Proud to have worked for Oikocredit [interview]
After over six years at Oikocredit, Bart van Eyk, Director of Investments, is leaving to explore new ventures in the world of impact investing and social enterprises. In this interview he shares about his highlights, challenges, learnings and more.
You’ve worked for Oikocredit for over six years now. What have been some of the biggest highlights during your time here?
Spending time on the road with our colleagues in the regions and meeting partners have been major highlights for me. It’s always incredible to see the results of our work. There are so many moments that stand out for me, but I will never forget my trip to visit a partner in Côte d’Ivoire. It was a cocoa cooperative in a remote village. After a long and bumpy travel out in the rural countryside, I had the chance to meet about 100 farmers (members of the cooperative) at a gathering that was organised for our visit. I was also able to see the health clinic and school that the cooperative set up. At one point we arrived at a soccer field full of kids chanting ‘Oikocredit’. It was very humbling and I was overwhelmed that we could help make a positive impact in the lives of so many people.
On the inflow side of our work, I’ve also enjoyed interacting with our Support Associations and members and investors. Throughout the pandemic, we started to see investors redeem investments with peer organisations, but for the most part that wasn’t the case with Oikocredit. It is rare to have so many truly loyal and committed members and investors that put impact first, not profit.
Can you share about your roles and how they have impacted Oikocredit?
I started as the Director of Equity. Our team was quite small back then, so I am very proud of where equity is as part of our financing activities now and of what the team has accomplished. After changing roles to Director of Investments in 2018, I focused on helping to guide my department – and the organisation itself as part of Oikocredit’s Managing Board – through organisational changes that came with the implementation of the 2018-2022 strategy. We not only steered Oikocredit through the increased strategic focus but we also simplified structures and further professionalised the organisation in the process. This has made us more agile and resilient.
Then Covid-19 came and we had to be very flexible and resilient, not only for Oikocredit but also for our partners and the low-income people who were affected the most. We managed to navigate well through the challenges brought on by Covid-19 and in 2021 we successfully delivered on a strong recovery.
You are only as good as your team and I’m really grateful for the way my teams have stepped up and performed in challenging circumstances and for the ways we have worked together throughout the years.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you (or your department) faced and how did you (or your team) help to address them?
The changes that came with the updated 2018-2022 strategy, especially the closing down of offices, was a difficult phase for the organisation and our staff. We did that with a taskforce and came up with well thought-through plans and worked hard to take care of our colleagues in the best way possible.
It has been an intense couple of years with the restructuring and with Covid-19 but it has also been fun and exciting because I see how we have been able to add value, not only to Oikocredit but also to our partners and the people they serve.
Another challenge is not being able to spend quality, face-to-face time with my team due to the pandemic. I truly miss seeing everyone in person. Thankfully our team still works really well together digitally and we have even found ways to have fun together.
What have you learned during your time at Oikocredit?
That’s a difficult question because I have learned a lot. The most I’ve learned is how to operate in a complex, multistakeholder and multicultural environment. Being one of the end-responsible people on the Managing Board, you really see all of the layers and complexity of an organisation with many stakeholders. We are a vibrant cooperative with a lot of beautiful parts, but that can also be challenging at times. And operating in such an environment has taught me a lot and I’m grateful for the experience.
What are you most proud to leave behind?
I’m most proud that we have a strong, resilient global cooperative that is in good shape. It’s a great feeling to be able to leave an organisation that you are passionate about, knowing that you don’t have any concerns for its future. The Investments department and development financing portfolio are in good shape and despite Covid-19, we have a growing and good-quality portfolio and have managed to stay on target without compromising our social impact and support to partners.
Do you have any hopes or dreams for Oikocredit?
With the new 2022-2026 strategy, Oikocredit is embarking on something that won’t be easy but is very exciting. When Oikocredit started 46 years ago, we were the frontrunner of what has now become an industry. And we want to stay on the frontlines of impact by focusing on resiliency among communities, supporting innovation and investing in primary needs like housing, education, and healthcare. So my hope is to see Oikocredit successfully delivering on this endeavour and the path of innovation and flexibility.
What are you going to do next?
First of all, I am going to enjoy a nice break to wind down and have time to reflect. It has been a really busy couple of years and I think it’s important to take some time to rest and reflect before jumping back in. Once I’ve done that, I will continue my journey in the impact and sustainability area. I joined the impact investing industry 13 years ago and it’s where I plan to stay.