We interview Riëlla Hollander, Director of TRMC, Léonhard ten Siethoff, Director of Triodos Foundation, and Liesbeth Soer, Director of Catalytic Investments, in the Reehorst office of Triodos Bank.
Why did Triodos Bank think it was important to set up TRMC?
Riëlla: "While the problems we face as a world are immense, we still cling to a financial system that puts return thinking first. We now know that this is exhausting the earth’s resources, causing climate change, and widening the gap between rich and poor. It is time to transform our economy into one that puts the planet first. One that strengthens society. An economy that regenerates. With societal return in the first place. Because that is what we as humanity really need.”
Léonhard: "This is not easy, but not impossible either. Man has created society and our economy and can therefore change and strengthen them. This requires a different view on money. If you really put the interests of society first, donations and catalytic money cannot be missed. You need them as an impulse for positive change, because not every new initiative is immediately profitable."
Riëlla: "Changing this financial system has always been our goal. It is why we started Triodos Bank 40 years ago. However, we came across initiatives that we were eager to support because of their great positive impact but that did not fit within traditional financial criteria. So for Triodos Regenerative Money Centre, we adapted those criteria. We support fantastic initiatives that are scalable or replicable and inspirational, with the confidence that these initiatives will eventually lead to profitable businesses.
Triodos Bank's mission is "make money work for positive change". TRMC contributes to that mission and complements Triodos Bank and Triodos Investment Management. What exactly do you do then?
Riëlla: "We lend to and invest in pioneering and ground-breaking initiatives to regenerate our society and our planet. And we donate to social initiatives, even if the outcome is uncertain or cannot be directly expressed in economic value."
Liesbeth: "We complement Triodos Bank and Triodos Investment Management. We are pioneering new models that have the potential to change the course of an entire sector and therefore have a truly transformative power. We do this with a different quality of money: Money that has been freed up to make these radically positive and transformative initiatives possible.”
What do you mean by the term regenerative?
Liesbeth: "In today’s society you see that things in the natural and social (eco)system are not in balance. We not only want to restore what has disappeared, but to bring society and nature back into balance so that it can continually renew itself. When a living system is in balance, it is naturally regenerative and resilient."
What kind of projects do you support and how do you judge whether or not to get involved?
Riëlla: "As Triodos Bank, we focus on four themes to which, based on our experience and insights, we have applied a vision of where and how we would like to tilt the system towards a more balanced system. These themes are social inclusion, food and nature, renewable energy and the role of money in society.
With TRMC, we support initiatives in these areas that contribute to accelerating the transition. Or initiatives and pioneers who contribute to this system change and are scalable or replicable and inspire others by providing insights or setting examples. For example, by taking a new path, by removing a blockage or by restoring something that businesses and governments do not get around to, or even oppose."
Liesbeth: "They often have an innovative business model and always have a specific goal to regenerate. The idea of Catalytic Investments is that the money flows back and can be used again and again. If that is not the expectation, then a donation is more appropriate."
"What we are looking for are leverage points - the key that sets the whole system in motion. With the Aardpeer initiative, for example, we are putting land ownership at the heart of the transition to a sustainable food system. Expensive farmland is a bottleneck for farmers who want to practice nature-inclusive, regenerative farming. By buying land, ‘saving’ it in a foundation and leasing it out to farmers at a price based on the land's (regenerative) yields, they are given the opportunity to cultivate the soil naturally and promoting biodiversity. By not selling the land at a later time, but leasing it over and over again, we create a sustainable food system for future generations as well. This is a radically different way of looking at the problem with the potential to change the course of an entire sector."
Can you give more examples?
"Another example is a peatland in Finland on which the Sami, an indigenous population, depend for their livelihood. Peat extraction had depleted this area. With the help of our funding, that peatland was acquired by a local organisation and the first steps were taken to restore the peatland and reviving its eco-system. This allows the moor to become an active living ecosystem again, storing CO2 while supporting the Sami way of life.
Another example is a recent initiative to give nature its own rights. Nature does not have its own voice in our system. Granting nature its own rights could help in its restoration and protection. If nature has its own rights, you cannot easily build a motorway through it, as is now threatening to happen to the Amelisweerd estate, for example. This is a pioneering, different way of thinking.
Léonhard: "Of course, we don't always know what something is going to achieve. But we are guided by the idea of positive development. We don't have an answer for everything, but we look at the added value of the idea and then also at what form of financing (donation or catalytic finance) goes with it, and of course we remain closely involved and use our own knowledge and network to achieve the best possible result."
Liesbeth: "The vision of the initiators is very important. It must convince us. If it is in line with our vision and mission, and we are convinced about the intrinsic motivation & expertise of the people behind the initiative, we are happy to join and support it with our resources: Money, knowledge, network, and advice."
Riëlla: "The intention behind the idea is extremely important. That intention must be pure and good."
How do other financial institutions react to your vision of freed-up money?
Liesbeth: "There are different reactions. Some get the idea and share our enthusiasm, others think we are crazy. We then have to find other words to use, and also ask questions, to understand how we can connect their thoughts with our own. Incidentally, we were also ridiculed 40 years ago when we started Triodos Bank."
Riëlla: "I worked in investment banking for a long time. When I talk to former colleagues, I notice that it can be really liberating to think this way. Outside the boundaries of the current banking and investment system and outside the one-sided focus on financial returns. Doing what really matters. ”
Léonhard: "Triodos Regenerative Money Centre operates as a business unit of Triodos Bank, so we can show that banking, investing and donating are closely linked and each has its role to play to Make money work for positive change.