Strong 2019 provides a solid basis in turbulent times


A blog from our CEO Meike van Ginneken.

2019 was a successful year for SNV Netherlands Development Organisation. We reached our impact targets and put the organisation on a strong organisational and financial footing. This puts us in a position of strength as we enter a turbulent time in which we face increased poverty, corona restrictions on our field work and an evolving donor landscape. As we launch our 2019 Annual Report and Accounts, it is a good time to look back at our achievements in 2019 and assess how these achievements position SNV as we entered the corona crisis.

Improving the lives of 6.3 million and changing systems from within

2019 was the first year of our 2019-2022 Strategic Plan. In this plan, we set ourselves a four-year target to improve the lives of 20 million people in low-income and lower-middle-income countries and significantly contribute to systems change in agriculture, energy and WASH in at least 21 countries.

We change by doing and our direct results and contributions to systems change are intrinsically linked. Together they create sustainable and large-scale impact. In 2019, we helped improve the lives of 6.3 million people living in poverty through increased incomes and access to basic services.  While SNV has been changing systems from within for many years, in the past year we made systems change more explicit in project design, implementation and in reporting our results. In our Annual Report, you can read how this explicit focus helped to influence markets and governance processes to function better by leveraging finance, kickstarting markets, embedding new approaches with governments, and changing rules and norms.

Local know-how for lasting solutions

The bedrock of SNV remains our long-term local presence in low and lower-middle income countries. In 2019, our team of development specialists grew by five percent and at the end of 2019 we were 1,373 people strong. Our staff grew less rapidly than the volume of our programmes as we worked more with and through local partners. We are pleased that our global team, based in The Netherlands, remains small as we believe change is made on the ground. This is why 94 percent of our staff are based in the 29 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America that we operate in. It is also why we do not operate on a fly-in-fly-out basis and are committed to stay in countries for years and even decades.

Important steps towards operational excellence

In our 2019-2022 Strategic Plan, we made operational excellence part of our mission. We are a strongly mission-driven team. We believe that in order to implement that mission, we need to be effective and efficient. We are proud to work exclusively through project financing.

In the past couple of years, we saw rapid growth as we increased the volume of our programme by 15 percent year-on-year increase in 2018 and again in 2019. Last year, our consolidated income was €142M.  This growth is a result of a solid and diversified donor basis. We are proud that in 2019, we made a small net positive financial result in the low-margin environment in which we operate. Like many of our peers, we have learned that being a not-for-profit organisation is the easy part, while not making a loss requires diligence and purpose. Our solid financials are the result of all our staff around the globe making a concerted effort to streamline and tighten project execution and to their commitment to continuously improve.

Ensuring that all our interventions are high quality is an intrinsic part of our mission. This why we are deliberate in what we do, where we do it, and how we do it. It is also why we focus on just three sectors: agriculture, energy and WASH. We will continue to invest in quality assurance systems and in making knowledge flow to and from the frontline. Our decentralised structure helps us to 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.

Entering the COVID-19 pandemic from a position of strength

SNV went into the uncertainty of the corona pandemic and the immense socio-economic shifts it causes from a position of strength. We are helping communities respond to the crisis and become more resilient. Our local presence means we acted quickly and customised our approaches to local circumstances. I continue to be deeply impressed by how creative our teams have been in continuing to work while adapting in small ways – by implementing activities while social distancing – and in big ways – by adjusting our projects to support governments and companies in these challenging times.

As the crisis keeps evolving, so will our approaches. Our work is more needed than ever. 2020 will be the first year since 1998 that the global rate of poverty increases. The millions of people who are living in poverty face the greatest risk of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis it triggers. We are applying our know-how to deliver results at scale while  -  in cooperation with our donors – refocusing our projects to what is most needed.

At the same time, we are concerned about the limited attention to those in need in the political and social discourse in wealthy countries. We are teaming up with others to advocate for global solidarity so that development organisations like SNV can step up just now that they are most needed.

2019 was an exceptional year for SNV. 2020 will be exceptional in a different way. We will continue to work towards a society in which all people are free to pursue their own sustainable development and no one is left behind. In its 54-year history, SNV has shown tremendous agility. We have renewed ourselves and will do so again.

To learn more, view the web version or download a copy of our 2019 Annual Report.