“Independence is perhaps the greatest good”

When it comes to finances, Barbara Baarsma is a welcome guest at talk show tables. The economist – today CEO of Rabo Carbon Bank – has a clear opinion and knows how to express it beautifully. This was also evident when she was a guest on Jeroen Broekema’s Leaders in Finance Podcast. A conversation about sustainability, optimism, independent thinking and much more.

Baarsma (52) was born in Leiden, but grew up in a village on the South Dutch island of Goeree-Overflakkee, where she “experienced the first ten years as very pleasant”, but later found it “insufficiently challenging”. For her studies, she went to Delft, where she tried Industrial Design, but found that it did not suit her. “I really like designing things, but prefer abstraction,” says Baarsma.

With this penchant for abstraction, she was able to enjoy herself in her next education. She moved to Amsterdam and studied economics at UvA, where she later received her PhD. She wrote her dissertation on the monetary valuation of externalities.

It may sound like an incomprehensible mouthful, but Baarsma explains that this is actually exactly what she is doing now as CEO of Rabo Carbon Bank: “What I researched in that thesis, theoretically and empirically, I now put into practice.”

“Rabo Carbon Bank puts a price tag on the ecosystem services that farmers provide,” she says. “We are selling reduction units and carbon credits – stored amounts of carbon – to companies in the food chain on behalf of farmers. Companies that have promised the world that they do not want to emit more greenhouse gases by 2030 or 2035.”

The mirror of the greenery has faded

What Kulstofbanken does is not unique, Baarsma admits. The unique thing, she says, is that a bank does this. Rabobank is the largest food and agribank in the world, so it makes sense that we choose something in the food and agriculture sector, but other banks may have a different specialization, where they have a lot of knowledge and may feel a little more responsible. . “

In any case, she sees that financial institutions have the theme of sustainability on the radar. “I notice in conversations that it is very much in the foreground for some and for others it is more in the engine room. But I believe they are all working on it. And they will have to, “he says firmly.

She points out that difficult decisions and consequences will also arise – and therein lies a dilemma: “Greening is forward, but the mirror of greening has faded.” She explains: “By degreasing, I mean saying goodbye to the parties, the suppliers, the customers and perhaps also employees who can not or will not participate in the green process. And it hurts, that’s the dilemma. ‘

Baarsma is in favor of levying a tax at European or Dutch level on conditions that harm the environment. “Then you want to give people that push forward. Because of that tax – a carbon tax or a nitrogen tax – you are forced to go faster into the transition to degreasing.”

Optimistic basic attitude

She sees herself as an optimist and is confident of the success of both technological and natural solutions to climate change. Still, she can not escape the moments when she thinks, “How is this going to end?”, She says. “But I can only contribute if I choose to have the optimistic basic attitude.”

This optimism is also reflected in her story of the time she grew up on the island, where her father had started a practice as a doctor, and where she literally and figuratively got a place. “It was beautiful, there were all sorts of opportunities to get out and travel. I was also intellectually stimulated by my parents. ”

Religion or chess?

It is therefore important for Baarsma to get her brain cracked, she says later. “I want a learning curve of at least 45 degrees. I want my brain broken, I want to feel uncomfortable. “

She may have felt insecure when she had to choose between religion and chess class at the only primary school in the village. Her non-religious parents said she would do better in religion because she could “learn something from it.”

“Then you were allowed to draw Jesus,” she says funny. “I drew it with long hair, I had turned it into a beautiful woman. I knew a lot. “Her teacher thought it was all less wonderful:” I got really angry. Then my mother went there on high legs that it really wasn’t meant to be. Then luckily I was allowed to go to chess class. ”

The greatest good

While at home with her parents, Baarsma also learned to argue and think independently. She explains how important independence still is to her, using her inner compass: on it, independence takes not one, but two cardinal directions.

“The first is perhaps the greatest good of all,” she says, “and that is that I do something because I want to, and not because I have to. It has a very great significance. I work at Rabo Kulstofbank because I believe in it, I want that. If that is no longer the case, then I have to continue on my own and then I must not complain about the circumstances, I have to go through it myself. ”

The second form of independence concerns the independent formation of one’s own opinion. “I start with facts. I examine facts and interpret, give meaning. So not only facts, but start with facts, and I also give interpretation, meaning.”

“Greening is forward, but the mirror of greening has faded.”

Then, of course, there are still two wind directions left. Baarsma has also thought about this thoroughly. “I really want to contribute to a social problem, to other people,” she says of the third. “And the fourth is, I want to learn.” She enthusiastically emphasizes the learning curve once again: “With that angle of at least 45 degrees.”

She believes that by taking the facts as a starting point in the research and then interpreting them, it makes sense to be allowed to be an economist. “I believe that I can use the economic knowledge that I have been able to gather during my studies and in my PhD degree to interpret things that play in society. I like to remain constructive based on factual thinking about economic problems in society. ”

Finally, her independent answer to Broekema’s career advice question: “Find your compass”, it sounds short and sweet, and she then explains that only then will you have great added value for the financial sector. “And calibrate your compass,” she adds. “Go and taste it. Do you like working in a bank’s sustainability department or do you like working with credit risk? Go and experience it.”

Listen to the full podcast here.

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