Society

Society

From multigenerational living to tiny houses. And from informal care to residential care homes. The way we live together in society is subject to trends and challenges. Read all about it on this page.

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12 Publications

Aging happily? This is how you do it

Published on: 1 October 2020

To live a long and happy life; that’s what we all want. And the great thing is; we can have that. How to get happy and stay happy: Josanne Huijg, scientist and expert in aging happily, knows this. Here, she shares 5 tips for being happy as you get older.

 

Ask people what happiness means to them and no two answers will be the same. “Happiness means something different to everyone,” psychologist Josanne Huijg from knowledge institute Leyden Academy on Vitality and Ageing says. She conducts research regarding growing old happily and meaningfully. “It may sound obvious, but in order to determine how you can be happy when you get older, you first need to establish what happiness means to you.”  Science identifies three approaches to happiness: hedonistic, eudaimonistic and an evaluation of your own life in general. “Hedonistic wellbeing means to experience positive emotions and enjoyment,” Huijg says, “for example, by enjoying art, music, good food and the company of loved ones.” Eudaimonistic wellbeing is related to meaningfulness, self-actualization and the feeling that you matter in the world.”

 

Determine your happiness factors

To know what you need to do to be and stay happy, you must realize what the focus is for you. Huijg: “Do you enjoy company? Does art make you happy, or watching movies or walking in nature? Or do you experience happiness when you can be important to others? For some people, having their family members around them is the main factor for happiness. Others feel happy being active and busy and moving a lot. So, ask yourself this question: what is important to me? How satisfied am I in that department? And what can I do or change to improve my satisfaction?”

 

Invest in relationships

The definition of happiness may be different for everybody, but there are definitely a number of factors that can contribute to anyone’s sense of wellbeing. Loving relationships, for example.  They are an important condition for being happy in old age, research has shown. Huijg: “That does not mean that not everyone has the same needs in terms of friendship and family. One person appreciates seeing a dear friend once in a while, while someone else prefers to be with someone every day. But, generally speaking, the quality of social relationships is one of the main determinants for happiness.”

 

“Loving relationships are an important condition for being happy in old age”

 

 

The advice is therefore to keep investing in friendships and cherished connections, even during periods that you may have less time for that. Huijg: “Many people between 30 and 50 are busy with their families or careers and become more selective in the relationships they want to put energy into. There’s nothing wrong with that. But in the long run, it is good to ask yourself periodically: which relationships make me happy and do I want to maintain? And to consciously make time for those.”

 

Get moving

Take a walk in the fresh air. Go for a bike ride with your head in the wind. Or go for a run. “Movement makes many people happy,” Huijg says, “exercising releases dopamine, which makes you feel good. But movement does not make everyone happy. In fact, it makes about thirty percent of people unhappy.” Nevertheless, regular exercise does contribute to being happy in old age. “Staying active keeps us healthy. And people who experience their health as positive, are generally happier.” Maybe it would be good to consider that daily walk or that yoga class after all.”

 

Do something (for someone else)

Doing something for someone else: it is not only noble, it also makes you happy, research shows. “It is important for your wellbeing to feel like you matter, to others and to society,” Huijg says. “It is therefore essential to mentally prepare for the time after you retire. Because that time can arouse a sense of freedom and rest, but also sometimes a feeling of emptiness and alienation. How do you ensure that you keep experiencing a sense of value? To keep working in an adjusted way may contribute to that. But also doing volunteer work. Babysitting the grandchildren. Or caring for a neighbor that needs help. Older people who regularly do something for others experience more meaning in their lives.”  Recent research in Germany has shown that grandparents who babysit their grandchildren even live longer. But, Huijg nuances, you definitely don’t need to be working as a do-gooder all the time. “Doing something small for someone once in a while will already provide more moments of happiness.”

 

Practice feeling satisfied

When you’re satisfied, you always have enough, the cliche says. But cliches are often true. Practicing feeling satisfied is one of the most important things you can do to get happy and stay happy, according to Huijg. “Happiness doesn’t depend on the circumstances so much, but rather on the way someone experiences those circumstances.  Older people that have a lot of physical limitations can still be very happy. And there are also those who have very few limitations, but really suffer from them. In general, you can say: happy older people know their limitations and focus on opportunities and possibilities.” Is it not your nature to count your blessing? There is still hope. Because satisfaction is something you can practice. “Every day, write down a few little things you appreciate. When it comes to happiness, we often focus on external factors,” Huijg says. “But research has shown: being satisfied with what you have, that’s what really makes you happy.”

Volgende publicatie:
Does corona make us more lonely?

Does corona make us more lonely?

Published on: 29 September 2020

“People are not missing friendly little chats so much, but real, meaningful connection”

 

October 1 is the first day of Anti-Loneliness Week. How lonely are people living in the Netherlands? And has the corona crisis increased those feelings? Professor of sociology at the Free University of Amsterdam, Theo van Tilburg says:” Nearly one in three Dutch people missed a close connection with others during the pandemic.”

 

Experiencing a sense of emptiness. Missing people you feel connected to, that you can rely on. Or just needing to socialize. Everyone, young and old, feels lonely sometimes. Sometimes for a short time, sometimes longer. Big changes in life – such as a divorce, losing your job, a move, a birth or a death – can make people feel like they have to fend for themselves.

