Podcast: Connect to progress

Every week, Harm Edens of BNR radio interviews internal and external experts on why a bank is aiming to build a better world. In this week’s podcast, he speaks to Suzanne van Tilburg, Global Head of Corporate Relations at Rabobank.

Listen to the podcast here or read on for our synopsis in English.

After serving the Dutch government for over 20 years as an agricultural attaché, Suzanne van Tilburg was invited to join Rabobank. Her new role is to help examine how the Netherlands can play a role in tackling the future of sustainable food – not by exporting cheese or milk, but through sharing knowledge and experience. It is a topic she is passionate about: “These issues resonate much more than they used to. There’s a tremendous commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which help to set the course.”

Putting the network to work

“I had never realized how active the Rabobank is abroad. We have 500 employees in Brazil, 66 branches in Australia and a presence in India, the US and China. We are currently defining the different needs in countries within our network and seeing how we can tie that in with our role in the Netherlands.

“Of course that doesn’t mean going out and trying to introduce our ways abroad like some kind of missionaries. Every country and culture is different and the challenge is to see what you can offer in terms of solutions. For instance, it is extremely difficult to find new farmers in Japan because of its aging population. The trend of people moving from the countryside to conurbations is also very strong there. So we organized a Future of Farming conference during the Dutch king and queen’s recent state visit to Japan to share expertise.

“Last year we established a great strategic partnership with StartupDelta in the Netherlands to explore how to make use of our network to connect start-ups with possible investors. It shows how much value you can add if you’re a big player in a place like the US.

Ownership is everything

“I believe in changing the world for the better. That’s what drives me. But I also have the professional experience to know that there is no point in just pumping projects full of EU or NGO aid. They must first have a solid commercial basis. If companies don’t feel ownership, projects will remain short-lived because everything grinds to a halt when the subsidies stop. It’s a matter of finding the right private partners and focusing on long-term growth.

“There is no point in just pumping projects full of money”

- Suzanne van Tilburg, Global Head of Corporate Relations at Rabobank

“Another way our network can really make a difference is in a country like India. Through Rabobank Foundation, farmers can work together in cooperatives and buy the right seeds to improve harvests. The next step is to see who the buyers are – and because they are also our customers, we can bring the parties together. We can also go through the whole value chain to find the weak links and identify any improvements or technology that could help. So it’s a win-win situation for all.

“A lot of the harvest in India is still lost. Likewise in Russia, where about 80% of the potato harvest is lost through lack of proper management. We can find out where things are going wrong thanks to our local networks, made up of clients at all the different stages in the chain.

“About 80% of the potato harvest in Russia is lost”

- Suzanne van Tilburg, Global Head of Corporate Relations at Rabobank

Share the know-how

“I’ve spoken to many business owners through my work with the government, and when you talk about the current shift from products to knowledge and technology, they bring up the same argument every time: that sharing knowledge will help the competitor. My answer is always: it’s about getting your foot in the door. What could it mean for you and your business if other countries become more prosperous and a growing middle class can buy more expensive products? You’ll already be in the picture. Getting everyone in the picture – that’s what we’re trying to do.

“I’ve learned to look at what others need and find opportunities there. There is a lot of support from institutions like the Netherlands Enterprise Agency and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and it’s something the entire government is focused on. But it is still hard for businesses to find their way through the dozens of tools available. I’ve learned that you are never finished making connections.

Focus on sustainability

“At the same time, there is so much more recognition of the need to be sustainable these days. Many companies can no longer afford to ignore this topic – the general public won’t accept it. I think this is a hopeful, positive trend. What I find difficult are geopolitical developments that undermine this trend – just look at what is happening in the US. But if you keep looking at the opportunities and try to work together, things become much easier.”

Rabobank’s ‘Banking for Food’ podcasts are available in Dutch via various podcast apps for iPhone and Android, SoundCloud and Stitcher (26 minutes).