Even closer collaboration, continuous innovation, focus on human capital. And above all, rolling up your sleeves. This is the message of Thecla Bodewes, leader of Top Sector Water & Maritime since 1 April. She wants concrete results and to work with the Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP) as one of the valuable partners. “If something can be improved, I would like to experience it in my lifetime.”
In this interview with NWP she discusses what makes her tick, when she believes she has succeeded in her role as figurehead and how she believes the Netherlands can stay at the top in the field of water.
What makes Thecla Bodewes tick?
‘As an international shipbuilder leading a two hundred year old family business, I am an entrepreneur at heart. I want to achieve tangible results. If something can be improved, I want to experience it in my lifetime. So that means bringing innovations to the market, because without implementation there can be no innovation. It also means knowing what the market needs and can afford. I strongly believe in cross-sectoral cooperation and that we can learn a lot from each other. For example, in our company we like using truck design innovations for our ships. Developments in the truck design world are faster as ships have a much longer lifecycle.'
What are your objectives as leader of Top Sector Water & Maritime?
‘It is my mission to connect the water technology, delta technology and maritime sectors and further internationalise them. I also want to create more connections with other sectors. In my two years as Chair of the International Strategic Consultation (ISO), I saw how fruitful and inspiring it is to have public and private entities sit around the same table and work together on common goals.'
How should the Netherlands stay at the top in the field of water?
‘We are still at the forefront internationally, given our knowledge and expertise on water. Our own delta shows this every single day. But it is imperative to continuously work to maintain that position. We also need to make it clear that water is not an isolated field of activity. Water is a precondition for many other sectors, such as food and energy. We can do without many things in life, but we certainly cannot do without water. Water is also core in achieving the SDGs. So we need to focus more than ever on water and continue to invest in it. My message to our politicians who are now forming the next government is that water deserves a prominent position in the Netherlands’ next coalition agreement.
It is also important to recognise, stimulate and harness innovations. There are very smart specialists working on solutions at large companies, SMEs and of course start-ups. They themselves see their solutions as normal but they are actually incredibly clever. Let’s be more proud of these and see how we can make the most of them through cooperation and consortia building with public and private entities, researchers, entrepreneurs, start-ups and large experienced concerns.
We need to continue to innovate to maintain and strengthen our lead. This attracts new talent, so that we can build up new human capital. The influx of young talent is key to continue innovating. By the way, our reputation goes beyond technology. We also have a reputation for being reliable and delivering on time, and what we make works well. We should cherish these aspects too, and continue working together on them.’
How does Top Sector Water & Maritime plan to do this in the coming years? With what focus?
‘We bring the triple helix of government, business and science together. The combined knowledge and expertise in the Top Sector goes from 'proof of principle' via 'proof of practice' to 'proof of market'. We accelerate that process. We promote innovations and our Water International Core Team is intensifying its global commitment in different ways such as through trade missions. One concrete example is the WTEX10 programme which we co-initiated with the FMO (the Dutch entrepreneurial development bank) and NWP. In the WTEX10 programme we work with a number of leading water technology companies, engineering firms and consultants to map market opportunities in up to five countries in Europe, and we form consortia with smaller Dutch water technology suppliers and drinking water companies. We are also looking for innovative financing to strengthen propositions. NWP and Water Alliance are implementing the programme.’
How do you see the position of Top Sector Water & Maritime in relation to organisations in the water sector?
‘It is important to strengthen each other and do what we are good at. As a Top Sector, rather than take control, we connect, strengthen and remove obstacles. We do this with RVO, NL in Business, NL Works and of course with NWP, which has a great network in the broad water sector. NWP also makes an important contribution to the human capital agenda through the Young Experts Programmes.
Embassies also play a major and valuable role as they are becoming more entrepreneurial. They want to help the Dutch water sector move forward and facilitate the business community more than ever.
It is also good to see that the ministries involved are increasingly working together. I see that they have become more open to pragmatic approaches that involve the business community.'
When do you think you will have succeeded in your role as leader of Topsector Water & Maritime?
‘As I mentioned, my goal is to achieve tangible results in the broad sector and its three sub-sectors of maritime, water technology and delta technology. There are plenty of opportunities if we continue to innovate, value human capital and can find each other within the sector and across sectors. Together we can make a difference. We are part of an ecosystem in which we should work together more closely to make maximum use of each other's strength. As a shipbuilder and a bridge builder, I'm committed to this!'