Rabo Foundation in 2020: Creating opportunities in a time of obstacles

3 June 2021 10:00

Risks and limitations – in the spring of 2020 they suddenly came to determine every aspect of our lives. The pandemic has affected our partner organizations, the millions of people in vulnerable positions that they help, and our own employees. But along with the many new limitations we faced over the past year, we also had opportunities to work on a world that is greener, more fair, and more socially responsible.

Smallholders in field

The new reality

2020 was a year with radical changes for every person on the planet. All of us found our resilience tested. We felt how limitations can define your life, and what it’s like to be vulnerable. We also noticed how important it is to rely on sufficient income and the strength of your social network. In this way the pandemic has highlighted the vital necessity of the social changes that we work to achieve at Rabo Foundation.

It has also exacerbated the existing social and economic inequalities. So in the spring of 2020, we immediately focused our attention on the well-being of our project partners. How hard were they hit by the crisis? And how can we help them most? Many project partners faced lower incomes, practical limitations and the need to make emergency investments. In the Netherlands, many social enterprises had to close their doors temporarily, which presented them with a variety of social and commercial risks. Fortunately, most farmers’ cooperatives were able to continue working as usual – their many smallholder farmers are crucial for the food chain in their countries and regions.

“All of us found our resilience tested.”

The best worst year ever

2020 was also a year of creativity. We were inspired to see how entrepreneurs discovered opportunities to keep their businesses running despite the many limitations. The Dutch social enterprises i-did, Refugee Company, Fraenck and Vanhulley decided to produce face masks, for example. Other organizations made rapid transitions to online methods for reaching their target groups or selling their products, and consequently saving their employees’ jobs.

We were also encouraged by how some project partners even managed to increase their impact under these conditions. Our partner Refugee Team, which works to facilitate social inclusion, made the past year its ‘best worst year ever’. And Helvetas joined forces with many of its partners to make the cocoa sector more sustainable. Their resilience, optimism and persistence are precisely what the world needs to continue making positive changes during a crisis.

Change of plans

We began the year 2020 with some strong ambitions. We wanted to provide even more financing to achieve even more impact. But as borders closed and other prevention measures were implemented, we were forced to change our plans. Our new priority became: to offer our project partners support and breathing space, for example by deferring payments on their loans. We also created an emergency fund that donated more than 711,000 euros to 70 organizations to make the investments necessary to keep themselves or others afloat.

As we rapidly shifted gears to keep up with events, we also noticed the strength of our existing approach. Because the past year has shown us just how valuable our presence is in the countries where we’re active. When airports and borders closed, our 15 local staff members stayed at their post, giving us a clear view of the situation in their countries and regions. So we knew which partners were hit the hardest and what we could do to help.

Opportunity to do things differently

2020 also highlighted the major challenges the world faces today. Especially the severe inequality in affluence, social networks and health – and the unsustainable exhaustion of our planet’s resources. The pandemic exposed shortcomings in how we’ve organized our societies in our never-ending craving for profit and growth.

That insight presents a strong impetus for positive change. We see the crisis as an opportunity for us to change course. Changes that long seemed impossible, or at least extremely time-consuming, could now be implemented almost overnight. So now is the time to seize the opportunity, and together with our change-makers we’ll utilize that momentum to build a greener, more fair and more socially responsible economy.

“The pandemic exposed shortcomings in how we’ve organized our societies.”

Looking ahead an making better choices

Finally, 2020 was also a year in which we refined our strategy with an emphasis on impact management. We implemented impact and credit risk models, which allow us to make more effective choices in how we invest our resources. That in turn makes us more confident that our loans will be repaid, which guarantees that our fund will remain viable. And that we retain the resilience to make a positive impact around the world – even in a time of crisis.

And if we needed any other confirmation of the effectiveness of our new course: we also rounded out the pandemic year 2020 with a healthy financial balance.

Learn more about how we made an impact in 2020, in the Netherlands and far beyond. See our results and read the stories.