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African Business Development: NABC’s new boss gives a glimpse of Dutch input towards business initiatives in Africa

Some three decades ago, The Netherlands African Business Council was formed to harness Dutch support towards boosting economic growth, trade, and investment in Africa. The NABC promotes trade and investments in African countries. The council consists of Dutch companies and organisations with an interest in Africa and promotes The Netherlands’ private business, trade and investment programmes on the continent.
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Irene Visser: NABC Managing Director

The Dutch government has allocated almost €600 million for the next two years to the Dutch Good Growth Fund to promote development-related investment in and trade with developing countries. The main focus is to assist small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in both developing countries and the Netherlands.

Irene Visser is the NABC’s new Managing Director. Prior to her appointment, Ms. Visser was an Operations Officer at the World Bank Group for Africa. A key to her role there was policy advocacy; overseeing financial programmes, facilitating trade and investment, and giving strategic support to African governments for an improved investment climate. Ms. Visser was, in her previous post, also responsible for the strategic positioning of key companies in the market with emphasis on Change Management to align the business strategy with the current global trends. Before joining NABC, she was a consultant for KPMG in Mozambique.
Since she became Managing Director of the NABC in 2014, Irene Visser has been working very hard; spearheading policy and structural changes to improve the investment climate for Dutch companies.
She recently gave this interview to Ernest Ayo Mason at her office in The Hague. Here is a summary of highlights of their discussion:
Expansion of Dutch businesses in Africa
Dutch business companies are considered to be well advanced and today many Dutch businesses are playing an instrumental role in steering economic development in Africa and its new trade reform for Africa has resulted to increased participation of Dutch businesses on the continent
The Dutch Aid to Trade policy has helped in a number of ways, says Irene Visser and it’s a priority for NABC to focus on trade, creates economic development and stimulate employment opportunities for African countries. She noted, that this project has consistently been enhancing the growth and sustenance of projects in both the dairy and livestock sectors in Ethiopia and Kenya. Ms. Visser also cites the exemplary twinning of NABC with regional Trade Councils in the four regions of Africa.
The Head of NABC said that her organization with the support of the Dutch government is positioning The Netherlands small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) into sectors such as infrastructure, business services, trade and investment in different African countries.
“The NABC is a membership organization that provides networking services and knowledge sharing to some four hundred Dutch companies representing various sectors,” she adds, stating that through various Trade Missions, NABCs members are able to unite and provide a coordinated approach towards the task of boosting Africa’s socio-economic growth.

In terms of strategy, The Dutch Aid to trade agenda is to stimulate economic development, by facilitating job-creating enterprises, while enhancing trade and investment between Dutch and African companies. In this way, Ms. Visser reasons, the Dutch government is playing a significant role in helping to reshape Trade and investment in Africa. This is particularly true of its subsidies to Dutch companies that are taking concrete steps to establish businesses on the continent, added the Executive Director.
The Dutch business relationship with African countries continues to be consolidated by the NABC. Both the Dutch and African companies are benefiting from this close contact. Irene Visser believes that companies in The Netherlands will see many diverse prospects in their bid to set up factories on the continent. In such an investment framework, African businesses should be better positioned to make optimal use of opportunities to export products to The Netherlands.
Trade Missions play a very important role in exposing Dutch businesses in Africa and according to its Director many of NABC”s members are looking into exporting capital equipment like machinery, construction materials and trucks in order to create a lots of local employment in Africa.
This she said will help reduce the rate of poverty in Africa and at the same time creating business opportunities for Dutch and Africans firms alike.
Partnership with African businesses
The Dutch commercial relationship with African countries, according to her, continues to be consolidated by the sheer scale of Dutch trade and investment. ‘It is obvious that Africa trade and investments links with The Netherlands will continue for the foreseeable future, numerous trade and investment projects are emerging,” reveals Ms Visser. Africa is one of the fastest growing regions in the world, consistently exceeding the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate, and direct Dutch trade and investment in Africa is reportedly to be on the rise. Hundreds of Dutch companies exported their products to Africa in 2013, of which 90 percent were small-and medium- sized entrepreneurs (SMEs)
While products from Africa are in the sharp rise, on the other hand, The Netherlands imports from Africa are relatively small other sectors such as machinery, poultry, infrastructure and agri-business from The Netherlands are well-suited for the African markets.
The Director of NABC said that the Dutch government new “Aid to Trade agenda” has allowed African businesses to expand their range of consumer goods into the Dutch market and at the same time Dutch companies are targeting infrastructures and Equipment, heavy industry, energy, and agri-business sectors in Africa.

