Wed | 01.06.2016
Meet Mark Koops, the man behind Valley21, a unique project, not just in Romania, but scoring high on the global uniqueness scale.
1. Dear Mark, please introduce yourself shortly to all our members.
Dear members, I am pleased to introduce myself: I am Mark Koops, 59 years, 1 beautiful wife, 2 beautiful daughters, the 3 form my pride in life. I live in Gouda (the Netherlands) since 2008, my adopted home-city, finally after roaming from place to the other for the most part of my life. My youth wasn’t in the Netherlands, I was born in New Guinea (Irian Jaya) and then Saudi. I saw Holland when I was 13, a misty place, droplets of water in the air, only changing in size.
I am a geologist but professionally matured in sales, marketing and business development (IT and ‘’BigData’’), but my heart is with people, culture and nature. I believe that business is about people, about communities; if not for people, what would the purpose be of money and economics?
2. From geology and Business Development IT for the global oil & gas market you switched to ’’changing worlds’’, mixing business with sustainability. What was the trigger and why Romania?
My professional life was very different to what one dreams of when becoming a geologist. I had a very rich professional life, learned a lot about things, how the world ticks, how the business world ticks, all things that had nothing to do with geology, the earth and people/communities. I learned how to sell, I learned how to build business propositions, I learned how to do business development. Business development is what I liked most, business development is about taking an idea and defining commercial business framework and then to create a virtual organization involving very different parties towards a single goal. Business development is like community building. Since shortly after the revolution I have spent much of my time ‘’business developing’’ in Romania, initially still in ‘’oil’’. I have made hundreds of landings on Otopeni, now Cuanda …
Romania is the only country in the world where I was privileged to see the full sequence of events after a dramatic change to a nation up to today, some 25 years later. I saw the good things; I also saw the bad mistakes and bad developments. Especially the process of integration into a global ‘’free market’’ economy proved a playground for rampant business opportunism. Soon the people of Romania discovered the other side of the free economy coin. A whole nation needed to adapt, for the good and the bad into a new balance.
What I see now in 2016, a full generation later is a mature and ever more self-confident people more and more conscious of the fact that we need to arrange our (economic) future in a different way to maintain a durable life on our beautiful planet, of which Romania is one of its gems.
I believe that today Romania forms one of the more interesting countries in the world to develop business. It is not about ‘’mixing’’ business and sustainability like if these were two agents that do not go together very well. I believe that developing business is about creating and protecting value on a permanent basis. I believe that sustainability is the foundation of business, prosperous business. Business that destroys value elsewhere is ultimately not economically viable.
The trigger for me ‘’why Romania’’ is because so many values are still intact; communal values, ecological values, values of traditions. Can one not make a fantastic business on protecting these values, values that are in such a high demand in the world? Lastly but not least, I love the people, friendly, open, hospitable, welcoming, a warm breeze whenever I land … this is not to flatter, why would I otherwise return over and over during 25 years?
3. Please, share with us more details regarding two interesting projects that you are now developing in Romania: www.CommunityFarming.online and Valley 21.
Valley21 is an ecological sustainable self-sufficient condominium within an ancient pastoral valley that was formed over eons of time by roaming shepherds, their flocks of sheep and their dogs. Valley21 is what we believe is a unique project, not just in Romania, but scoring high on the global uniqueness scale. It is a joint venture with a Carpathian municipality, Vama Buzăului, near Brasov, within a general plan to develop the village. The landscape looks like a master-gardener has formed miles and miles of parklike landscape, but no, it was formed by an ecology, the ecology of men flora and fauna working in total synergy. Only 68 houses will be built on some 50 hectares, it will be forbidden, defined in contracts, to build more. Valley21 is ‘’the essence of Quality’’: minimalistic, emphasizing the natural beauty, tranquility and breathtaking views that one will have from the ‘’Earth Houses’’. Being there is about celebrating life on earth…the essence of quality…
The other project that is starting to take form is www.CommunityFarming.Online, a project of a totally different nature. It stems from our relationship with Vama Buzăului but we are giving a global impact to it. The origin of the thought process for CommunityFarming.Online is our promise to work with Vama Buzăului and its people to develop economic empowerment for all who live there.