Bouts of loneliness are part of life, however, and are not necessarily damaging. But long-term loneliness can have serious consequences. “People who are lonely for long periods of time, can get into a negative spiral that becomes more and more difficult to break out of,” explains professor of sociology Theo van Tilburg from the Free University of Amsterdam. “Long-term loneliness may lead to depression, alcohol-addiction, cardiovascular diseases, sleeping problems and a lowered immune system.”

 

Difference between wishes and reality

Contrary to what is often thought, loneliness is not always related to a lack of friends or social contacts. Loneliness happens when there is a difference between the desired situation and reality, in terms of relationships and social contact. So, you may be lonely because you have fewer social contacts than you want, but also because the social contacts you do have do not meet your wishes or expectations. A lack of social contacts is sometimes called social loneliness. Missing a deeper, emotional connection, is what we call emotional loneliness.

Loneliness is not always related to a lack of friends or social contacts

The number

How lonely are we, in the Netherlands? Last year, 9 percent of the Dutch population age 15 or older experienced strong feelings of loneliness. 26 percent felt somewhat lonely and the remaining 66 percent was not lonely. Single people in general and single parents, felt lonely more often than couples and kids living at home. A third of people over 75 felt somewhat lonely and 9 percent feels very lonely. This was shown by numbers from the CBS. There is increasingly more attention on loneliness among young people, the last few years. Dutch numbers are not available yet, but based on Flemish and other international research, it is estimated that between 3 and 10 percent of youth is chronically lonely.

 

No loneliness epidemic

But is there really a “loneliness epidemic” going on, as sometimes suggested by the media? All things considered, the Netherlands has had reasonably stable numbers for years. Long-term research by the Free University of Amsterdam, which Theo van Tilburg conducted in collaboration with sociologist Biance Suanet, showed that today’s seniors even feel a little less lonely than older people did over twenty years ago. The researchers suspect that older people are feeling like they have a bit more of a grip on their lives now. They are more educated, they often have a partner and more - varied – social contacts. The chance of becoming lonely at a later age has slightly decreased on the individual level. But on the collective level, loneliness is still a growing problem, because the number of older people is increasing. Above the age of 75, the chance of loneliness increases, because the chance of illness, disabilities and the loss of loved ones increases.

 

And then corona showed up

What has the effect of corona been? Did the pandemic make the Netherlands more lonely? The report 'Welbevinden ten tijde van Corona' (Wellbeing during corona times) by the Social and Cultural Planning Bureau showed that nearly one in three Dutch people indicated that they felt emotionally lonely during the corona crisis.

Striking: the number of people that felt socially lonely stayed the same, but the number of people that was dealing with emotional loneliness rose. From 21 percent in 2019, this percentage rose to 26 percent in the past few months. People that were 75 or older felt lonelier than other age groups during the corona crisis. The portion of lonely people in that age group more than doubled in one year: from 16 percent in 2019, to nearly 37 percent in 2020.

 

“Particularly older people living alone, have been missing, not so much the friendly little chats, but mostly the deeper connection with others,” says Theo van Tilburg. “People that live with a partner, kids or other housemates, at least still have intimate contact in a smaller circle.” Also connected to emotional loneliness was the loss of loved ones who deceased, a general sense of threat, less trust in institutions and lack of help.

 

The feeling that you matter

“Being isolated and having less social contact for a while was not necessarily the biggest problem for everyone during the lockdown. People that understood the situation temporarily adjusted their visiting and social contact. It also helped that everyone was in the same unpleasant boat.” But the period after the restrictions were eased turned out to be more complicated for many vulnerable groups, because the clarity and solidarity disappeared. And that is a situation that is still continuing.

Van Tilburg: “The fact that a portion of society has now seemingly picked up where it left off, while others still cannot participate may increase their sense of loneliness. We should all be alert to that. A sense of meaningfulness, a feeling that you matter, that you belong to something, that is very important for people’s wellbeing.”

 

So, how do we go on from here? According to van Tilburg, it is important that the long-term effects of the corona measures are carefully monitored - for all groups in society. “Research is showing that people should focus especially on decreasing emotional loneliness now; not on facilitating Zoom meetings, or sending flowers to seniors, but on facilitating real, intimate connections. People are not missing the friendly chat with the neighbor so much, but a hug and a real talk with someone they are close to.”

Volgende publicatie:
“We can certainly use the talents of the newcomers”

“We can certainly use the talents of the newcomers”

Published on: 4 September 2020

The Netherlands of Tomorrow

 

For many people, pension is something for tomorrow. The pension system is changing; this is a fact. But what does this mean for our society? What does the Netherlands of tomorrow look like? We asked people from a cross-section of society. In this episode: Thami Schweichler, founder of Makers Unite, a social enterprise that offers employment opportunities to people with a refugee or migration background. “In the Netherlands of Tomorrow, everyone should have equal opportunity.”

 

In the Netherlands, we hate waiting. We consider five minutes at a bus stop to be wasted time. Fortunately, we have our smartphones so we can quickly send a text or a tweet or watch a video. Refugees sometimes have to wait for seven years before they receive residency status in the Netherlands and the ability to go on with their lives. Seven years in the waiting room, before they are allowed to “enter” and start working. If they can even find a job. They are on the sidelines, along with over a million other people in the Netherlands: Seniors, people with little or no education, and people with a migration background. Thami Schweichler wants to help build an inclusive society in which everyone can participate. He founded Makers Unite to give newcomers in the Netherlands their confidence back, both in themselves and in their future, and to help them get jobs.

 

What do you hope the Netherlands of tomorrow will look like?

