A Beacon of Change
In 1993, Jeroen joined Solidaridad as a campaign manager, driven by the ideals presented in Gustavo Gutiérrez’s book, ‘Teología de Liberación‘ (Theology of Liberation). At that time, Solidaridad was a small organization with just six staff members and a modest budget of around 3.5 million Dutch guilders. Jeroen’s initial mission was to advocate for fair incomes for banana farmers in Central and South America. Through a combination of relentless lobbying and lawsuits at the EU level, he broke the stranglehold of major banana corporations and paved market access for smaller producers — a triumph that foreshadowed numerous achievements to come.
Following his success with bananas, Jeroen extended his work to focus on sustainable cotton, palm oil, beef, sugar, and soy. Also, the entire move towards landscapes and climate-smart farming was induced by him some 15 years ago. Jeroen played a pivotal role in shaping Solidaridad’s network model and led the organization’s efforts in South America for many years.
Jeroen consistently championed innovation within Solidaridad. As the Director of Policies & Programs, he introduced groundbreaking concepts to Solidaridad like digital solutions for farmers, fair data, circular local food systems, and planetary health — ideas that have since gained traction both within and outside of Solidaridad, illustrating his visionary thinking.
In his farewell message to Solidaridad, which can be read in full on his LinkedIn, Jeroen himself is far from complacent about his successes.
“We’ve made significant progress, no doubt. The global sustainability label movement has attracted a loyal following of approximately 700 million consumers. However, we have yet to achieve the necessary systemic change. Only 8% of the world’s population earns an annual income of 20,000 euros or more. By 2050, 80% of the world’s population will reside in cities, and this income is the minimum requirement for a decent life in any urban area worldwide.”
A Rebel with a Cause
As Director, Jeroen adeptly balanced the need for continuity and innovation. His extensive history with Solidaridad uniquely positioned him to navigate the intricate dynamics of the organization. Simultaneously, his relentless pursuit of improvement and change ensured that Solidaridad perpetually moved forward. Jeroen’s enthusiasm and dedication for delivering on new ideas were unparalleled and contagious, motivating the staff to go the extra mile. Throughout his tenure, he never lost sight of the organization’s core mission: “Farmers First”. This has been his unwavering mantra.
At his farewell, Nico Roozen, the former Executive Director who hired Jeroen in 1992 stated: “Jeroen was smart, energetic and had an impressive work – and innovation power – peppered with his characterizing laughter. With bravado, he approached everyone delivering his message with impressive confidence and persuasiveness. Without Jeroen, Solidaridad would not be where it is now.”
Towards a solidarity economy
In his farewell message Jeroen emphasized again the importance of change, stating, “Change is a constant, and for Solidaridad, it is a guiding principle.”
His parting words also expressed hope for the future, despite the erosion of the concept of global solidarity. He envisioned a shift towards strengthening local communities, an approach already integrated into Solidaridad’s project portfolio. This approach emphasizes local wealth, community ties, solidarity or democratic economy, and localized value creation that empowers communities.
We extend our heartfelt gratitude to Jeroen for his over 30 years of devoted service to Solidaridad. He leaves behind a robust organization that has grown from a modest 1 million EUR budget and just six staff members when he first arrived to now boasting almost 70 million EUR in funding and over 1,000 staff members. Jeroen’s legacy will resonate within Solidaridad for generations to come, serving as an enduring testament to his passion and vision.
This week, Jeroen also posted his final Breakfast Brief podcast. This time, with the roles reversed! Listen in to learn more about why Jeroen is leaving. What he sees as Solidaridad’s biggest failures and successes. And much more
Please note that Gonzalo la Cruz (Solidaridad Managing Director for Latin America) will take on the Executive Director role until the vacancy is filled.