NLWorks helps to create business with impact. But that’s not something we can do on our own. That is why we build partnerships between companies and entrepreneurs that want to be socially meaningful. We do this with the support of the government, knowledge institutes, and by connecting competitive Dutch technology with the knowledge and expertise of the different international partners. In this interview, Partnership Developer Geert Klein Wolterink explains what impact means to NLWorks and how this is reflected and measured in our projects.
The concept of impact is broad. What does impact look like for NLWorks?
“The NLWorks programs have a dual goal. In the first place, we want to achieve economic impact on the Dutch side. This means there must be an opportunity for profitable business for Dutch businesses abroad. In parallel, we want to make a positive environmental and social impact. In order to support this, we adhere to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as ‘No Poverty’, ‘Zero Hunger’, and ‘Climate Action’. So, when we talk about making an impact, we mean that our programs must make both an economic and a social impact.
In the early stage of setting up the program, we help partners to define the business and impact case. This impact case provides clarity in what the partners want to achieve, what they think they will need, and what exactly they want to contribute within this program.
At NLWorks we ensure that the idea takes shape and will yield tangible results. Ultimately, it is the partners who come up with ideas and identify what they want and need. They are the experts and we help build and shape the program.”
What does the social and economic impact look like in practice?
“Let me use the Kentucky ‘Let’s Grow Together’ program as an example to explain our dual goal, the economic results as well as the environmental and social impact. The Kentucky program brings Dutch horticulture entrepreneurs and local entrepreneurs and private-public organizations together, in order to create business opportunities with environmental, social and economic impact.
The program, and the jobs it creates, is especially important in a region that has experienced significant job losses due to the disappearance of the coal industry. That is the economic impact we make together. Then there’s the social impact. By producing healthy food locally in a sustainable way, we can have a positive impact on the health of residents, especially important in a state like Kentucky. Many residents face health conditions such as respiratory issues, obesity, and heart disease, ranking Kentucky among the bottom ten unhealthiest states in the US. Our program makes more healthy food available for the local people. This has a positive impact on health and that’s the social impact we are aiming for. These lessons learned can be applied in other parts of the world, obviously tailored to the local situation.
So, the Let’s Grow Together program has already yielded concrete results and created jobs by promoting sustainable and healthy food production. But it is looking to broaden its reach even further by helping traditionally-minded entrepreneurs with less land and financial resources to expand their businesses sustainably.”
Assessing a program’s effectiveness
Outcome, output, and impact are terms used in our program evaluation to assess the effectiveness of a program. ‘Outputs’ are the tangible products or services produced by a program. ’Outcomes’ are the results or changes that occur as a result of those outputs. And ‘impact’ refers to the broader or long-term effects of a program on individuals, communities, and society as a whole.
How does this apply to a program?
“Making an impact is closely related to output and outcome. Working on a program is a process. Suppose that part of this process is setting up a new education program. The output of this could be that 30 students are trained. When we talk about the outcome, we think about the results that the students eventually achieve after graduating. With their knowledge gained, they can make an impact on a larger scale, for instance in growing food with fewer resources. Sometimes the impact is difficult to measure. In those cases, it is easier to focus on a clear output because it’s easier to measure how many students have achieved something, than to measure the impact of the economic position of each a student.”
Creating more impact by measuring goals
“At this moment, we are 8 partnership developers and truly have big ambitions. We want to get better and better at what we do. Therefore, we need to know that what we are doing is efficient and effective. That is why we are increasingly mapping out that impact. We do this by measuring what we achieve within the programs in our portfolio The benefit of this is that we can make all goals more explicit. Is the goal realistic or should we adjust it? We use the results to steer decisions, because we can see what works and what doesn’t. This adjustment, based on the decisions made, is ultimately done by the partners but we remain in conversation with them and offer a helping hand in the steering process. While metrics are important, we make sure that making impact comes first.”
What are some concrete results achieved in a program?
“We’re working on quite ambitious programs. Again, when we look at our Kentucky program Let’s grow Together’, we can say that considerable steps and concrete results have already been made by Dutch companies that have done a lot of business there.
One example is the jobs that have been created. People are now producing sustainable, healthy food there. So you see those results clearly.
The next step is asking ourselves the question of how we can make success even bigger. For example, by broadening the target group. So, not only focusing on large operators, for example, but also involving the more traditionally minded entrepreneurs. Those with less land and financial resources can often use a helping hand in producing more efficiently and sustainably. That way there is a great opportunity for business expansion and therefore job growth.
During the lifetime of a program, we look at what we have done, what the lessons learned are so far and how we can apply this in other contexts. We do not copy but look at what is needed and take elements from proven strategies and systems.
Our approach helps us increase our impact on the world.”