Underpinning the Dutch Desk in Lagos is the “Africa Strategy Dutch Business” and the memorandum of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation: Doing what the Netherlands does best. This expressed the desire to set up hubs in certain countries to facilitate access to local financial networks. Edwin went to gauge the interest of the Dutch business community in a financing hub.
“Nigeria is a very active country that the Netherlands has been doing business with for a long time. Of all countries in Africa, the Netherlands exports the most to Nigeria, amounting to 3.8 billion euros in 2021. The need to do business in or with Nigeria appeared to be high, only lacking access to local financing. Discussions with the consulate in Lagos about shaping a ‘Dutch Desk’ and with the existing ‘German Desk’ of the German development bank DEG about their experiences gave us enough ammunition to get started. The strong relationship we already had with Access Bank was a big plus. In November, the cooperation agreement was signed. We opened a 20 euros million facility to finance projects of Dutch companies and one of 40 euros million for export financing.”
“Through the Dutch Desk, 20 million euros is available for financing Dutch companies' projects and 40 million euros for export finance. ”
“What it is that the Dutch Desk does exactly?” continues Edwin. “We are there for Dutch entrepreneurs who want to do business in Nigeria. These can be startups, SMEs or large corporates. We make sure they have easy access to financing options to realise their growth ambitions, in the broadest sense of the word. From opening an account at Access Bank to project financing, supported by a feasibility study where necessary. With ‘Team Holland’, consisting of four employees, we can now give special attention to Dutch companies, serve them fully and build a relationship with them. We do this by offering Invest International’s financing options in combination with Access Bank’s local products. In order to help entrepreneurs with their financing needs and make an impact.”
On the picture from left to right with the Dutch Embassy in Lagos: Foluso Adejoro (Policy Advisor Food Security and Climate), Mariska Lammers (First Secretary Food Security and Climate), Wouter Plomp (Embassador), Valkamiya Ahmadu (Policy Officer and Political Affairs) and Edwin van Veenhuizen (Invest International).
After opening in November 2022, Edwin has been in Nigeria regularly to further roll out the desk. “Being in Nigeria has made me realise that it is an entrepreneurial, active and vibrant country with great potential within our five focus sectors. For instance, there is a huge acceleration on solar energy and sustainable projects within Agri-food. But healthcare is also on the move, with many new centres being opened or renovated. In the area of infrastructure such as road construction and curbing traffic chaos, there is a lot of work going on. Or take coastal protection, to prevent flooding. As Invest International, we can play an impactful role with financing solutions. We are not the engine, the entrepreneur is. We are the catalyst to make entrepreneurs’ ideas possible. The energy this releases is contagious. That is why it is so important that we actually have a presence in the country and stand with our own ‘boots on the ground.'”
“What I am most proud of? That in a short time we have established the Dutch Desk and demonstrated that we add value. For example, for our Independent Energy (see box later in article). By really doing it, we have shown that we are relevant. Without the enthusiasm and support of both Access Bank and our own organisation, we would never have succeeded. This also works through to, for example, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which recognises why the Dutch Desk must exist and is willing to make money available.”
Access Bank Plc. is a leading full-service commercial bank operating through a network of more than 700 branches and service outlets, spanning three continents, seventeen markets and 52 million customers. The Bank employs 28,000 people in its operations in Nigeria and has subsidiaries in Sub-Saharan Africa and the United Kingdom, a branch in Dubai, UAE and representative offices in China, Lebanon and India.
“We want to open two new desks by 2023, in Kenya and India, and have plans for two more. We are doing this in close consultation with our partners and shareholders and based on careful country research. Our focus is on rolling out Dutch Desks in ‘combination countries’. These are fourteen countries designated by the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation where combined trade and development cooperation is deployed. We also look at the extent to which an existing desk can serve nearby countries. Of course, the most important starting point remains what the needs of the Dutch business community are and how we can work together with the local embassy and a partner bank in the best possible way. That is crucial.”
The Dutch Desk offers Independent Energy valuable assistance.
Independent Energy is a Dutch company that provides “off grid” energy. Frank Hoogers is co-owner of Independent Energy and responsible for operations. “Where there is no power, or where the grid works poorly, we provide power from solar and wind.” Africa is Independent Energy’s main market and have been operating in Nigeria for six years. In autumn 2022, Frank came into contact with Edwin van Veenhuizen and started working with the Dutch Desk. Frank explains.
“Nigeria is a huge country with a great need for energy security. For six years we have been working there with SOSAI Renewable Energies Company, a Nigerian renewable energy company. A few years ago, the opportunity to develop “mini-grids” in Nigeria came up. These are complete grids to power a village. These mini-grids are partly subsidised by the Nigerian government so they must also be owned by a Nigerian company. Therefore, we then entered into a joint venture with SOSAI. For this, we needed a local bank account. Then we got in touch with Edwin and the Dutch Desk.”
Dutch Desk gives good feeling
Frank is very satisfied with the cooperation with the Dutch Desk. “The fact that there is a link to the Netherlands gives me a good feeling. Our business involves large sums of money and also large risks. The Dutch Desk has made sure that payments above a certain amount have to be approved by me. It’s nice to be able to keep control this way. And in the end, the money has to leave the country in the form of profits or dividends. And the Nigerian naira must be converted into euros. That’s where the Dutch Desk can help us a lot.”