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5000 Dutch citizens help make a plan for the future

René Schoone, consultant Dialoog Expertisecentrum Rabobank

How do we provide housing for the elderly and first-time buyers? How can we support local entrepreneurs? And how do we support the sustainability of the agricultural sector? These issues call for a concerted approach. A plan for the future for the Netherlands. The Cooperative Covenant.

Rabobank believes in the power of working together, which is why it entered into a dialogue with its members, clients and entrepreneurs in 14 different regions. René Schoone, advisor at the Dialogue Expertise Centre, is happy to talk about these discussions. He supervised the dialogue and shows how the Cooperative Covenant came about.

“The Cooperative Covenant is a plan that resulted from conversations with our members and other stakeholders. More than 5,000 people participated to let us know what they think is important. What do they see as the biggest challenge in their region? What can we do about it together? The people who responded really feel involved. They came up with their own ideas and mentioned existing initiatives in the region.”

“With the covenant, we are clearly putting these wishes and needs on the map for the future. Including solutions. We use the covenant to make our voice heard in national politics. In the spring of 2021, we will hand over this plan for the future of the Netherlands to the new cabinet.”

Dialogue as a methodology

“My background is in marketing and communications. In my role as communications consultant, I noticed that I find Rabobank’s social agenda very important. Listening to what concerns our customers and members. When a position became available in this particular area at the Dialogue Expertise Center, I immediately seized the opportunity.”

“Normally you have a real conversation, but in this day and age and with so many people, that’s not possible. Everything had to be online. Members, customers and other stakeholders could respond to statements and questions. There was also time to discuss each other’s input. This method helps people to listen to each other, especially when it comes to sensitive issues.”

Rene Schoone in a videocall

“The methodology we use at RaboResearch and the Dialogue Expertise Center is called 'Appreciative Inquiry dialogue'.Appreciative Inquiry is a method by which people work together towards positive change. In this type of research we look at the situation from an investigative and appreciative attitude. We ask constructive questions and discuss the answers. This gives us a clear picture of what the desired future should look like. You can use this method for vision definition, for example, but it is also very suitable for initiating collaboration. When you want to bring different interests and different perspectives together.”

“We conduct dialogues on a local, regional, national and international level. You can think of a broad dialogue in a certain field of activity, but also for very specific themes. In recent years, for example, there have been many dialogue sessions with entrepreneurs. What are their problems? How can we learn from each other? Those are the questions we then start working on.”

“In the Cooperative Covenant, we used the Broad Welfare Indicator as a starting point. This indicator determines the well-being of society based on 11 topics, such as safety, housing or social relations. We used these themes in the dialogue as topics for discussion. With the answers, we are able to draft the covenant and formulate actions and follow-up steps.”

Regional focus

“It’s important that the plan for the future consists of ideas from all walks of life. We’re really looking for connection. Dialogue helps people with different perspectives and backgrounds enter the conversation on an equal level.”

“We are consciously choosing to do this regionally. Every region has its own challenges. If you want to work on tangible problems, the smaller scale of the region is a logical choice. In addition our members, municipalities and schools can also share their experiences. You have the opportunity to make a real difference in the region. Rabobank is therefore very involved in local initiatives. “

Rene Schoone talking outside

Different solutions for the same issue

“Housing is a hot topic in all regions. The availability of housing is a problem everywhere, as are the constantly rising prices. In the countryside and in small towns you have different challenges than in the city. Everyone also has different ideas about the solution, which I find interesting.”

“The challenges of housing are different for seniors than for first-time buyers who are thinking about where they want to settle. Can I find a house in the city I want to live in? And can I afford it? So you’re talking about the same issue – which is housing – but the effect is totally different.”

How Rabobank helps

“Both the financial sector and society are in a state of enormous flux. Especially during this crisis. That calls for coordination. Given our mission ‘Growing a better world together’, it is important to ask society what is needed at this moment.”

During the dialogue, people see us not only as a financial lender but predominantly as a binding factor
René Schoone, consultant Dialoog Expertisecentrum Rabobank

“What can the bank do to help? This is the question we asked specifically during the dialogue. People were surprised that we are actually doing this on such a large scale. They don’t see us directly as a financial institution in this process, but more as a binding factor. That the bank is the one who can put the issues and follow-up steps on the agenda.”

“When it comes to housing, for example, Rabobank discusses matters with municipalities, provinces and project developers. We are working together in the regions to find new solutions. For example, by looking at whether we can convert empty retail properties into homes. But also by thinking about new forms of housing and how we can match our financial services to the need that has arisen.”

“Rabobank remains active in the regions and invests in projects and initiatives that make the region stronger. In addition, the results of the dialogue are valuable for the bank’s product development. It gives us insight on how to optimize our services.”

Together we stand strong

“After offering the Cooperative Covenant to the government, it doesn’t stop. The dialogue is something we continue to do. I always describe this as a lemniscate, a cycle that goes on forever. Having the conversation, collecting insights and translating them into actions. Then the conversation starts all over again. Are the actions still relevant? What new perspectives on the future do we see? More and more people are realizing: you can’t do this alone. That is also true for Rabobank.”