News / 27 March 2024

Changing of the guard: Paul Engel and Leida Rijnhout on the unique strength of Both ENDS

After eight years as chair of the Both ENDS Board, Paul Engel is now passing on the baton to Leida Rijnhout. In thus double interview, we look back and forwards with the outgoing and incoming chairs. Paul Engel sets the ball rolling on an enthusiastic note: “This organization decides itself what it is going to do, and does it very well. As the Board, we help and use our networks to provide support”. A conversation about taking the lead in systemic change and working with others around the world.

How do you look at Both ENDS?

Paul: “As the Board, we look with great pleasure at everything the people at Both ENDS do. It’s very inspiring. There’s so much going on! It’s quite a challenge to keep up with what everyone is doing. I greatly enjoyed the discussions in parliament, for example. Our experts know so much. It is very informative to listen to them and to understand better what it is you are going to vote for”.

Leida: “That’s right! I have known Both ENDS for more than thirty years. At that time, I worked mainly with Latin American partners and I lived in Bolivia for a while. We hear so often that attention to the environment is a luxury problem, but it has been clear for years that that is nonsense. It is the basis of our lives. Indigenous peoples know that better than anyone. As a social anthropologist, I like to look at the link between environment and ‘development’. I think it is unique that Both ENDS works on environmental issues with international partners. Environmental defenders, with whom I have worked for many years and who Both ENDS also works with, do extremely important work and often in very difficult circumstances.”

Do you recognize that?

Paul: “Yes. Our partners are not always sure of their lives. I find such situations difficult. Especially if they occur where Dutch companies or the government are directly or indirectly involved in projects. It then quickly becomes a complex political problem here in the Netherlands, in which we naturally use our network to draw attention to the plight of our partners. What effect that has on ultimate decision-making you don’t always know, but we can all hang together on one side of the proverbial boat to keep it upright”.

What do you see as the main challenge fore the near future?

Leida: “Finding a new director for Both ENDS. That is an exciting challenge and I’m interested to know how that will turn out. We are developing a new strategy and we’re going to review the organizational structure with a healthy dose of pragmatism. Without, of course, losing sight of the continuity and financial health that we as the Board safeguard. There is enough to do”.  

How do you look at the flat organizational model?

Paul: “Yes, that has taken some time to develop over the past few years. It mobilizes the vision, knowledge and skills of everyone in the organization. But it asks a lot of our staff, to keep taking that responsibility to the full. You can’t avoid it by hiding behind a superior. It has inspired a large number of staff members to work in a different way. And that’s a good thing, in my opinion”.

What makes Both ENDS unique?

Leida: “Both ENDS can offer positive solutions that contribute to systemic change and the development of a new economic model. Workable solutions that stand for a different way of approaching people and the world. By sitting at the table with the right people, for example biological and small-scale farmers and progressive small companies. They have been working on fundamental change for many years. Looking for systemic solutions and not just making simple proposals that come down to damage control. The fact that – even though you’re in the minority – you work with the right networks and can formulate the right solutions means that you can bring about real change”.

Paul: “At Both ENDS, you have to keep developing, constantly. The dossiers are thoroughly researched and, thanks to the network of all our partner organizations worldwide, you obtain information that often puts you in the forefront. Take export credit insurance for fossil projects, for example. Both ENDS was one of the first to investigate how deeply Dutch government money was involved in these projects. That makes Both ENDS’ approach innovative. Our strategy of first sitting around the table, sharing knowledge and confronting governments and companies with the consequences of their investments for our partners in other countries is unique. Only if that does not achieve anything, do we resort to action. Another significant achievement is the link that Both ENDS makes between climate and women, for example through GAGGA. You need to be strong and confident to be able to counter all the arguments against that. And Both ENDS can do that partly thanks to its internal decision-making, in which this is all very well prepared.”

The members of the Both ENDS Board give their services for free and work at arm’s length. Read more about the Board. 

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