Former CEO reflects on SNV stint

People in front of a field, discussing.

'Some of my most joyous moments in the past years have been talking to women with few opportunities who remain optimistic and get on with bettering their lives and investing in the future of their families. Seeing women lead their community gives me strength,' says Meike van Ginneken as she reflects on her time as CEO of SNV Netherlands Development Organisation.

In my time in SNV, I have been part of an exceptional team. Our decentralised structure with over 1,300 staff residing in Asia, Africa and Latin America remains SNV’s distinctive feature. Our extensive local presence means we know how governments work, which written and unwritten rules exist, and how relationships are built. We constantly learn about what works and what does not work. This enables us to adapt our global know-how to local contexts. It also enables us to adapt interventions during implementation as circumstances change. Personally, I learned much about how to translate ideas into actions into results from my colleagues around the world.

2020 is the first year in over two decades that the global rate of poverty increases. 70 to 100 million people are being pushed into extreme poverty this year. Our work in agriculture, energy, and WASH has become more challenging. It also is more relevant than ever. While meeting women and men who have directly benefited from our projects is a great inspiration, I am convinced that our most important impact is less tangible. The COVID-19 pandemic shows that people can easily fall back into poverty if interventions focus on quick wins and do not address the underlying systems that trap people in poverty. The changing of systems from within - so that many can work their way out of poverty – is the only way to make communities resilient. It is the only way to create sustainable and scaled results. SNV strengthens institutions and kick-starts markets. We leverage finances. We change behaviors at the household, the local, and the national level.

My proudest moments in SNV remain when government officials or private entrepreneurs told me how they have adopted our approaches and use them to make their own programmes better. Our projects are limited in time and scope. Our approaches and our results go well beyond those boundaries. While an organisation like SNV can help things along, the ownership of development is always with our local partners.

SNV went into the turbulent COVID-19 era from a position of strength. Much of my tenure in SNV was focused on strengthening the organisation. We now manage our portfolio more proactively thanks to better and more timely data. I learned that the hard part of running a not-for-profit organisation is not making a loss. Our investments in operational excellence help achieve our impact on the ground. It has become part of our mission – doing the right thing and doing things right.

One of the secrets of SNV’s success is its deliberate choices in what we do, where we do it, and how we do it. The world is evolving. SNV will continue to evolve. I am thankful to have been part of that evolution. As I move on to take up a new job with the International Fund for Agricultural Development, I look forward to remaining part of the extended SNV family and its worldwide alumni network.