“I hope everyone will have equal opportunities to use their talents. Compared to developing countries, the Netherlands is a prosperous country, and everything is organized very well here. But for newcomers, the start can be difficult. They come here with their dreams and ambitions, but then often get stuck in all kinds of complicated systems and procedures. After ten years in the Netherlands, half of the people with refugee status still don’t have a steady job. That is a missed opportunity, both for the newcomer and for our economy: in an aging society, we can really use their talents. If we become more inclusive as a country, that will also increase our economic potential.”

 

How do we do that: become more inclusive?

“It starts with trust. Newcomers first need to gain back their own self-confidence to be able to build a future here. At Makers Unite we help people see what their strengths are and how they can use them. So far, we have guided a hundred and sixty people in a six-week process. Nearly seventy percent of them had an internship, job or education program at the end of that. We make sustainable products, such as laptop covers made from the lifejackets of refugees. Making a cover like that is also a way to bring people closer together, to create connections. Because society also needs to gain trust in the newcomers. They often feel like they are only seen as refugees and not as individuals with their own story, identity and capacities. For ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry’s we therefore designed a clothing line called Meet Me Halfway. The message: as a refugee or migrant, we have come so far; let’s meet halfway and continue on together.”

Ben & Jerry’s is part of Unilever. How important it is for all companies, big and small, to take their responsibility in terms of inclusivity?

“Ben & Jerry’s is a bit of a rebel inside Unilever. They show how important it is for newcomers to be able to participate and that, as a company and a society, you can only benefit from that. Social enterprises are leading in this, but hopefully that “social” label can come off in the future because it will be normal for every company to give everyone the same opportunities. We’re not there yet: first we must dare to have the discussion about racism and discrimination. Ben & Jerry’s are an example: they admit they are much too white as a company and they want to change that. Hopefully, the Netherlands of tomorrow will be characterized by more color in, for example, management and other important positions.”

 

How can pension administrators like APG contribute to a more inclusive society?

“As an employer, they can show the right example and as a big investor, they can address companies regarding diversity and inclusivity. APG is already doing that. They can also help in restoring trust. Refugees distrust the government and public organizations, because, in their country of origin, those were the ‘enemy’. Only after you explain that we all together are the government and that that man on the corner and that lady in the supermarket pay for the allowances, do they let go of their distrust. That also applies to pensions: newcomers are also entitled to a pension later, which employers and employees pay for together. That can also increase confidence.”

Ben & Jerry’s is an example: they admit that as a company, they are much too white, and they want to change that

As a society, can we learn something from newcomers?

“Yes, brotherhood, for example. I have a Brazilian father and a Dutch mother. So, I am a product of two cultures. In Brazil, people don’t have as good a life as they do in the Netherlands, but they have a warmer bond, they are more there for each other. And that sense of solidarity is sometimes missing here. In the Netherlands, we also have a tendency to look at things from a problem perspective: what’s going wrong? Refugees on the other hand have the perspective of hope: that their lives will be better than they were before. They think in terms of opportunities, rather than risks. That lifejacket is a symbol of that. We can certainly learn something from that positive approach and unconditional brotherhood: that we must work together to create a better existence and take care of each other more. If you look after each other well, you’re ultimately looking after yourself too.”

Volgende publicatie:
“Our society has to become more of a unity”

“Our society has to become more of a unity”

Published on: 27 August 2020

The Netherlands of the future

 

Pension to many people is something for tomorrow. It is a fact that the pension system is about to change. But how about our society? What will the Netherlands of tomorrow look like? We ask people from a cross-section of society. In this edition: Björn Vennema, co-founder of Social Finance NL, an organization for measuring, financing and enhancing social impact.

 

We are living in a prosperous country, but not everyone benefits from this prosperity to the same extent. The corona crisis emphasizes that once again: people with a non-western migration background, less education and an occupational disability, for example, seem to be additionally vulnerable to the loss of employment and poverty. These vulnerable groups also have to benefit from prosperity and well-being in the Netherlands of the future, according to Björn Vennema, co-founder and co-director of Social Finance NL. How? By utilizing money in a smarter, more objective and more honest way to solve social issues.

 

How do you perceive the Netherlands of today?

“The Netherlands is flat to the eye, but a polarized landscape is hidden below the surface. The contradictions in terms of politics, culture and the social aspect are huge. The gap between rich and poor also increases. Less and less money is made available to support the vulnerable groups within society, such as the underprivileged youth and the elderly. This means the dichotomy in the Netherlands is growing. If we don’t do anything about that, the social issues will only become bigger.”

 

How should the Netherlands of the future look like in your opinion?

“Our society has to become more of a unity again. The bottom of society should also be given opportunities to fully participate and to access all means available. In order for that to happen, we have to change our financial system. Most investors are now mainly taking a risk-return approach when deciding to invest money in a certain project or sector. If they would also look at the impact of a company or project to society, you can establish societal changes together. For example by consciously investing in solar energy, in social housing or in a project for debt assistance.”           

 

But aren’t there all kinds of government institutions or charitable organizations for that types of purposes?

“Those institutions and organizations often focus on the system and not on the human-being. People with psychological problems or debts asking for help sometimes get lost in a maze of organizations all working in isolation. Moreover, the social sector usually doesn’t have a businesslike disposition: they are not focusing enough on how an as large and positive impact on society can be realized. This means a lot of social value is not utilized. An example is Ctalents, a secondment organization for people suffering from an audiovisual impairment. Joining and guiding jobseekers and employers took more time and energy than for the average candidates but those efforts didn’t translate into a higher fee. This meant Ctalents was unable to compete with commercial employment agencies. That’s a shame. A better earnings model would allow us to help more people, but such earnings model for social enterprises is still lacking in the current financial system.”

