Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Schokland Agreements – new Dutch commitments to development cooperation

In June 2007, dozens of Dutch organizations signed agreements in Schokland, committing themselves to jointly achieve the Millennium Development Goals. More information, in Dutch, is at

In essence, the commitments signify a renewed political commitment to achieve the MDGs. They involve expanded cooperative commitments by groups of organization to co-invest in and jointly tackle development issues. They also represent new financial commitments in support of innovative ways of working in development.

On 10 June, some 20 people from the informal ‘IK Network’ came together at ISS in The Hague to learn more about the Schokland agreements and process. Our speakers – from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Edukans, NUFFIC and IICD – shared their different experiences of the Schokland Process.

Thom Sprenger of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs opened, explained that the Schokland process is part of a government-wide ‘project 2015’ that aims to intensify Dutch efforts to reach the MDGs. It involves many different types of stakeholders and aims to mobilize their knowledge and expertise. According to Sprenger, the “ultimate goal is to promote strategic alliances.” In practice, the partners are mostly ‘teamed up’ around issues, in alliances of normally 3 or more types of organizations. The mix of stakeholder is important: Thirty-six ‘agreements’ were signed in June 2007; they all combine practical solutions with political power.

How did the process get associated to Schokland? It seems this village was once a small island whose inhabitants experienced poverty and isolation. Since then, the surrounding areas were drained and the land was reclaimed for agriculture and people, providing a metaphor where human efforts can overcome ‘unsolvable’ issues, address poverty, and through working together move us from “an island to solid ground.”

Alongside the agreements themselves, the Minister of Development Cooperation launched a EUR 50 million Schokland fund. Sprenger emphasized that the fund is intended to support innovative “ways of working”, it is not just money. He compared it to “a type of high-risk portfolio of a bank” that complements and extends other investments in development.

The first tranche of funding has already been agreed, a second tranche will be in September 2008. Successful proposals need to provide evidence by all the partners of their investments and the risks they make. According to Sprenger, the biggest challenge so far is for the various groups proposing a project to find “working models” – among partners that may not normally work together – that work.

In the subsequent discussion period, participants explored what they saw as new or innovative about the Schokland process. Some aspects – concern for the MDGs for example – are not especially new. The focus on innovative and risk-taking ways of working did however strike many participants as novel.

Looking beyond the Schokland ‘island’, the overall process and the individual agreements and projects look like they have the potential to be innovation labs for other development actions. In particular, they may be a source of ideas on more effective processes of collaboration, multi-stakeholder actions, and combinations of acting and influencing. All of this however will also require heightened attention to information exchange, knowledge sharing, communication and learning.

The meeting was organized by Sandra van den Berg of Nuffic, Michel Wesseling of ISS and Peter Ballantyne of Euforic. See the presentations by Thom Sprenger (MinBuZa), Aard van den Broek (Edukans), and Caroline Figuères (IICD). Join the IKNL informal group at

report by Peter Ballantyne