By Kirsten Ottens – founder of the ING Netherlands foundation

We all know by now that collaboration is necessary to tackle complex social issues. But what are the ingredients for a fruitful collaboration between a company, its social vehicles and its employees? The answer could be a national private-public, cross-sector collaboration. And a company with a purpose.

Read this article and many more in the C-Summit special edition digital magazine.


Share a purpose to achieve impact collectively

EVPA’s latest research highlights how different social vehicles of the same company (i.e. a philanthropic foundation, an impact fund or social business activity) can have a collective impact strategy to make the world a better place.

For companies with multiple social vehicles, it is a lot easier to pursue the same social impact goal if the company has a clear purpose. Purpose driven companies have been on the rise for a while. They aim or claim to take on something that goes beyond products or services. Something societal. Something long-term.

Since 2014, the purpose of ING, a global bank with a strong European base, is empowering people to stay a step ahead in life and in business. This shared anchor pulls ING’s social vehicles towards the same social challenges. And by now, we even have a common goal to prevent people from falling into debt and to support those who have.

The ING Netherlands foundation was founded in 2015 and invests in promising social entrepreneurs and organizations in the areas of financial health, digital inclusion and job opportunities for all. The investees are not only supported financially, but also get access to consultancy and networks.

Financial health is also the focus of ING’s social business activities. The bank supports its customers to stay or become financially healthy, for example with budget and forecasting tools.

The collective impact of ING’s social business activities and the foundation took a new turn when a national public-private collaboration was launched in the Netherlands: the Dutch Debt Assistance Route. A 100% match with ING’s social agenda.

An infrastructure for impact

The Netherlands has around 1.4 million households with high-risk or problematic debts. And that is a pre-Covid figure. On average it takes people five years to come forward and seek help. By then the problem has grown from small to but insurmountable. And debt is not just a matter of financial health. It has a huge negative effect on mental health as well, and brings high social costs. 

The Dutch Debt Assistance Route aims to prevent people from falling into debt. To achieve this, local governments, businesses and social organisations join forces and commit their knowledge, solutions and budget to the same cause. The result is a national infrastructure that enables people to be referred to effective help rapidly. The start of the route is an online financial health test ( Based on the results people are then referred to appropriate online or offline support, by volunteers or professionals, depending on the severity of their financial situation and location.

Businesses, such as banks and telecoms, signal customers with emerging financial difficulties at a very early stage and refer them to the online financial health test. Foundations can play an important role by supporting the social organisations to which people with financial problems are referred to.

What makes the Dutch Debt Assistance Route unique is that it is not only a public-private collaboration, but also cross-sector. The government, businesses and social organisations have set up the infrastructure and are now focused on upscaling and impact measurement.

Different dishes for the same table

Since the launch of the Dutch Debt Assistance Route, ING’s social business activities and corporate foundation are working together more than ever before. Their contribution is interconnected but not interchangeable. They take on different but complementary roles in a national collaboration for systemic change: the company from the perspective of its customers, and the foundation from the perspective of society at large. They bring diverse ingredients to the same table. The company, with its early signalling power, encourages customers to seek help when financial difficulties are still relatively small. The foundation, with its expertise in impact solutions, supports the best social organisations that can offer people the help they need.

And we see more opportunities for shared impact. We hope to engage ING’s employees to become volunteer budget coaches on the Dutch Debt Assistance Route to further grow the support system. ING therefore now offers its employees a budget coach volunteer training. They can then use their knowledge in their inner circle, but also as volunteers for the Dutch Debt Assistance Route. The appetite for this training is already overwhelming. 

A purpose can be a perfect stepping stone for a company, its employees and all related social vehicles to join forces. And joining forces is a must if you want to make progress on complex, large-scale social issues.