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A Conversation with Adessium’s new Management Team

Saskia van den Dool and Martijn Meijer formed the new management team at Adessium Foundation effective November 1, 2020. Neither are new to Adessium; Saskia is now the Managing Director of the organization, after having been active as Director of Programs for the last three years. Martijn has moved from his role as program manager for the People & Nature program to the position of Director of Programs.
High time to get to know these two better.

You are both dyed-in-the-wool veterans at Adessium. What motivates you to do this work?

Saskia: “Doing my part to contribute to a better world has been the theme running through my professional career. Adessium has a wonderful way of making this possible. It’s so inspiring to be able to work with our often very committed partners and to truly help them make a difference for a more just and sustainable world.”

Martijn gets his inspiration from the image of Kate Raworth’s Donut that is a very powerful representation of the major challenges society faces. One side of the donut depicts how we are using more than our planet can provide, or overshooting this capacity in several areas. The other side of the donut shows that a dignified life through access to work, housing or safety is not a reality for many. Thanks in part to a boost from a strong civil society, these challenges have now garnered a solid position on the social agenda. Recent examples such as the European Green Deal or the Deltaplan for Biodiversity Recovery reflect this momentum. “Contributing to this strong, well-organized civil society is what Adessium is committed to,” says Martijn.

You two are taking over the management baton during an anniversary year: Adessium has turned 15. What typifies the organization you are leading?

“Adessium has acquired a great position in the philanthropic sector in recent years. I think a large part of this is due to how we work,” says Saskia. Adessium has a long-term vision, both for institutional support and reinforcing organizations. The organization is also open to more innovative initiatives with higher risk. “Collaboration is also important to us, and this is appreciated in the field.”

“Our antenna is tuned and alert to developments and opportunities. We identify partners who can respond to these,” she explains. “One good example of this is the funding of investigative journalism in a time that this became subject to major pressure because of budgets drying up at media companies,” Martijn adds. Adessium has been able to help innovative, international journalism initiatives such as ICIJ and Bellingcat. “We are now also actively stimulating other foundations to provide journalism organizations with financial support.

Plastic pollution is another area where Adessium was able to help a few frontrunners in an early phase to move this problem higher up on the agenda. This put Adessium and a few other foundations at the basis of much broader mobilization efforts on this topic in the philanthropy sector. “And the results are there,” says Martijn. “Now people want to get rid of these mountains of single-use plastics, and politicians are slowly starting to take action.”

A 15th anniversary is also an opportunity to look ahead. Do you foresee any important changes of direction for the future?

Saskia: “Adessium’s 15th anniversary coincided with the last year of our three-year policy cycle. It was a great opportunity to sit down and talk to our founders, the board and the team to review our strategic framework and our methods.” The outcome of this process doesn’t bring any fundamental changes of direction with it. Adessium will continue to work according to its distinctive methods.

“We will have a lower donation budget at our disposal during the coming period. And this means making choices,” says Saskia. The current programs will remain in place, but the way themes are expanded on will be more focused. “This is important; we don’t want to take a ‘cheese slicer’ approach to our budget, making small cutbacks everywhere. We would rather make very targeted choices to be able to provide proper support to the organizations that are a good fit for our mission. This can be a painful process, particularly during a time that our contribution is needed more than ever.”

The upcoming year is an interim year in which we will be working on a plan for the 2022-2024 period. The team is working on the further fleshing-out of the themes. “There is also room for experimentation, such as our goal to work on a more cross-program basis,” says Saskia. “This means we will be looking for unique initiatives at the interface of our programs or themes.”

The corona pandemic has really come to characterize this year. What has this meant for Adessium’s work?

If corona has shown us one thing it’s that all of the topics Adessium works on are and will remain relevant, according to both directors. These themes demand long-term attention. “At the same time, we don’t want to lose sight of short-term needs; these have only been magnified by corona,” according to Martijn. “We were able to free up almost a million and a half Euros in 2020 to rapidly respond to the needs of vulnerable people in society. This involved providing relief to people hit hardest, such as the homeless, or emergency aid to people who are trapped in refugee camps on the Greek islands. Funding has also gone to research on sewer testing for faster detection and identification of virus infection hotspots.”

Just like other funds, Adessium has tried to offer maximum flexibility to its partners. Martijn: “Projects either couldn’t go ahead or weren’t proceeding according to plan. By indicating that the financing would continue, and thus creating the room partners needed to adapt to the new reality, we tried to give them some peace of mind in that regard. It makes us proud to see how much our partners have accomplished this year in spite of the corona crisis. There is so much power in human creativity and inventiveness.”

How do you picture the new normal after corona?

The fact that the corona pandemic has had a structural effect on how we work was to be expected. People might travel less than before the pandemic, the alternatives also appear to be working. However, room for networking and interaction is also key. Saskia: “We normally visit our partners on a regular basis to learn more about their work and to exchange ideas on current developments. These visits are often very useful and inspiring, and we really missed this aspect. I expect us to do some catching up in this regard.”

The effects of the corona pandemic will continue to be felt for a long time. Adessium’s partners are already preparing for different types of requests for help and target groups than they had to contend with in the past, such as “involuntary” freelancers who suddenly found themselves without work for an extended period. At the same time, the expectation is that organizations’ resources will only be under more pressure since many foundations have less to spend and government subsidies will decline. It’s hard to estimate the consequences of this.

This is why both definitely envisage an important role for Adessium in the short-term when it comes to supporting partners who are in close contact with the people who need this support the most. Examples of this include offering access to healthcare for undocumented people, or increased attention for the situation homeless youth face.

“We will still remain the foundation with a Dutch-European view that will continue to work on changes that demand a lot of patience,” Martijn adds.

Finally, what are you two looking forward to the most in your new positions?

“I’m looking forward to working with our team in its new configuration to build further on our organization, and to continue providing our partners with the best possible support for the important work they do,” according to Saskia.

Martijn adds, “The growing trend for increased collaboration in the philanthropy sector is a good and important development and one that Adessium supports wholeheartedly. I look forward to building on this foundation and strengthening it. The only way to ensure we end up inside Raworth’s Donut, in this safe ecological and socially just space where people can flourish, is by working together.”

With effect of November 1st 2020 Adessium is led by a new Management Team, consisting of Saskia van den Dool as Managing Director and Martijn Meijer as Director of Programs. We have had the pleasure of working with both of them at Adessium for several years, and are happy that they were willing to take on these positions in our organization.

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