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"Share good advice and practices with others!" with Pieter Wiekeraad

'Erik de Rie - Photography The Netherlands'

Pieter studied Dutch law and policy making at the University of Utrecht. He started working for the local government and has always had an international career as a senior consultant besides his local government work. He worked for twenty years for international projects in many places such as the Balkans, Caucasus, but also in Iran and Saudi Arabia mainly on strategic management, citizen participation, local urban and economic development. Pieter is now leading the Division on Executing Services for the province of Groningen.

What do you want to achieve in your position as leader?

The mission I am trying to develop throughout my professional career is to bring more "professionalism" into government. Professionalism, from my perspective, is being educated, experienced, open-minded, and also being aware of the impact of the way you work on others. I have been to several countries where there is a lot of oppression from the government. For example, in Saudi Arabia or Iran, you can see that the governments do not add value to the welfare of the citizens. I have also been to countries where there was no government at all, for example in Albania before the millennium change. My colleagues at the local government there had a Kalashnikov in their bedroom to defend their own house, their children and their wife, because the police were not doing it. It was an absent government. On the line between a very present government and a very absent government, my mission is to bring a middle ground so that we have a government that cares about the welfare and prosperity of its citizens, without being stifling. I often send the people from my department to new courses and studies. I encourage them to continue to train and to ensure their professionalism.

How is Groningen doing with sustainability?

Groningen has been the gas connection of the Netherlands and almost all of Europe, because we produce gas, and even oil in some places. But that ends, first because it is fossil, second because we have a lot of earthquakes. So for us it is very visible every day that we have to change the fossil industry into a sustainable industry. We are one of the main partners, not only nationally, but also internationally, in the transition to hydrogen. Many experiments are therefore being conducted here. We have buses that run on hydrogen, we have companies that produce large hydrogen trucks, we have hydrogen cars, all of this is being experimented here in Groningen. And this is very important because we know that fossil fuels are on the way out. Also, we have a lot of people working in the gas industry who are losing their jobs, so we have to create new opportunities. These could be in hydrogen. We experience day after day, on our own land, that everything shakes, and there is always the fear of earthquakes, so we are very motivated to stop with gas and have new resources.

Do you have an example, from your personal experience, where you brought different parties together to create change?

When I worked for the municipality of Apeldoorn, we brought together the management of the hospitals and the management of the product factories. We thought it was important that they learn from each other. The idea was to bring together two different worlds, which usually never meet, and to help think outside the box. We started to explain what the one world looks like, then the other, and what we can learn from each other's worlds and perspectives.

For example, people from the hospitals were able to give credit to the manufacturing world and its skills in making technical products such as refrigerators, keystrokes, lamps, etc. While the people from the industry were able to recognize the merit of the hospital world and its penchant for the human side.

And it's also interesting when you look at what we do at Bressummer. We bring together the agricultural sector and not only the production aspect, but also consumption, transportation and logistics. We really think about the ongoing process, the fact that there is a chain and that there is always someone behind you who has to work with your products. And there is of course also someone before you, someone with whose products you have to work.

How could we increase collaboration between parties to go towards sustainable solutions?

I think it's important to be open-minded, to accept other points of view and to realize that everything we do has an impact on the environment. We need to think about what's good for people and the planet and not just what's good for me.

I met Dorien Staal (director of Voorbij Prefab B.V., residential construction and industry) at a meeting. She told us that in her company they had found a new process to prepare concrete with less CO2 emissions. She wanted to share this formula with the entire industry. But her board members were afraid to lose their competitive advantage. And she said, "perhaps, but it's better for all of us and for the world to share the formula than to keep it to ourselves and try to do good on our own."

That was very inspiring to me. This is exactly the attitude we need: to share good advice and practices with others. We need to change the paradigm of profit, of growth, to one of collaboration and prosperity.

How do you see the role of the provincial government to support this collaboration?

For me, the key is the product chain. It's the same in the food industry and in the construction sector. You always have to be aware of who is before you, who comes after you, and how you can connect these different parts of the chain. At the end of the day, the product that is in the store is the result of a lot of people before. So if Cosun is making sugar, his interest is that his product is sold in the store. And that can only happen if the transportation works well, if the logistics are good, if the retail is ok, if the farmers get a decent price. In short, when the supply and processing is done well. What's important is that each part feels responsible for the next part of the chain. Most of the time we think that we've done our part of the product, and then we pass it on to someone else. And good luck with that. But we should be proud of the final product. And we should also feel ownership of the final product, even if we only prepared half of it. In the aviation industry, they know that very well. Because if you make one part of the airplane that is not functional, the whole airplane is ruined. Actually, for our work at the province and government, it is absolutely the same, maybe it counts even more.

What message would you like to send to the new generation of leaders?

Don't give up on idealism. And don't let yourself be diminished by the older generation who say they know it all and have seen it all. In my opinion, the real transition, and the real change, comes from the new generation. And to me, Bressummer is a symbol of that willingness to bridge generations and encourage the transition that must come.

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