooperatives and to organize the farmers of Laos.
This is all happening out in the country, far from the towns, where there are no banking facilities, where foreign investors are nowhere to be seen and private lenders charge extortionate interest on loans. ‘In such circumstances, savings and credit cooperatives are an excellent way of helping people to take baby steps towards prosperity.’ In Laos, Jasperse found the enthusiastic team from AACCU hard at work getting these cooperatives up and running. ‘The farmers can see the benefits of cooperation, and are keen to get organized. It's good to see that the idea is working, exactly the way it did in Europe just over a hundred years ago. There were times when it felt as if I was Kees Raiffeisen.’
‘Savings and credit cooperatives are an excellent way of helping people to take baby steps towards prosperity.’
At the request of Rabobank Foundation, Jasperse made a number of recommendations that will help further strengthen the cooperatives. ‘In the coming months and years, the emphasis will need to be mainly on the education and training of the local people and on putting the credit process on a more professional footing. There is also a need for extra know-how about growing and marketing crops. Another good thing would be to encourage better collaboration between the various cooperatives and between similar projects in Laos. The project itself is now a success, but it still depends on grants. Before long it will have to stand on its own feet, and that means that strong foundations are necessary, a certain critical mass. They are now busy setting up a federation, a sort of mini Rabobank.’
After three weeks, Jasperse was quietly confident when he returned to the Netherlands. ‘The situation in Laos is really very basic. The people that I met are healthy, happy and friendly. While I was there I saw, once again, that joy is a purely human emotion and has nothing to do with materialism.’ The project funded by Rabobank Foundation will run until the end of 2013, and it is possible that it may be extended on the basis of Kees Jasperse's recommendations. ‘The project certainly has a good chance of success, but it will take time. I feel that the people I met there deserve to be granted that time.’