"A strong middle class really makes a country more stable."
Poverty and injustice are important themes for Major Wietse Kooistra. They determine most of the choices this investor makes. "The things I do have to be right in both the heart and the head," he says. That applies to his job, but also to the financial decisions he makes. "A loan to PlusPlus is not guaranteed, but it is a reliable investment. The transparency and sustainability really appeal to me."
According to Wietse, sustainability goes hand in hand with poverty reduction. As Operations Manager at development organization Compassion, he knows all about this. "Sustainability is also about how long a project can be sustained. I think the Kenyan company Big Thunder is a wonderful example. It cuts both ways. They buy residual waste from hundreds of farmers to turn it into biofuel. That makes me enthusiastic."
Wietse ended up at Compassion five years ago. Even though he always felt attracted to this aid organization as a donor, initially he had no intention of working there. His promising career was in the department of Defense. Wietse was a major when he received coaching for a next step in his career. Unexpectedly, he decided to take a different turn. "Work always came first," he explains his choice. "Now I spend more time on family and faith. Although I do remain a major as a reservist."
With an education in Business Administration, Wietse's experience and qualities now come in handy for business operations within Compassion. Worldwide, 80,000 people work here, both paid and unpaid, for children in poverty. At the office in the Netherlands there are 125 people. "I am good at structuring, logic and sequencing. I think it's important to add value. At an NGO, you want to do a professional job and provide efficient help."
Not surprisingly, Compassion is operational in countries where PlusPlus also provides loans to entrepreneurs. For example Kenya, Uganda and Colombia. Wietse: "Of course we offer emergency aid where necessary, but we are focused on supporting local people with the idea that they can continue independently. The growth must come from them. That this is actually possible, we see in India. Due to a new course set by the government, we were unexpectedly forced to leave that country. Fortunately, two thirds of the projects remained intact because the local population continued the work themselves. That’s very uplifting for us."
Christian faith plays a big role in Wietse's life. The father of two children (12 and 9) is committed to his neighbor. In his work he puts his faith into practice. "God has a warm heart for the vulnerable. I try to live up to his example. The military is also about law, peace and justice. God finds us incredibly valuable. I think it is important for children to hear that they are worthwhile. Self-esteem is really essential. Children can have a school education, enough food and neat clothes, but if they don't feel worth anything, they stay in survival mode."
Strong middle class
That sense of self-worth is also essential in adults. By providing financial assistance and training to vulnerable populations, hope also grows confidence in themselves and in the future. "There has to be growth for the local population. That's why I love the fact that PlusPlus is committed to small business owners. By focusing on the agricultural sector, you simultaneously address the issue of food supply. Studies have shown that a strong middle class really makes a country more stable."
"We ask children in poverty to write down their dreams. In the Netherlands, this is a very normal question. But thinking about your future is not a given in many places, where the main priority is to have food on the table today. It's a great challenge to dare to dream of a better future and to be able to make your own choices."