An earnings model for social enterprises is lacking in the current financial system

You are saying we should change the financial system, but how?

“We have to adapt a different approach towards value, towards result. Until now, we mainly measure success based on money, on financial value. But we also have to start looking at the societal costs and returns: how much would it benefit or maybe harm society? That could also come with a price tag. Besides the financial gain of companies, you could look at, for example, the costs for society when damage is caused to the environment or when people have to apply for unemployment benefits due to reorganizations. For government organizations or subsidized projects it is possible to look at how much societal ‘gain’ these create, for instance in the form of more prosperity, less loneliness or more labor participation. Once you know that and are able to compare, investors can invest in a targeted manner in companies and organizations that return the most financial and societal value.”

 

Tangible example?

“You can use Social Impact Bonds to link money of investors and social objectives. An example is a project to reduce the youth unemployment in Rotterdam South, the highest level in the country. Only if that has truly been accomplished, the municipality pays back the investors, with a return. If the project does not succeed, the investors lose their money and therefore bear the risk. In this case, 72 percent of the 250 participating youth found a job. This means everyone benefits: the young people get a job, the municipality saves on benefits and investors realize returns. Such Social Impact Bond will now also be introduced for fall prevention of the elderly. That could lead to less bone fractures, less healthcare costs and more elderly who are able to live independently for a longer period of time.”    

 

Are these new forms of financing also interesting for pension providers, such as APG?

“We are currently mainly working with governments and social entrepreneurs and financers. Major investors, such as APG, need more large-scale projects to realize sufficient returns in order to pay our pension. It is our dream to achieve that needed scale in the future, maybe helped by a national government fund and local crowdfunding. It will then also become interesting for major investors, such as banks, insurers and pension funds. APG already integrates sustainability and social policy into all of its investment decisions, but then you would be able to assess the costs and returns for society in an even more targeted manner. And participants will then have an even clearer understanding on what that will yield for their pension pot and society. Most important: financing in a different way could help accomplish that everyone in the Netherlands of the future gets its share and reaches its full potential. That is our ultimate goal.”

Volgende publicatie:
“You move faster on your own, but cover more distance together”

“You move faster on your own, but cover more distance together”

Published on: 7 August 2020

Pension to many people is something for (the day after) tomorrow. It is a fact that the pension system is about to change. But how will our society develop in the years to come? What will the Netherlands of tomorrow look like? We ask people from a cross-section of society. In this first edition: Katja Staartjes, the first Dutch woman ever to climb the Mount Everest.

 

The Netherlands 2020: more than seventeen million people are gathered together in a figurative tent in the base camp. We are at the beginning of a joint expedition to the top of the mountain: the Netherlands of the day after tomorrow. For the time being, that top is still clothed in mist, although we are sometimes able to see the contours. What social changes will we go through in the next fifteen years and what type of leadership do we need on our way to the Netherlands of the future? Cooperation in particular becomes increasingly important, according to Katja Staartjes. She climbed a number of eight thousands, mountains with an altitude of more than 8,000 meters. In addition, she has extensive experience as an (interim) manager and she is also a trainer, coach and writer. The title of her latest book: Topteams. Samen bergen verzetten (Top teams: moving mountains together, ed.).


How you do perceive the Netherlands of the future: what do you think you will find at the top of the mountain?

“I see two core developments. One: the need for sustainability, to halt the depletion of the earth’s resources. Two: a growing need for inclusiveness, for being open to differences and for creating solidarity. Climate change and political unrest lead to a flow of refugees. Besides that, we witness division in society: between different cultures, between the disadvantaged and the advantaged. We must find a way to close the gap between those intensified opposites. And we are also right in the middle of the corona crisis.”


Uncertain times you might say. What type of leadership does this require?

“First of all: make sure the basics are in order. That offers footing in times of uncertainty and change. Not enough gear during a climb may cause major problems. Without a rope attached to my glove, it may fall into the depth and my hand could freeze. The tiniest forgotten detail can save lives or actually cause fatalities. Think about the lack of face masks in the care institutions during the corona crisis. But if you carry too much gear going to the top, your backpack becomes too heavy which is slowing you down.”


Dead weight, while in times of change you should be agile?

“Exactly, agility is starting point number two. High on a mountain, the weather could suddenly change or unexpected obstacles arise, such as crevasses and ice walls. We often believe that everything is feasible, we try to hedge every risk. But without taking any risks, you will never make it to the top. This means we have to let go, improvise, accept the fact that things can go wrong and show resilience in times of setbacks. The third starting point: Less is more. The conception of progress has led to a stalemate on our planet. We have to think and do more in terms of sustainability: set limits to the growth, go back to the essence and think and act more in the long term.”


What can we learn from mountain climbing in that respect?

“If you want to get to the top too quickly during a climb, signs of altitude sickness will arise due to the thin air and you could even die. It is with good reason that an altitude of 7,500 meters or more is called the Death Zone. In order to get used to the lack of oxygen, we climb in stages and go a bit higher every time. We return to the base camp in between to recover. We sometimes refrain from going to the top if the risks are too high. And if we do make it to the top, we still have to descent. Just as in daily life: you can cheer because you closed a megadeal, but you have only reached your goal if the client is satisfied and your product is not harming the environment. It is all about sustainable and shared results.”


