Netherlands | Social entrepreneurship

‘Forest rangers at sea’ on the lookout

9 November 2020 16:00

Social enterprise Sea Rangers not only protects the North Sea, but also brings aboard young people who have trouble finding work.

Sea Rangers at sea

The Dutch waters of the North Sea are some of the busiest in the world. Where once only fishing vessels and merchantmen braved the sea, today the waters are crowded with windmills, recreational areas, and drilling platforms. Plus, the shipping lanes themselves are busier than ever. Half of the North Sea is currently at or near maximum capacity. For the government, it’s increasingly difficult to keep an eye on all of the comings and goings. “As a result, there is less supervision of things like illegal fishing and pollution”, says Wietse van der Werf.

“Not only do we keep the North Sea clean and help protect nature, we also offer an appealing and challenging job to Navy veterans and unemployed youth.”

Extra eyes on the lookout

That’s why the entrepreneur and nature lover Van der Werf came up with the idea for the Sea Rangers. They’re a bit like forest rangers at sea, who act as extra lookouts for the government. Van der Werf: “We have both an ecological and a social objective. Not only do we keep the North Sea clean and help protect nature, we also offer an appealing and challenging job to Navy veterans and unemployed youth.”

The Navy veterans train the young people during an intensive boot camp, after which they select those most suitable for a job on the rolling waves. “We currently employ 12 Sea Rangers. It’s going very well so far. What makes our re-integration program so unique, is that we can employ young people who often have very complex problems after only five weeks of boot camp. There are virtually no other training courses that successfully help young people from welfare to work in such a short time. Moreover, many projects for the unemployed don’t really appeal to the imagination. Sea Rangers, on the other hand, improves their social status immensely.”

Sailing vessels in the offshore industry

The Sea Rangers don’t use a motorized boat; they sail aboard a sustainable sailing vessel. “It’s absolutely unique in the maritime world”, says Van der Werf. “We’re the only offshore organization in the world to use fully certified sailing vessels.” Sea Rangers aims to operate four more of the vessels on the North Sea within the next five years, and the social enterprise hopes to eventually scale the project up to other countries as well.

Young people standing in line at a Sea Rangers bootcamp
Two young Sea Rangers in a boat on the North Sea

How Rabo Foundation adds value

Rabo Foundation provided Sea Rangers with a loan on favorable terms, which allowed the project to organize its first boot camp in 2018. “For us, it was extremely important that Rabo Foundation dared to set sail with us in order to help young people who have trouble finding a job actually find work”, Van der Werf explains. “It gives other parties confidence when they see that Rabobank is also involved. Plus, there are very few partners like Rabo Foundation that are willing to stick their necks out for social enterprises like us. Now we can show that nature preservation at sea can actually create jobs and earn a profit for investors.”