VECO on the move: from Belgian NGO to international network organisation

VECO on the move: from Belgian NGO to international network organisation

in News

Vredeseilanden/VECO’s house is under renovation. It is not however our office building that is being rebuilt, it’s our organisation. From January 1st 2017 our organisational structure will undergo a total makeover and we will become an international network organisation. This move is being done in order for us to be better prepared and able to deal with the many challenges facing the food and agriculture sector, now and in the future.

The world has been shaken to its core in recent decades. VECO has likewise evolved a great deal while our global organisation structure has largely remained the same. Over the past year it has become evident that we need to adapt our methods of cooperation between our colleagues worldwide and our partner organisations, in order to increase flexibility, increase our impact and become more international in our outlook. With this process in mind our new international Board has appointed two executive directors, Chris Claes and Madeleine Tsimi, for this transition period to lead VECO on its journey towards becoming an effective network organisation.

In these complex times where realities tend to change quicker than organisations can adapt, we need expertise and decision-making power distributed over the regions where we are active. As close as possible to the action. That's the only way to make sense of and adapt to what's happening and to move step by step to the future we dream of.

Chris Claes Co-director

Empowering our staff and partner organisations worldwide is a demanding mission. It is vital to involve our stakeholders and to account for all our actions in order to achieve more impact and to undertake truly sustainable interventions. For the new VECO, this will be key.

Madeleine Tsimi Co-director

Chris Claes has to date served as strategic advisor at VECO head office and Madeleine Tsimi is employed as the regional director of our programme in West Africa. This co-leadership represents a positive step towards the learning organisation we want to be, and helps to build a truly international office – one staffed with people working in different regional offices.

This change has been initiated and undertaken for four reasons:

1. Global challenges demand more collaboration across VECO regions

It is self-evident that the major challenges of our age can't be solved by change in one country or region alone. The consequences of climate change within the rice sector for example require the collaboration and sharing of expertise across several regions. Furthermore, an expanding number of multinational food companies are addressing and engaging in sustainability issues and they are looking for cooperation with farmers’ organisations from different regions. While some of the 14 countries in which VECO works have become so called "Middle Income Countries" (Ecuador, Peru, Vietnam, Indonesia), this does not however necessarily mean that overall poverty has been significantly reduced. In many cases the gap between the rich and the poor is actually increasing as often only a portion of the population actually gains from economic growth. Farmers’ organisations in these countries are eager to participate in global knowledge networks while often needing less direct financial support in the form of investment. Their lack of knowledge is a greater hinder to growth that their lack of capital and it is here that VECO can step in and become a facilitator of those knowledge networks.

2. VECO = its people

One of VECO’s core values is our belief in our staff and volunteers and we are rightly recognised for this open mindset. VECO is blessed with expertise in all of our 8 regions and at all levels of the organisation. These experts have previously mainly worked with their regional programmes and their expertise was rarely tapped for the benefit of the organisation as a whole. The new network organisation aims to address this issue and will allow these knowledgeable colleagues to spend more time in international project teams that will work across borders. This could happen for example for the promotion of fine flavour cocoa worldwide, inter-city exchanges on how to feed booming populations sustainably, and in many other areas and issues.

We can see that innovative organisations focus a lot more on networking, collective learning and knowledge exchange, co-creation, cooperation with non-obvious partners, multidisciplinary and project work. We want to address these challenges. We are convinced that in this way, we can better meet the needs of the present and the future. Where knowledge and expertise no longer travels in one direction, from the “Western world” to developing countries, but is instead created and reinforced by means of exchange and cooperation.

3. Full participation of VECO regions in decision-making

While VECO’s existing organisation already allows for a great deal of participation and input from staff and partner organisations, we want to go a step further. VECO’s organisation is currently very centralized, with the senior governance bodies (General Assembly, Board of Directors and head office) dominated by Belgians. Under this model, standards and general programme objectives for the entire organisation are developed centrally and later translated into regional programmes. We want to evolve towards a truly international steering of the organisation.

With this goal in mind, VECO will establish a Public Interest Foundation alongside the non-profit organisation, that will be managed by an international board of directors, a board of affiliates in which our regional offices are being represented by local stakeholders, and an international management team composed of the directors of the VECO programmes in the different regions. International project teams will work on specific topics to work on common goals and share expertise and the international office will take on the support functions (finance, communication, programme support etc). For the time being this office will be based in Belgium, but this may change, as gradually it will be staffed by colleagues from the different VECO regions. Our programme in Belgium will become one of the VECO regions, at the same level as VECO in the Andes region, West Africa, Indonesia and so on.

4. New opportunities for funding

VECO is currently predominantly dependent on subsidies from the Belgian government. Other governments or foundations often expressed a wish to support our programmes directly, not via a Belgian legal entity. Why, for example, would an Australian foundation that wants to fund our programme in Indonesia transfer its money to a Belgian bank account, and not directly to our office in Indonesia? In our new organisation structure this will be possible. Global financial reporting standards and quality control will continue to be assured by the international office finance department.

New VECO in a nutshell:

  • A truly global organisation with international management/governance.
  • 8 regional offices that will work more independently, while sharing a common DNA, values and strategies of the network organisation. We will remain one organisation.
  • A flatter organisational structure, with international projects coordinated from different regions.
  • More active collaboration and exchange between colleagues worldwide.
  • An organisation that is less dependent on funding from the Belgian government.


Feel free to contact Madeleine (madeleine.tsimi [at] or Chris (chris.claes [at]