In March 2020, Edwin Huizing became the new chair of the general board of Tropenbos International, replacing Tini Hooymans. Huizing is the Executive Director at the Humanistic Institute for Development Cooperation (HIVOS), and has worked in international cooperation since 1989. He talked to Koen Kusters about his views on TBI and his role as chair.
Why does TBI matter?
Forests are of crucial importance for achieving international climate change and conservation objectives — everyone knows this. Still, the concrete efforts to save forests and improve forest management are lagging behind. Moreover, such efforts often do not adequately involve the people that live in or near those forests. Solutions need to be found in the landscapes, and need to address the environmental as well as the social challenges. And, importantly, people in the landscapes should have a voice. That is TBI’s core business.
TBI is not the only organization that operates at the interface of environmental and socio-economic challenges in the forested tropics. What is its added value?
First, TBI was originally established as a research organization. Although the focus today is on achieving impact, everything TBI does is still firmly rooted in science. Second, TBI is not a single-issue organization, but looks at landscapes holistically. And, finally, the TBI network is unique, in that it is based on true local ownership, as the members are independent organizations. In that sense, TBI is ahead of many of the larger Dutch development organizations.
What do you think is your added value to the network?
I have worked for many different organizations, including the United Nations, the Dutch Council for Refugees, and SNV, the Netherlands Development Organization. So, I bring some experience. Moreover, I think I can bring enthusiasm and energy, to help the network grow to its fullest potential. I see my role primarily as a sounding board for the management of the network and its members. My role is to ask questions and give nudges. I want to stimulate people to think beyond their comfort zones, to take a fresh perspective on their own work. Where do we want to be in five years? How can the network be further strengthened?
What is needed to strengthen the network?
Strengthening the network’s functioning requires, among other things, that the chairs and directors of the individual members have a more prominent voice in matters related to the network as a whole. The members themselves need to set the agenda. I think this starts with the joint development of a network-wide strategy. The network needs to have a compass, in order to help decide what to focus on.
What is your vision for the network, five years from now?
Let’s say a doubling of the total budget. Also, each individual network member will be in a place from which it can grow further. This means that the members are less dependent on financing from the Netherlands. Possibly, five years from now, the network will have grown, with some additional members in new countries, but I don’t think network expansion should be a goal in itself. The priority is to strengthen the current members, who can then explore whether expansion in their region has added value. Here too, a network strategy is important, because it will help with making such decisions.
What do you think is needed for TBI to increase its impact?
Governments and organizations from all over the world get together in all these international conferences on climate change and sustainable development. We have a role to play there. We need to make sure that commitments get ramped up, and put into action. I think the TBI network can be more visible in such international arenas, to share experiences from the landscapes where we work, and to voice the views of people living there. This could mean, for example, that the network prioritizes one or two international conferences, and then makes sure that some of the members get a stage there. There is no need for modesty. TBI has a long history and embodies an enormous wealth of knowledge, and I think this needs to be shared more widely.
Published in the Annual review 2020