What characteristics of leaders will become more important?

“Uncertainty calls for strong leadership: someone who is not just talking but also takes action and who has the guts to make tough decisions, liking daring to stop a non-sustainable activity or bureaucratic hassle. The common interest is guiding, not the own ego: servant leadership. A leader who is able to enthuse people for a mutual goal and the direction chosen. Because you have to ensure that everyone in the team wants to climb the same mountain and takes the same path. Especially now working from home seems to become the standard because of the corona crisis and digitalization. A good leader is able to also inspire and connect people from a distance and exudes confidence. The same applies to climbing, when you are hanging on a rope together on a steep mountain cliff and are unable to see each other.”


Working together as if your life depends on it?

“Literally, yes. It also means good communication. We often agree on signs during climbing, such as: two pulls of the rope means ‘safe’. In order to realize effective teamwork it helps to reinforce the weakest link: if someone is struggling to keep up, reduce the weight of his or her backpack and let someone else take the lead in deep snow. That way you move on faster together. That necessity for more and better cooperation does not only apply to teams, but also within companies. And beyond, with increasingly complex collaborations.”


Why is that so important?

“Challenges such as the energy transition are too big to handle on your own. We need each other, especially in the future, and a sense of community and solidarity is becoming more important again. That also applies to pension: even though the system changes, we still have to continue to take care of one another as a society. Effective teams are diverse which brings me back to that inclusiveness. It doesn’t make the cooperation any easier, but the final result will be better. Even though there are differences, having a common goal makes you all want to reach that top. The key is mutual respect. Future-proof leadership means that you also want others to succeed, to show exemplary behavior, to be honest: only claim that you reached the top if you actually did. These are timeless truths that are more topical than ever.”

 

Volgende publicatie:
Athletes opt for stones

Athletes opt for stones

Published on: 4 August 2020

“Their investments for the future mainly involve buildings. Buying and renting out houses.” The experienced sports manager Dennis Klaster knows better than anyone how Dutch top athletes are engaged in their financial future. He manages, for example, the popular short track champions Sjinkie Knegt and Suzanne Schulting, and top ice-skaters Jan Blokhuijsen and Ronald and Richard Mulder. “The trend is for athletes not to only invest in stones, but also for talents to receive professional commercial support from the moment they take their first steps into the world of top sports. There are hardly any derailments to be witnessed anymore.”

 

Heerenveen has the most top athletes per square kilometer. Ranging from ice-skating icon Sven Kramer to Olympic gymnastics champion Sanne Wevers. The facilities for top sports in the Friesland municipality are impressive. Not only the legendary Thialf ice-rink but also the impressive gymnastics hall where Epke Zonderland shed blood, sweat and tears to achieve his Olympic success.


The Heerenveen entrepreneur Dennis Klaster is in his element in these centers for top sports. Everybody knows Dennis and Dennis knows everybody. As a manager of popular sports heroes, he especially wants to make his athletes aware of the harsh fact that a career in sports is only short and that investments in the future must be made. Those are tough conversations at times and in those cases he will be joined by fiscal expert Hans Visser of accountancy firm ACCON-AVM. Visser is very familiar with the ways to help top athletes secure a good financial future.
He always remains modestly in the background, but the Friesland tax specialist is helping dozens of top athletes realizing the best possible constructions for a financial future without worries. Dennis Klaster and Hans Visser are happy to provide some insight into their activities but are not allowed to mention any names for reasons of privacy.

 

Houses are trendy

Dennis Klaster: “I think most athletes are more concerned about their performances and realizing their goal, than about their pension. The day-to-day affairs. Two categories of top athletes can be distinguished when it comes to finances. One category is earning really good money. That category is involved in finances, but not in terms of pension. They just see: How much will I have later on, how will I be able to make it through and I just buy a house or something like that. There are also young athletes who are very much involved in their finances and who, no matter their age, have already bought some real estate in Heerenveen. They don’t even earn enormous amounts yet, so they invest in their future early on.”

 

Financially conservative

Hans Visser: ”There are also athletes who spend everything they earn and think: I live now and time will tell. Only when the liquid position becomes dire, the realization arises that things have to change. And then they all want real estate to rent out, just as trendy in sports such as ice-skating as tattoos are for soccer players. Most top athletes are conservative when it comes to finances. A few of them have been successful in trading bitcoins, but eventually they switch to real estate. It is not just the ice-skaters who think that way.


This is no different with cyclists and top swimmers. The ‘big earners’ in soccer have other financial constructions, but everyone below that level buys and rents out real estate. That provides security and peace of mind, is the prevailing opinion. Athletes shouldn’t have too much worries on their mind. If the interest rates were not this low, the money would just be stalled in a bank. Many athletes own a BV (private company, ed.) from which they pay themselves a fiscally responsible salary and from which money also houses are purchased.”

 

Pension-aware on the ice-rink

Hans Visser tells the story of a known ice-skater who managed to realize a carefree financial future without making it to the absolute top. “She took good care of her money and skated wherever she could. She never cancelled a World Cup. She was ranked in the top of the world, not often at the highest level but always part of the best. You don’t want to know how much money she managed to gather, without being part of a large team. That is pretty much at the level of a carefree future. She did what was needed on the ice-rinks with pension in the back of her mind. An exception.”


