Rabo Foundation’s goals and impact are truly unique’

5 September 2022 17:00

Making a positive contribution to society is the common theme throughout her career. And as the new Director of Rabo Foundation, she can fulfil all of her ambitions in that area. Meet Lidwien Schils: ‘I’d like to raise even more awareness of what Rabo Foundation stands for.’

Lidwien hurries from appointment to appointment throughout the Rabobank headquarters in Utrecht. Introductions, meetings and familiarization sessions crowd her already-overflowing agenda. Fortunately, she still has time to sit down for an interview. “But”, she immediately interjects. “I’d rather have this conversation in a few months’ time. By then, I’ll know the organization a lot better, and I’ll have had a chance to talk to our staff and our partner organizations.” But she’s happy to take a moment to introduce herself.

What should we know about Lidwien Schils?

“That I truly want to make a contribution to our society. At the start of my career, one of my employers was the development bank FMO, arranging loans that added value to enterprises in developing countries and markets. I started working at Rabobank in 2007 in the Trade & Commodity Finance team, specializing in oil and gas, but I soon transferred to the Project Finance department, which was already a pioneer in financing sustainable energy projects. That was a really good fit for me. I also try to make as much positive impact as possible in my ancillary activities. I’m a member of the board at the Rural Energy Services Foundation, and I’m in the credit committee at &Green. Before I began work as Director of Rabo Foundation on 1 August, I served as the General Manager at Rabobank Antwerp. Rabo Foundation came along at precisely the right moment: I wanted to put my knowledge and experience to even better use to help build a sustainable future for others.”

“We can offer people from Groningen to Ghana equal opportunities to play a role in society”

What are your first impressions of Rabo Foundation?

“They’re very positive. I see a highly motivated group of people in the Netherlands and abroad, who enjoy working in a professional organization. The way that Rabo Foundation achieves and measures its impact is impressive. We deal with smaller amounts than in my previous positions, but the positive effects are even bigger. Rabo Foundation creates impact by lending a hand to social entrepreneurs in the Netherlands and farmers’ organizations that work with smallholder farmers abroad, like cooperatives. Via them, we can offer people from Groningen to Ghana equal opportunities to play a role in society on their own terms. Everything Rabo Foundation brings together to achieve that goal is unique: our network, knowledge and financing, and even financial products offered by Rabobank itself.”

What will you bring with you to your new position?

“To start with, my network and experience. In my previous jobs, I dealt with stakeholder management a lot, and in Antwerp I learned what it means to lead within an independent organization, which is what Rabo Foundation is. I also do everything in my power to ensure that people within an organization feel trusted, and that the treat each other with respect. I experienced the opposite of that at the start of my career, and I’ve seen the negative consequences it can have. That’s when I decided: if I ever become a manager, I’m going to do things completely differently.

How do you see your role in the organization?

“For the team, I want to provide an infrastructure that allows every employee to do their work to the best of their ability. For example, via a healthy atmosphere, with transparent and effective communication, where people can develop and learn from one another. For the outside world, I see myself and my colleagues acting as ambassadors for Rabo Foundation, so that I can help create new partnerships and opportunities for the organization.

For example: I’d like to raise even more awareness among our colleagues throughout the Rabobank organization. A lot of people at the bank think that Rabo Foundation’s amazing, but don’t really know what we do and the enormous results we achieve. That’s how I see my role: to raise even more awareness of what Rabo Foundation stands for, and how it adds value for the bank as an important stakeholder.”

What are you looking forward to?

“I’m really looking forward to getting to know the international teams on all the continents. I’m also looking forward to visiting our partners in the Netherlands and around the world, to hear what they’re dealing with and how they see Rabo Foundation. Plus, I’m interested in talking to stakeholders, like cooperative directors at Rabobank and our collaborative partners. In the weeks ahead, I’m going to dive into our strategy and discuss it with our staff. Is there a way for us to set an even better course to further enhance our impact? That would be amazing.”