Every week, Harm Edens of BNR radio interviews internal and external experts on how a bank is aiming to build a better world. In this week’s podcast, he speaks to Joyce Jurgens, International Manager of Rabobank Global Farmers.
Listen to the podcast now (in Dutch) or read on for our synopsis in English.
What can social media teach us about ‘growing a better world together’? Joyce Jurgens, International Manager of Rabobank Global Farmers, believes that sharing knowledge online in a safe and content-rich environment can help farmers improve their business - and help Rabobank achieve its purpose.
“I first met customers in the agricultural sector when I worked in insurance. Their passion was inspirational. Ask a farmer to tell you about their farm, and you can sit back for the next two hours, listening. The way their eyes twinkle when they talk about their work, their family, their plans! That’s why I was so happy to join Rabobank. Talking business with rural customers, trying to make a difference with what we have to offer, where else would I be able to do that?
Strength in numbers
“A problem many farmers have, though, is to do with their independence. They typically run their farms alone or with family members – some may have a few employees. They have a good local network, but neighbors are also often competitors. How do you access broader views, rally broader support? After all, as the saying goes, strength lies in numbers.
“At Rabobank, we’re always looking at ways to support our agricultural customers with global experience and expertise. We regularly speak to them, and mail them reports and insights. We also organize an annual Master Class for some of them [see photo]. Participants are always very positive about the class, it’s a fantastic learning experience. But they told us they wanted a way to stay in touch on a more regular basis.
“We thought, why don’t we connect our agricultural customers around the world digitally? There’s a wealth of knowledge and support they can get from each other. After all, a farmer halfway round the world could be facing the same challenge you are – and may have found a solution you would never have dreamed of.
“We’re developing the Global Farmers platform with our customers”- Joyce Jurgens, Rabobank Global Farmers
Over 5,000 members in six countries
“So in 2016 we set up an online community we called Global Farmers. It now has over 5,000 members six countries. The support team at Rabobank has 30 people, including a coordinator in each of the countries to show farmers how to participate and what the benefits are. And, importantly, take their feedback on board. We’re developing this platform with our customers, after all.
“Members can post questions, stories, a video, or just share something that happened to them. For example, a Brazilian farmer may learn how to use water more efficiently from a colleague in Australia. Or read about others’ experiences with a new tool before deciding whether to buy it themselves. Or find others with experience in insect breeding, repurposing manure or ways to generate energy.
“We found succession planning was a subject that often came up. Sons and daughters are not always convinced they want to follow in their parents’ footsteps. Our members started arranging visits to each other’s farms. The platform now even has a separate ‘Farm Visit’ section.
“We’ve packed the platform with truly relevant information”- Joyce Jurgens, Rabobank Global Farmers
“Global Farmers is for members only to ensure participants feel safe about what they share. But what really adds value is Rabobank’s involvement. We’ve packed the platform with information that’s really relevant, like weather forecasts, commodity price trends, surveys, newspaper articles, as well as articles and insights from experts inside and outside Rabobank.
“Team members contribute to discussions with their own expertise and bring in Rabobank colleagues where needed. We can advise on matters that the farmers themselves may be less at home in, like finance and regulations. Another thing is the series of articles we’re running called Farmers in Focus, in which we interview community members. The stories just ooze enthusiasm!
“For Rabobank, hosting this community has added value, too. It helps us get to know our customers better and builds loyalty. But it’s also proof in point of our ambition to grow a better world together. We have an opening-up strategy in 2018, to help to grow the community and make some information available beyond our members. We already work with Wageningen University in the Netherlands and Nuffield in the UK, and other universities are being invited to join us. We can also help students get scholarships and internships. The more people join the discussions, the more valuable the platform will become.
“In the next five years, we aim to expand to other countries and increase membership to 50,000. If we keep the discussion going about the world’s food challenges, we can come up with solutions together. Strength really is in numbers!”