Dennis Klaster: “You should actually ask the question what an athlete considers to be pension. When it comes to pension, many athletes think about an old-age provision and as long as I have real estate, I have rent. But pension is much more than that, it can also be an investment in some education for later.”


Hans Visser: “I don’t know any athletes who put money in a pension policy. Nobody, that’s just not something they do. It’s more like: I have money in that BV, what shall I do with it? And indeed, ice-skaters all invest in real estate. But not just the ice-skaters. Top athletes in other sports also start investing in real estate.”

 

Smart sponsor deal

Dennis Klaster: “A great example. I concluded a sponsor deal with a construction company. That always revolves around the amount it should entail. Wouldn’t it be great if construction companies could just say: We build a house for an Olympic ice-skating champion? She purchases the land, that construction company will build that house for her and she then has her pension provision. Hans Visser and I then come up with a construction that is also approved by the tax authorities. Eventually two smaller houses were built. One to rent out and the other house to live in herself. In addition to the value increase, she has rental income for a lifetime.”

 

Everyone does it

Hans Visser: ”Nearly all athletes handle their money responsibly. They have to work hard to earn it and their horizon is short. I don’t know of one athlete who invests in high-risk funds. They prefer depositing their money into a bank account. No matter the 0.1 percent interest, but at least he or she knows for certain no crazy things could happen. Those athletes even consider an investment fund to be a major risk. They often don’t think about their pension yet. The horizon more often is something like: I will have something left after my career is finished. Some of them are smart and also invest in an education, but also start buying buildings early on because they hear: He or she has a building, so I need to buy another one as well. That has become more trending in recent years, but it applies to all athletes. Whether it involves swimming, sailing or ice-skating, the athletes all do it.”


Dennis Klaster: “You never know what lasts forever, but it works for them.
They also receive commercial support much earlier on in their careers. Most sports talents already have managers who are handling the commercial aspect professionally, meaning there are way less derailments than there were in the past.”

 

 

Volgende publicatie:
“Are you prepared to call your assumptions into question?”

Gerard van Olphen in response to Black Lives Matter

 

The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has increased the global demand for joint actions in order to put an end to racism. The media and the public debate in the Netherlands have also paid a lot of attention to the subject. What is the position of APG in this discussion? Four questions to Chief Executive Officer Gerard van Olphen.

 

Is APG drawing conclusions from the developments related to Black Lives Matter?

 

“The global protests against institutional racism and police violence have caused a worldwide shock wave we cannot and will not ignore.” As an organization, we want to become more diverse and inclusive, also because we work for pension funds and their participants. We strive for an employee population reflecting the participants population of these funds and of society in general. In pursuing that objective, we want to encourage everyone at APG to be themselves and to present themselves. That is only possible when we make a statement against discrimination and work towards a culture in which inclusion is not an ambition but a reflex. A culture in which people are appreciated, regardless of cultural background, gender, and all other aspects in which people may differ from one another. As a matter of fact, we already started this development. The global social response evoked by Black Lives Matter confirms our belief that the attention for inclusion is incredibly important.”

 

Is discrimination something people within APG are affected by?

 

“It is not a theme capturing a lot of visible attention within the organization. But it would be naive to assume there is no discrimination within APG, that we do not have any people affected by it. Not everyone who is confronted with such conduct reports it - for any reason whatsoever. And not everyone who is guilty of discrimination, is aware of that fact. We all have our assumptions towards other people, sometimes even biases. That is almost inevitable. However, it is more important to ask yourself whether you are prepared to call those assumptions into question, to become aware of it and to adjust your behavior and beliefs. The subject is at least more existent, colleagues talk about it more often than they did in the past. And we also encourage colleagues to share their concerns and ideas. So we are able to show leadership that contributes to eliminating the disadvantages some people and groups have in this society, whether it involves race, gender, sexual preference or beliefs.”   

 

What are the actions APG takes to combat discrimination?

 

“We already initiated a number of initiatives in the past years in the field of Diversity & Inclusion. In the coming period, we shall work our way from valuable initiatives towards a clear D&I vision and ambition. In order to achieve this, we will engage in a number of elements. Integration of D&I into our strategy, for example, but also the creation of awareness and exemplary conduct by role models within the organization. Our approach will be data-driven and is refined based on insights from HR data & analytics. Diversity and inclusion will also be reflected more expressly in our recruitment and selection efforts, for example by working with more diverse lists of applicants and selection committees. I firmly believe in that approach.”

 

When has APG achieved that objective of being a diverse and inclusive organization?

 

“If there is anything we have learned from our conversations with other companies, it is that realizing Diversity & Inclusion requires perseverance. We still have a long way to go, but the development has started.”

Volgende publicatie:
“Crisis? We want to know what is going on with our holiday allowance”

“Crisis? We want to know what is going on with our holiday allowance”

Published on: 18 June 2020

Founder Tom Romanowski about financial platform Kandoor

 

As long as the government is still providing generous support to the millions of Dutch affected by the crisis, financial platform Kandoor has not seen a rise in work pressure yet. But it will not take long for that to change, is the opinion of founder Tom Romanowski.

The nails of the crisis are already scratching on your front door, you fear for your income, you could really use some help and you enter “Help with... In the top five of the lists of suggestions within your search engine, the keywords “low income”, “losing weight”, “debts”, “depression” and “divorce” are competing for the top position. Comforting to know you are not the only one with worries. But what to do now? The ads of financial consultancy offices are forcing their way in, while you are only looking for someone who thinks along selflessly about the loss of income, so you are able to continue.

