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Combining aid and trade in a socially responsible way

André van Ommeren is the head of the International Development department of the International Programmes directorate within the Netherlands Enterprise Agency. He worked for the Netherlands Enterprise Agency for a year now and is passionate and committed to his work.

Before that, André was the programme manager of the Interdepartmental Water Cluster (IWC), a collaborative venture between the Ministries of Infrastructure and Water Management, Foreign Affairs and Economic Affairs and Climate.

Can you explain what the International Development department does?

'The International Development department carries out work on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Development Cooperation. This includes programmes and schemes in the fields of water, food security, energy, climate, corporate financing, infrastructure, sustainable product chains, private sector development and broad themes such as corporate social responsibility, gender and sexual harassment.

These issues are closely connected to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which have been adopted by all the member states of the United Nations. The SDGs are the social challenges that aim to put an end to global poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030. We can only solve these problems if government authorities, businesses, knowledge institutes and NGOs work together towards the same goal. It is also known as the Diamond Approach. By combining innovation, knowledge and funding, we can come up with solutions that work for and are supported by parties including government authorities, businesses and people in developing countries. If all stakeholders play their part, we can make a significant contribution to these SDGs in a way that also benefits the Netherlands. That is our ethos, that's what International Development is all about.'

Do you think the SDGs really matter?

'They absolutely matter in International Programmes, and there is no doubt that they matter in International Development. Because in DGIS (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Directorate-General for International Cooperation), everything revolves around them. Everything that is in Minister Kaag's policy paper must contribute to the SDGs.

For many people, however, it is a long way from home. If you can link it to issues that are closer to home, that people can identify with, it does not matter whether they know what the SDGs are or not. We all suffer from water shortages during hot summers. It is when people notice things, that they can do something about them. The SDGs set out the challenges that we are facing in a user-friendly way. Of course, what is most important are the global social problems that lie behind them. What I want to do is to help solve these problems. If we do not do something now, the next generation will be facing the results of our negligence, and for me, that is unacceptable.'

Why do you think development cooperation is important?

'In my view, it is wrong that such a large part of our world is still less fortunate than we are. We can change this with the help of development cooperation. But we have to do so in a way that the people we are working with can develop themselves further. So, if someone asks me: "Do you give someone a fish or a fishing rod?" I always say: "A fishing rod". People who are less fortunate than we are most certainly able to use a "fishing rod". They just have not yet had the opportunity to do so. And it is a two-way thing: we learn from them too. Development cooperation plays a crucial role in the journey towards a better world for everyone.'

Is the Netherlands Enterprise Agency just for entrepreneurs?

He smiles: 'No, certainly not! We can link up with NGOs, other government authorities and knowledge institutes and then combine forces with business and industry to work on these social challenges. The Netherlands Enterprise Agency is very good at acting as a link with the various programmes, schemes and projects, and this can benefit the NGOs and knowledge institutes.

We also collaborate with diplomatic missions and foreign governments. The government authorities, knowledge institutes and NGOs need each other, and we can achieve far more by working together. Because of our name, the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, people often think that we are only there to serve entrepreneurs, but that is certainly not the case.

But of course, we also help Dutch businesses fulfil their international ambitions in developing countries. We do this by providing subsidies, loans and guarantees for the establishment of activities in these countries. And these activities must contribute to the development of those countries by creating employment, improving healthcare or improving the position of women, for example. It is a two-way thing: it leads to an improvement in the country itself, and it generates revenue for the Dutch company. This revenue then flows back to the Netherlands, thereby contributing to the Dutch economy. And this is how we combine aid and trade in a socially responsible way.'