Rik Overmars

Podcast Interview

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BFP: What do you do?

RO: I manage the Mozambique programme of SNV Netherlands Development Organisation. We are an international development organization working in 36 countries in Agriculture, Water,Sanitation & Hygiene and Renewable Energy.

SNV applies an Inclusive Business development approach in order to develop value chains which create shared value. We partner with the private sector to build Inclusive Business programmes that establish strategic, long-term, win-win linkages between companies and the BOP either as suppliers, as distributors or as consumers. We have developed a thorough inclusive business advisory practice which now includes over 100 business cases in Latin America, Asia and Africa. From this practice we develop, harvest and disseminate knowledge, in partnerships such as with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the Inter-America Development Bank (IADB) (IADB majority markets).

In Mozambique our Inclusive Business programme is still quite new. The inclusive business environment is not yet as well-developed here as in some other African countries, such as Kenya or South Africa, and so a lot of our work is laying the groundwork for encouraging more shared value chains and other inclusive models, mostly focusing on outgrower schemes. Upgrading from individual business to whole sub-sectors is enabling us to reach more scale such as in our Ethiopia programme.

BFP: What is the best part about your job?

RO: Being able to bring the two distinct worlds of business and development together; to challenge conventional thinking; and to get multiple actors of government/public sector/ private sector and civil society involved. To see the power of inclusive economic development and business bringing real benefits to real people.

BFP: What have been your greatest challenges?

RO: In developing and advising on inclusive business implementation there are many challenges. Actors need a shift in mindset to invest in a joint vision for win-win situations. This move towards being more inclusive is not happening only in the development sector, but is part of a bigger and growing trend in business to focus on shared value and on longer-term sustainability, as argued by Kramer & Porter (Shared Value).

Some of the main challenges for inclusive business and development are:

  • For companies: to get a better picture of how inclusive business models will enhance their business value proposition and improve corporate sustainability; but they need to invest into the BOP and think longer term. Another challenge for companies is to get access to shared risk capital and patient capital.
  • For communities: to establish a culture of becoming reliable business partners, and to move away from dependency.
  • For the government: to embrace an inclusive business philosophy and framework, and work on improving the enabling environment seriously – there are still many obstacles for developing and doing inclusive business, including regulatory obstacles, red tape and bureaucracy causing high transaction costs, and poor governance and corruption, all of which make it difficult to do any kind of business.
  • For NGOs: to critically question their own interventions and programmes, as well as those from donors and other practitioners; and to get actual results. Based on that to share what works and what doesn’t

BFP: How have you overcome these challenges? What is the secret of your success?

RO: Firstly SNV works with local actors, with locally-determined agendas and with multiple stakeholders. So we play an important trust building and brokering role. Actors need to learn to speak each other’s language and to build relationships.We are investing in the capacities of those local actors and business needs to do that seriously as well.

Secondly you need to build on what works, learn from different models, promote south-south learning and have well-developed and tested models, which should be applied not as a blueprint but flexibly in new contexts and environments. We favour that successful inclusive business experiences get replicated rather than re-inventing the wheel each time.

SNV has published lessons and models from our work in Latin America with WBCSD (Creating value in Latin America) and are in the process of finalizing an inventory of case studies in Zimbabwe and Mozambique with the Ford Foundation. We are involved in a growing number of interesting inclusive business cases in Africa, for example the PepsiCo chickpea project in Ethiopia, Dairy development in Kenya, commodity companies in Mozambique and agricultural supply chain involving seed companies, wholesalers and rural retailers in Zimbabwe (Agriseeds).

Some of the lessons we have learnt include the following:

  • Listen first to all actors, look at opportunities and learn from other experiences.
  • Get the business case right – otherwise there is no inclusive business to build on.
  • For inclusive business models to succeed, top management commitment is necessary.
  • NGOs should see themselves as independent facilitators aiming at win-win for all actors, not taking sides.
  • Build broader partnerships of multiple stakeholders, from single firm entry to multiple firms in the whole subsector to get to scale and to overcome systemic bottlenecks in the value chain. This includes the donor community and other practitioners.
  • Have motivated people with the right attitude, to establish results. Success will lay the foundation for upscaling and that is self-motivating.
  • As managers we have to steer and motivate people to achieve their own success. That is also the secret of advisory work: we don’t tell the actors what to do, but build with them the capacity to do it themselves.

BFP: If someone wants to do what you do, where should they start?

RO: The ever more globalized world around us is changing, and so are the investment patterns and the way of doing business. This offers a lot of scope for young dynamic people to bring the business and development spheres together, the interface of sustainability offers a good start either with a company or with an NGO. For sure traditional careers in development organisations are a thing of the past.

BFP: Finally: what do you hope to get out of being part of the BFP community?

RO: BFP creates the opportunity to learn from experiences of other practitioners, to promote inclusive business development and to contribute to the successful upscaling of the best models. AS SNV we are interested and looking to establish partnerships with donors, foundations and corporates for upscaling of things that work, as well as promote cross country and cross regional learning.

Editor’s Note:

Thank you to Rik Overmars for taking the time to do this interview.

We’re always looking out for members to feature. Help us by taking two-minutes to update your profile, or by nominating someone for Business Fights Poverty Member of the Week.

This Member of the Week interview was conducted by Hester Le Roux BFP Member Relations. Read previous Member of the Week interviews here.

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