Cooperatives, banking and development economics: Thos Gieskes’ path to Oikocredit
Thos Gieskes, managing director
Today Thos Gieskes joins Oikocredit as our new managing director. With a background in development economics and over 30 years in leadership at a cooperative bank, Thos is excited about the new role with an organization he believes in.
How would you describe yourself?
Working with people and succeeding together is key for me. That might sound strange coming from someone who has worked in banking for so many years, but while numbers are important, people are much more important. I have been part of many successful teams and the greatest part is being able to celebrate your achievements together and to strive forward together when challenges arise.
You worked for Rabobank, an international bank headquartered in the Netherlands, for nearly 30 years. What motivates you to continue to work for a cooperative financial institution?
Over the years, I’ve learned that the cooperative model is extremely powerful. Cooperatives are essentially about people coming together with a common goal or objective that they want to strive toward. My experience has shown me that bringing strong leaders and passionate people together for that common goal can really make a business thrive. It’s also a great way of organizing yourself and keeping that sense of purpose within the organization.
And what motivates you to want to work for Oikocredit specifically?
When I first saw the advertisement for the managing director position, I turned to my wife and said: “This job looks like it has been written for me.” As I read more about Oikocredit, its mission and values and the role it wants to fulfil in the world, I knew that this is what I had to do. Learning about how people came together over 40 years ago to invest their money in a better way, was really inspiring. Oikocredit was founded on the basis of investing in people, and that’s what I am all about.
Also, I believe in having a solid business plan along with a social mission. I have come across a lot of organizations who are doing really good work socially, but are not delivering professionally or financially. You really need both, and that is what I appreciate about Oikocredit.
How does your passion and/or experience align with Oikocredit’s vision [a global, just society in which resources are shared sustainably and all people are empowered with the choices they need to create a life of dignity]?
I believe my passion for people and background as a development economist, along with my banking and leadership skills, are well aligned with Oikocredit’s vision. The vision coincides with what I learned many years back in Nicaragua during my thesis on voluntary labour in the Nicaraguan coffee harvest. I saw how helping people is much more powerful when you give them the means to help themselves. That’s sustainable. There are always crises where urgent donating is the only solution, but over time the best solution is to give people the opportunity to rise above. That’s what Oikocredit is doing, and it’s beautiful.
What experiences from your previous work have prepared you to be the managing director of Oikocredit?
The past 30 years, living and working in various parts of the world, have prepared me for this position. During my most recent experience in Sydney I was responsible for Rabobank’s business with a balance sheet of about 30 billion Australian dollars, working with a staff of 1,200 people across the region of all different nationalities. For me, this was the ultimate test to show how to properly and successfully manage a business portfolio. As a development economist and finance expert, I can contribute to both the social and business side of Oikocredit.
You have worked in different countries and now you are joining another international organization, what is it about international work environments that appeal to you?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve considered myself more of a global citizen than a Dutch citizen. It’s fascinating to meet with people who come from different countries, cultures, backgrounds and religions and to see how you can still connect.
There is value in learning from different countries and cultures where people have different kinds of expertise. Learning about agriculture in Latin America, for example, gave me a different – yet vital – perspective in my work in Australia. Having both insights and experiences has been key in my development.
What are you looking forward to in your first months at Oikocredit?
I’m really looking forward to getting to know my new colleagues and gaining a deep understanding of how it all works at Oikocredit. So I look forward to asking a lot of questions and learning as much as I possibly can. It will be great to see where my knowledge and expertise can best contribute to the organization.