 

Ability to continue

 

Ability to continue - Kan door! That is exactly what business expert Tom Romanowski (38) thought five years ago when pension provider APG asked him to think about a platform providing people with an answer to their financial questions. There already were plenty of questionable forums with desperate people and fortune hunters, and foreign companies were very eager to shake up the market completely. But APG was looking for something different. “Not a system with perverse incentives where others are making money out of your problem”, Romanowski says. “APG wants to contribute to a healthy financial system, a humane economy, based on helping each other. The so-called sharing economy, assisted by technology and the independent commitment of people who understand their business. It is all about trust. When you are indebted to the hilt, you do not talk about it until you really see no way out anymore and start looking for a smart uncle or friend. Someone who makes you feel safe, with whom you are able to discuss the issue after which you are able to continue.”

 

A lot of stress

 

When will I get my holiday allowance? How much money will I be paid exactly? Can I get an advance payment? Is my employer allowed to withhold that amount? “Many questions can be answered quite easily, but every question can be asked in twenty-five different ways or more”, says Romanowski. “There are users who ask a question in a few words, other users need half a page to explain their issue. That already shows how people sometimes struggle when it comes to financial matters. They also wait as long as possible, allowing the stress to rise abnormally high. The government also extends more and more responsibility to us. The communal facilities have been cut back in the past years, the labor market became more flexible and the retirement age moved up. People underestimate the financial consequences these measures have for them.”

 

Online neighbor

Of the meanwhile fifty thousand questions Kandoor receives every month, 98 percent is handled automatically by a chatbot. Questions that are too complicated or more personal are transferred by the “Kanbot”, as they call the chatbot at Kandoor, to one of the hundreds of guides. “We call our volunteers guides. Guides are experts. They include the chairs of pension funds, financial advisors, mortgage advisors and account managers. There are also many APG professionals among them. And they answer the questions in their spare time because they want to help people and at the same time to stay informed about what's going on in their field.‘
A moderator monitors if an independent consultant is not trying to get some business from the platform but that has not happened yet, according to Romanowski. “Guides also check each other’s answers to prevent people from being assisted incorrectly. It is a way for them to keep up to date with everything that is going on in their profession. A user commented: Kandoor is an online neighbor in my pocket. I was really happy with that comment as that is exactly what I was aiming to make. Someone else said: But what is the catch? There is no catch but people find that hard to believe.”

 

Increase in concerns about income
The success of Kandoor illustrates the importance of independent information, especially during the crisis at hand. Romanowski notices this from the questions asked. While three-quarters of the questions previously related to pension and taxes, he now sees more questions from sole-practitioners and employees with expiring contracts. But there is no big rush yet. “A lot of the questions are currently related to the entitlement to holiday allowance. I have witnessed an increase in concerns about income, but I do not see the sentiments on our platform like the ones on a forum such as Radar. Possibly because we do not feel the full pain yet because of the support provided by the government. But that pain will surely come.”

Harrowing cases
Kandoor is confronted with some harrowing cases though, but that has always been the case. “People who slip through the safety net, are not entitled to any form of support and who have reached rock-bottom. They are sent back and forth and eventually end up with us, feeling devastated. Despite the fact that we are not always able to help them practically, they appreciate being able to tell their story. We have experimented with a hotline to the Social Insurance Bank, but things have been made so complicated in the Netherlands that there is no person ultimately responsible for every problem.”

The engagement must be increased
Finances: it is not something we are enthused about. But Romanowski refuses to give up the fight. He aims to do more than just offering ad hoc first line support, he wants to be ahead of distress and help people structurally to get their financial planning in order. Even more so: he wants to make finances more fun.

“Or maybe not fun but engaging. The engagement must be increased. The health care industry has already succeeded pretty well with apps and suchlike. Checking out the pedometer every day, we are already more proactive than we used to be. Having people monitor their financial health will be a lot more difficult, but wouldn’t it be great if everybody starts monitoring his/her financial life-planning as of the age of eighteen? Of course, you have a lot less influence on your income, pension and investments than on daily exercise and the composition of your meal, but if we make it extremely accessible and reduce the process to small steps, maybe, just maybe you will enjoy it someday. This crisis could potentially be the time to add some discipline to your financial life.”

Great deal of knowledge
The guides of Kandoor are meanwhile doing what they do best: helping people move forward. They may be facing some busy times, especially if they are well versed in dismissal law and debt rescheduling. “They have not joined us to handle monotonous questions. They have a great deal of knowledge and experience and want to use this to help the people who need it the most. Well, this will be their time to shine.”

Any questions about financial matters? Pay a visit to www.kandoor.nl

Volgende publicatie:
"Our ability to change is considerably larger than we thought"

"Our ability to change is considerably larger than we thought"

Published on: 12 June 2020

How do three top managers in Dutch business deal with the company- and personal challenges that the global corona crisis poses for themselves and the organization?

 

What insights has the crisis yielded so far, what does Activity Based Working mean for the organization and what will these managers take into account in the much-discussed 'new normal'?

 

These questions were at the heart of a virtual roundtable on leadership in crisis time with directors from different sectors. Board member Annette Mosman was one of them.

 

Read the full article (Dutch) in Management Scope.