We found two very high potential bases for economic empowerment: high quality, low impact eco-hospitality and biological horticulture produce on agri-land that is now mostly lying barren. Biological food-produce is a globally growing market with a lower production growth than market growth. However, Vama Buzăului mostly has a pastoral history, it has no deep agronomic basis. In order to develop biological horticulture, we need to help local farmers with know-how. Not just technical know-how how on growing all sorts of vegetables, also know-how and assistance to take produce to the market.
From this thought we developed the idea of www.CommunityFarming.Online (text is in Dutch I hope to have an English version soon but you can use Google Translate). This online system is about providing horticulture knowledge to people, to empower local business development. So we are taking the idea globally, ultimately to become a sharing system and ‘’BigData’’ system.
We will start this system on a small scale, by building 3 horticulture farms, one in Holland (in Gouda, where I live), Germany (very likely in Kreis Osnabrück) and one in Vama Buzăului. The first horticulture farms we will actively help with; in the future the online system should ripen to become a single source for small farmers worldwide to build their own sustainable business.
Ultimately the online system will be a like data and information exchange ‘’social media’’, like Facebook but than for exchanging Agri-information. However, unlike Facebook, the intelligence of such a ‘’BigData’’ system will be owned (by contract) by the community that creates it (the community that will be active on the platform). This will be on a (reasonable) fee basis, forming the business model of CommunityFarming.Online.
Vama Buzăului will function as a place where we will actively co-develop the biological horticulture and actively create channels to the market. If one takes the privately owned (often already eco-certified) lands together, these form a potential 10’s of million Euro of business. We intend to develop this business model further to adjacent villages and why not all of Romania. We will need partners however to achieve this. Anybody who is interested in this scheme and who has competencies or capacity anywhere in the value chain from horticulture to the greengrocery market and hospitality: there is an open invite to be in touch with me.
4. We can say then you are infusing the Romanian market with innovative projects and business approaches, working on a “virgin land”. What are the main challenges?
The main challenge is the people’s lack of belief in oneself and lack of belief in the power of collaborative communities. People tend to like what we say and do but at the same time do not believe that such a new future is possible, least of all for themselves.
Making the future happen cannot be done by myself alone. Futures are collaborative affairs … so my main challenge is to find the early local ‘’champions’’ to help me make a first small step. Once one has made a small step, others start to follow …
5. Romanian has an enormous potential in agriculture and The Netherlands surely can be a role model. How do you see this know-how transfer?
Indeed, Romanian has an overwhelming potential in agriculture. It used to be granary of Europe. The communist era destroyed that agronomic potential. This potential has already been seen and ‘’big parties’’ are already taking leads here.
We believe that an important aspect of agriculture is its potential to support local prosperity in semi-self-sufficient communities. The scale is therefore important. In order for local agriculture initiatives to be successful people will need easy and pro-active access to know-how.
We are building an ‘’academy’’ (PVS-Academy) which is formed by study groups across universities to create this easily accessible knowhow.
Today we are in direct discussion with: HAS Den Bosch (https://www.hashogeschool.nl), Warmonderhof (http://warmonderhof.nl) and the Transylvania University of Brasov, faculty of food and tourism (http://www.unitbv.ro/aten/Firstpage.aspx). This is for a first step. In addition we have relationships at the Technical University of Hamburg, and the University of Osnabrück.
The aim is to form a group (an ‘’R&D’’ organization) that will become our knowledge-basis for the online farming system that we will develop. For farmers this will mean that they get access to technical/scientific support, for the associated knowledge institutes it means a great occasion to perform study programs directly with farmers.
In our first set-up we will have specialists come over to Romania to work directly with local (potential) farmers. We intend to ‘’export’’ know-how to Romania, but at the same time help Romanian institutes to develop their own expertise.
6. In the end, please a thought for NRCC members.
Dear members of NRCC, I am sure that you agree with what I say about the potential of Romania, otherwise you wouldn’t be spending so much of your efforts there.
I personally cannot be in Romania as much as I would like to be. I am very dependent on network that I have … collaboration, local and international partnerships are the powerful vehicles that I need, that we all need.
Romania has an opportunity to not make mistakes that ‘’we’’ have made earlier on in Holland and many parts of the world. On a next occasion, I would like to meet as many of you as possible, maybe we can generate a 1+1=3.