Bob Hiensch, is the Ambassador of The Netherlands to India and also accredited to Nepal and Bhutan. He served in many diplomatic positions around the world: Hong Kong, Paris, at the UN in New York and as ambassador to Israel before he arrived in India in November 2007. Ambassador Hiensch is married and has five children (four daughters and a son) who live in different parts of the world: Monaco, The Netherlandse, Brussels and New York.
The Dutch – all 16 and a half million of them – live in 41,526 square kilometers, just a little larger than Kerala. This makes The Netherlands one of the world’s most densely populated countries. Less well known is that The Netherlands or Holland as it is often called, has the twelfth largest economy in the world, and ranks sixteenth in GDP.
Since 1947, Indo-Dutch relations have been excellent, marked by strong economic and commercial ties, based on foundation of shared democratic ideals, pluralism, multiculturalism and rule of law. Indo-Dutch relations have been multi-faceted and encompass close cooperation in various areas including political, economy, academics and culture. Since the early 1980s, the Dutch Government has identified India as an important economic partner. The relations underwent further intensification after India’s economic liberalization in the 1990s with growing recognition of India as an attractive trade and investment partner.
Bob Hienschshares with Marie Banu the development programs supported by the Netherlands Government.
What is the drive that involves you in social work activities?
As you know, embassies are not social work institutions. So, for an ambassador to get involved in social work has to be a personal inspiration. For me it follows from my conviction that civilization is ‘concern for others’: that is friendship, compassion, and responsibility. This has been the major driving force in my life.
Regretfully, The Netherlands and India do not have a development cooperation program anymore. For many years India was the largest recipient of Dutch development funds worldwide, but this was stopped in 2003 at the request of the Indian government. But, on a personal and very small scale the embassy still is active.
One of the fields that is very important for me is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The Dutch government gives a very high priority on corporate social responsibility, both domestically as well as globally. The Embassy is very focused on CSR and we work closely together with the Indian government and other Indian partners in this field.
What are the programmes supported by the Netherlands Government in other developing countries?
That is quite extensive. We have 15 partner countries in the world and our main focus are on food security; water; sexual and reproductive health; safety and security; as well as the rule of law in the partner countries. We work in countries where we feel that our approach can really make a difference.
Through international NGOs, your government does support programmes in India. Can you tell us more about this?
We have around 33 Dutch NGOs that are active in India in one way or the other. Some are very big like ICCO and HIVOS while some are as small, more private organizations. They work on different programmes, mainly in the field of humanitarian issues, education and women rights. The total funding of these NGOs for India is estimated at around 48 million euros per year.
What has been your experience working with the Indian NGOs?
Generally speaking, they are very professional. We have hardly had any bad experience. Of course, we do have small points where we disagree, but generally I find them to be devoted to the task and focused on what they want to achieve. They work mainly on women rights, minorities’ issues, and children education.
How could an Indian NGO seek funds from the Netherlands Embassy?
They should contact the embassy. I don’t want to promote that too much as we have very limited funds. It is not possible to support large programmes here in India, but we can consider support for small requests.
Of the social issues in India, which do you think should be addressed with priority?
One of the most worrying issues is the degradation of the environment, especially the pollution of rivers and waterways. Water will be a crucial issue in the future development of India.
You mentioned CSR: what are India and The Netherlands doing together in this field?
The embassy has worked closely together with the ministry of Corporate Affairs in realizing a Memorandum of Understanding on CSR between the Indian and Netherlands governments that was singed in Delhi last year. It’s the only MOU on CSR that the Indian government has with a foreign government. It’s a very important achievement for us, because it gives us a good platform to discuss CSR issues with India and to exchange expertise on CSR and corporate governance. We now have a working group which met in Delhi early this year, and we will meet again in The Netherlands in November 2012.
In the last five years I have seen a clear change for the better, especially since the new minister of Corporate Affairs took office after the elections of 2009. The attitude changed from being rather reluctant to actively promoting corporate social responsibility.
What are the CSR programmes that the Embassy is supporting?
Our embassy has interacted with important Indian influential think tanks, employers’ associations, community organizations and government officials in this field. We have organized several round tables, seminars and trainings on CSR to enhance the dialog on the different CSR principles and to showcase the system that The Netherlands already has in place. We also used the opportunities that Ministerial trade missions gave us to discuss CSR more in depth with Indian and Dutch officials and companies.
We do expect the Dutch companies to act responsible when they operate internationally and the embassy helps them in this. We have very good examples of Philips and Unilever in India, whose CSR-policies are exemplary. I am sure The Netherlands can assist India in the realization of its CSR ambition.