 

Photography: ABN AMRO / Maartje Geels / APG

Volgende publicatie:
"Search for young people in places where they often come"

"Search for young people in places where they often come"

Published on: 28 January 2020

For a day, Salma Ahabbat was in charge of APG. As Tomorrow’s Leader 2020 (Baas van Morgen), the 14-year-old MAVO student took place last week in the chair of Francine van Dierendonck, member of the board of directors. She helped think about how the subject of pensions can be made more interesting for young people. Before that, Salma visited a number of teams that are all working with participant communication: Marketing Intelligence, De Groeifabriek, the Customer Contact Center and Webcare.

 

With her critical and fresh look, she let APG people look at their own work through the eyes of a 14-year-old. Salma: “Look for young people in the places where they naturally come a lot and let them get acquainted with the subject of pensions. For example at bus stops, because we travel a lot by public transport. ”She also gave tips on how APG can use social media even better.

Looking back, Salma is happy that she participated. "It was a fun, educational day. I am happy that as one of 350 students throughout the Netherlands, I had the opportunity to look into the kitchen of a large company. So I could see at close quarters how things work in a company and I could ask questions. " Salma had imagined the atmosphere at APG very differently. "I expected it to be boring and old-fashioned. But it was just the opposite."

 

Francine found Salma very self-assured and spontaneous. "What touched me was that she said" I want to work in healthcare, because then I can help other people." That is in line with what we at APG consider important." The visit to APG has ensured that Salma is now choosing a different career. "I would like to have the same position as Francine, so a member of the board of directors. That is also a way of caring for people, but on a different level."

 

Tomorrow’s Leader is an annual project from JINC to help children who can use a helping hand with a fair chance on the labor market. Francine: “By participating I hope to show Salma and other children, boys and certainly also girls, and believe that the world is at their feet. Always stay curious, keep playing, keep learning and always dream much bigger than you had ever dared!”

Volgende publicatie:
APG will reward female employees equally

APG will reward female employees equally

Published on: 22 May 2019

Equal work will be rewarded equally at APG. More than 125 female employees of the pension delivery organization have received a letter today stating that from 1 June their salary will be brought to the same level of male colleagues with similar positions, experience and years of service.

 

APG conducted a study across the APG offices in the Netherlands. The study shows that women at APG in The Netherlands, receive an average 2.2% less salary at APG. More than 125 female employees will receive a salary increase on June 1. That is 13% of the total number of female employees. For the remaining 87% of women working at APG, there is no difference in pay with comparable male employees. APG employs around 3,000 employees, including 960 women.

The higher remuneration of this group of employees with an unequal salary is achieved within the existing budget of APG.

 

Marloes Sengers, HR director at APG: “At APG we stand for equal pay for equal work, which is why we rectify this today. The difference in remuneration will also be solved by us in a sustainable way: financially and with additional attention to managers and employees. In this way we prevent repetition in the future and we tackle the causes of the unequal pay in a sustainable and fundamental way.”

Volgende publicatie:
APG and BF+DA: Pledge to Improve Human Rights in Apparel Sector

APG and BF+DA: Pledge to Improve Human Rights in Apparel Sector

Published on: 6 December 2018

APG and BF+DA (Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator) introduce the Brooklyn Pledge to Accelerate Change, named after the location of an inspiring event with apparel companies, investors and stakeholders which spawned the pledge. This pledge is intended to address human rights within the supply chain of the apparel sector. “The apparel industry accounts for 2% of the world’s GDP and employs 60?75 million workers worldwide. Unfortunately, this industry is still characterized by poor working conditions, i.e. unsafe workplaces and underpaid workers. Improving this is one of the thematic engagements for APG, but also for ABP and bpfBOUW, some of the pension funds APG provides Asset Management services to,” says Anna Pot, manager responsible investments at APG US.

 

57 recommendations

The pledge is part of a whitepaper that lists 57 recommendations to improve human rights and sustainability within the industry, for example through transparency in reporting, empowering employees, adjusting sourcing programs, building consumer awareness and demand for more sustainable clothes. The recommendations are 57 concrete actions defined by the professionals and experts who attended the ‘Connecting Finance and Sustainability: A dialogue towards action on human rights in the apparel sector’ event in September at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. APG and BF+DA now lead the call on apparel companies investors and stakeholders to pledge action on one more of the recommendations from the list.

 

Making progress

“Of course, APG needs to walk the talk. We focus primarily on making and keeping sustainability top of mind for the boards of companies that we invest in. We talk to senior management of relevant companies about their sustainability agenda and progress in the implementation. Between 2015 and 2018, we have corresponded, spoken on the phone and met with 19 apparel companies. As a result, overall brands and retailers have strengthened their procurement policies and audits, and some have limited the number of suppliers. We also ask for more transparency about where and how clothes are made, so consumers can make educated decisions. As of November 2018 an organization called Fashion Revolution counts 172 brands and retail chains that have published their supplier list on their website. More investors calling for transparency will help get this number up,” explains Anna.

 

Partnerships in the US

She continues: “Sustainability has become a more and more mainstream discussion in much of Europe, whereas companies and investors in the US are still finding their footing on this topic. We partner with respected US institutes like BF+DA to catapult the discussion here into more mainstream forums. My personal target for next year is to speak about sustainability in the apparel sector at US investor conference outside the ‘sustainability bubble’. Somewhere where this topic is not yet top of mind, but needs to be!”

 

BF+DA is a hub for ethical fashion and design located in New York. One of its key aims is to increase the level of sustainability within the apparel sector.