Africa is set to become one of the world’s largest new suppliers of natural gas. The continent’s vast oil and gas discoveries have attracted a large number of Dutch companies to involve in its exploration and production and to develop the oil and energy sector. Although much of Africa’s oil and gas still remains under-explored, Dutch companies are already at the forefront to recover its finds totaling billions of dollars.
The head of The Netherlands-Africa Business Council believe that the continent’s rich resources could stimulate Dutch companies to help accelerate socio-economic growth on the continent. But in order to support Africa;s growing economies, it requires significant investments to boost agriculture, upgrade old infrastructures and initiate new projects that will empower ordinary Africans to be self-reliant.
The NABC plays a major role between Dutch and African entrepreneurs and wants them to achieve the desired results on trade, water, food security, raw materials and energy, says the head of NABC, and remarked that the sole aim of her organisation is to help reduce poverty and boost economic growth in Africa. “We want African countries to have access in the Dutch market and improve their business strategies, as The Netherlands embarks on programmes aimed at reducing poverty and promoting the Dutch development cooperation policy.”
The strengthening of Dutch and African SMEs
The support to develop trade and investment between The Netherlands and Africa comes from different sources, but the Dutch government has invested substantial amount of money to promote private investment in Africa.
Dutch businesses are making serious strides to help African countries utilize their enormous economic markets and begin to catch up with the rest of the world, it needs to move away from its current model of modest, low-level economic growth and adopt a more aggressive and creative approach to financing its development.
Visser said, “Most of the Dutch companies are actually looking into exporting capital equipment that related to sectors that create a lots of jobs for ordinary people in Africa, and the NABC’s programmes mostly come from Industrial players in The Netherlands that work in unison to accelerate high-level economic growth.”
“When we talk about the Aid to Trade’ agenda, it’s a priority for NABC to focus on trade, creates economic development, stimulates job security - we are not talking only about purely export of products and the raw materials, but rather focus on the export of equipment and machinery that will generate local investments for the domestic markets in Africa.
“We see that the NABC’s current focused approach to enhance economic growth in Africa is working - there is a lots of coordination between the different Dutch business players and often they are supplementing their efforts with each other to enhance economic growth in Africa,” the Director said. “They are taking the Value-Chain approach into African countries where the presence of local capacity is lacking, it’s an act. It’s all played-out well for both Dutch and African businesses.”
Ms Irene Visser described the NABC’s role with its members in accelerating Africa’s economy as a manifestation of the Dutch government’s goal to achieve success in Africa.
“The Dutch government takes economic growth seriously in Africa and it gives access to financial support and encourages Dutch businesses to help strengthen African entrepreneurs with knowledge and skills essential for the creation of employment opportunities on the continent of Africa.”

A good and accessible infrastructure is essential to ensure a good business climate in African countries. The NABC therefore operates with companies that are well equipped to develop low- and middle-income countries.
More and more low- and middle-income countries are not only recipients of aid but also trade partners. What matters in Dutch development cooperation policy is to add value by combining aid and trade. The intention is not to substitute aid for trade or vice versa. How the policy is applied depends on the nature of the development relationship, remarked Ms Visser.
“Many countries in Africa are not only recipients of Dutch aid but also trade partners. What is important in for the NABC is to add value by combining both Dutch and African SMEs to achieve sustainable, inclusive growth. “I think we have to stand stronger and more united. A good example of NABC’s role is to combine trade, investment and development cooperation between its membership and this helps small and medium-sized entrepreneurs in both The Netherlands and Africa to gain access to their various markets,” noted Ms Irene Visser.
There has been an impressive contribution of Dutch support towards African countries and its aid, trade and investment policies have enabled some African countries to reach the Millennium Development Goals.
Interview by Ayo Mason