Guest foreword by Ingrid Thijsen, president of the VNO-NCW

‘Rollercoaster’. That’s the word that springs to mind when I think of the past coronavirus year. The year in which – halfway through – I took up the position of president of the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers (VNO-NCW). Global economic uncertainty, setting up support packages with the Dutch government to drag the closed sectors through the crisis. Disrupted commercial chains, travel bans and so on. We saw it all and unfortunately it’s still not over. Many of our members are still going through a social drama.

Even though a pandemic had been part of all crisis and disaster scenarios for years, we hadn’t been expecting one. Think of the SARS outbreak at the start of this century, the swine flu pandemic and so on – they always passed us by! This time however, nobody was spared. It was the turn of all of us, all over the world. However, there were two things that we could count on en masse in the past year. And those things were your network and your services. Hats off to you!

You – together with your colleagues from the other major operators – got our country through the crisis. Thanks to you, we and millions of others were able to watch the government press conferences held by Rutte and De Jonge. Thanks to you, we were able to work at home en masse and companies could switch over to digital services. Thanks to you, we could stay connected to one other via WhatsApp, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and all the other platforms that are the main way that the 17 million Dutch citizens could stay in contact with each other and the rest of the world. That filled me with pride, especially when I hear the experiences from my fellow presidents in some other countries, where the accelerated digitisation involved a lot of time and effort. Thanks to you, we could count on top-quality bandwidth and services.

Apart from the crisis and all its consequences, our year was mainly characterised by the drafting of a new course. A new course for an enterprising Netherlands, in which broad welfare has been put centre stage, together with different perception of the business community’s role. I knew we enjoyed broad support for this, but when I see these two issues raised in your Impact Report 2020 as well, I am ‘secretly’ very proud. With the objective of halving your environmental impact and the aim of helping two million people move forward in society, you are placing two great dots on the (nearby) horizon. The same is true for your contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals chosen and the way in which you are making this clear in this report. In the coming years, our businesses will have to demonstrate more than ever that we are taking joint responsibility for achieving them. You have made a great start on that, with this manner of reporting.

As businesses, we must take joint responsibility for both the technological and social sustainability of our own business processes and those of our customers and suppliers. And we must also be more transparent than ever about the social impact of everything that we do. That transparency is essential to ensure a good dialogue with and to gain the confidence of society. Apart from the necessary transparency, we as an organised business community must also share the responsibility for the major social issues that our country is facing. These include – in your sphere – the substandard digital skills of many Dutch citizens. Individual businesses cannot do this on their own. The government can not do that alone. However, by working together, we can move mountains to give people additional training in the coming years, because this is essential, given the ongoing digital revolution and because only half the Dutch workforce actually have the necessary digital skills.

Your report contains great examples of how seriously you are taking your shared responsibility. This means you are laying down great foundations that you can then build on together. From climate to innovation, you – and your colleagues in the sector – are playing a key role on all fronts with your products and services. In the coming years, your sector can continue to rely on our substantial efforts that help you to keep our country’s digital infrastructure at a high level, for example through a quick further rollout of 5G and additional (public) investments in artificial intelligence and digitisation.

Ingrid Thijssen
President of the VNO-NCW