“The fastest road to innovation is through cooperation”

Food100: The power to connect

Food100 is a network for food transformers – ambitious professionals working to improve our food system on a daily basis. For a bank focused on the future of food and agriculture, supporting this sort of network makes a lot of sense.

Food 100 is perhaps best known for the list of 100 food ‘game changers’ and ‘change makers’ it publishes each year. But the Dutch network plays an even more important role by connecting diverse influencers – newcomers and seasoned professionals alike – all along the food value chain. Martijn Rol, Food Sector Specialist at Rabobank, explains why the bank got involved with Food100 and why he thinks the initiative is so important for the future of food.

Specialization

“Internationally, we’re one of the biggest financers in the agri-food sector,” says Rol. “From farm to fork, we facilitate the entire chain: farm suppliers, farmers themselves, and also trade, the processing industry and ultimately retailers and the catering industry.”

Current financial sector dynamics are forcing banks to make choices and specialize. “Specialization in agri-food is an obvious choice for us, as we have a tradition of working with farmers,” Rol explains. “In the Netherlands, we’re probably best known as an ‘all-finance’ bank, but internationally we lead in facilitating and supporting the agri-food sector and we’re an A-list brand in the field of agri-food financing.”

Growth sector

“Agri-food is a huge growth sector,” he continues. “The world’s population is expanding and consequently we need to find sustainable ways of feeding all these extra people. On the one hand, it’s a huge responsibility; on the other, it offers enormous commercial opportunities. Based on our socially cooperative ethos, we want to help the chain develop further. How are we going to feed the global population with less waste and less soil and environmental pollution, in an increasingly animal-friendly way?

“To achieve this, we have to commit ourselves, together with our customers. Quite honestly, anyone can provide money, but we want to be there for the companies that want to make sustainable changes to the chain, and so contribute to the solution of the global food problem.”

“Anyone can provide money; we support companies making sustainable changes”

- Martijn Rol, Rabobank

Network

“Our added value for our customers is based on three pillars: financing, knowledge and networks,” says Rol. “We offer these networks on a global basis, as well as at the local level. For example, our Global Farmers network is a worldwide digital platform that enables farmers around the world to contact each other and share knowledge. In addition, we regularly organize trade missions and inspirational trips to promote international cooperation.”

Supporting the relevant local networks – such as Food100 for the Dutch market – also falls within this role. “Because we receive so many requests, we look very critically at which networks to support, and we only go for serious partners who can help us to add value.”

The importance of Food100

He continues: “The relevance of a network like Food100 is, above all, its connective power: linking young entrepreneurs to the established order, and vice versa. Because it’s sometimes quite difficult to keep innovating, even for CEOs, directors and majority shareholders who have been working for years. Keeping track of what’s happening at the bottom of the market, with all those start-ups and scale-ups, can be hard.”

“The fastest road to innovation is through cooperation, and therein lies the significance of Food100,” he adds. “Look at successful examples of knowledge sharing and collaboration like Brainport Eindhoven or Brightlands Campus Venlo. By sharing knowledge, ideas and facilities, much more becomes possible. Food100 can also unleash a certain acceleration power. We’re not there yet – first we have to build trust, but there’s certainly potential for far-reaching cooperation in the chain.”

“The fastest road to innovation is through cooperation”

- Martijn Rol, Rabobank

More than a list

In this respect, Food100 is much more than a list. “Of course, it’s a token of appreciation, a compliment for the people who are in it,” says Rol. “But I see it more as providing a network for people who want to take an extra step together. It’s not about putting people on a ‘sustainable list’ so that they can say, ‘Wow, look at me, I’m on this list!’ There are enough lists of that kind. We’re more concerned with the next step – ways to connect people, for example via programmes like ‘CEO for a Day’. Or by facilitating follow-up meetings. Activities like these are the key in pursuing our goals of networking and collaboration.”