Growing Ideas: Banking the unbankable

Cool Cow Collective builds an app for Kenyan dairy farmers

A group of Rabobank employees came up with an award-winning idea to help Kenyan dairy farmers keep track of their finances and generate metrics which banks need to provide loans. The ultimate goal is to reduce milk wastage in rural Kenya.

Kenyan dairy farmers with herds of between 10 to 30 cows have a problem: up to 36% of the milk they produce does not get to consumers because it’s not fresh enough. At the same time, most of these farmers are so busy dealing with day-to-day business that they may let their book-keeping slide. This means when it comes to discussing loans with their local banks for cooling equipment, they are either offered very high interest rates or refused loans altogether.

Code name Cool Cows

A team of young innovators from Rabobank, nicknamed the Cool Cow Collective, heard about this challenge and hopes to ultimately help these and other farmers get loans on more favorable terms. If successful, the initiative could also reduce milk wastage and generate more dairy produce for the Kenyan marketplace, where there is much more demand than supply.

The team realized that one of the main challenges which this group of farmers faces is book-keeping. As a result, the farmers visit their banks for loans without any of the financial data that banks need in order to be able to offer loans on favorable terms. Without loans, they are usually unable to invest in stronger stock, better animal feed, transportation, cooling facilities and veterinary medicine, all of which would boost production significantly.

“We spoke to many NGOs during the development of the project”

- Mark Koppejan, Cool Cow Collective

The Cool Cow Collective put on their thinking caps and came up with a business case proposing a potential solution to this situation: a smartphone app to allow farmers to input their financial information. The idea is that this will improve farmers’ financial know-how, provide banks with insights into their financial history and therefore future potential, and in time improve the quality of Kenyan milk.

Day jobs

Building the app is a side project within Rabobank, and all the innovation project members also have ‘day jobs’ to fulfill at the bank. Team member Mark Koppejan [pictured above with other members of the Collective]: “I’m ‘normally’ an account manager for corporate clients in The Hague. That may not sound the same as dealing with Kenyan dairy farmers, but there are some interesting links. I have a number of NGO clients, for example, and we spoke to a lot of NGOs during the development of the project.

“Also, the app aims to guide farmers as to what information they need to supply in order to get a loan; that’s material which I deal with on a daily basis. But it’s true that my clients are not normally Kenyan dairy farmers.”

“Nine months ago none of us knew anything about Kenya or about dairy,” adds Mirte Smits, who was project leader up until the award victory. “So we learned a lot. I am normally an associate in the Acquisition Finance team. That means I provide loans to private equity parties in the process of acquiring other companies.”

Wouter van Eijkelenburg is also part of the Collective. “What I normally do is work on the Rabobank’s position within public private co-operations such as trade missions,” he says. “My experience helps with international dialogues, but I also have a lot of contacts within Rabobank with food & agriculture researchers and development bankers, which have proved very valuable here.”

“The app will generate a lot of data, widening its appeal”

- Wouter van Eijkelenburg, Cool Cow Collective

Personal visions

The founding team members all have their personal vision regarding the next steps for the project, from helping farmers professionalize, to reducing waste, to gathering data. Van Eijkelenburg on the latter: “The app will generate a lot of data, which can be used to widen its appeal. For example, if it’s a success in the dairy sector, we could use it to help farmers in other sectors which have longer cash cycles such as grain and poultry, or in countries other than Kenya.”

Because the Collective’s idea ticks so many boxes in what it aims to achieve, it won the ‘Best New Partnership 2017/2018’ award for a sustainable business case from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency. The team has expanded and now numbers six. The next phase is to professionalize: Koppejan and his colleagues are defining each person’s role more clearly. The following horizon? Laying the groundwork for actually getting the app onto the Kenyan marketplace.