A question of listening and asking questions

Asking the right questions


Koen Vastmans has worked for KBC for almost 30 years. A few years ago, he swapped his position within the IT department in a development team for a job as a coach. Since 2014, he has travelled to Peru on behalf of BRS no fewer than three times. There he works with Ciderural, an umbrella organisation of 14 savings and credit cooperatives and 5 agricultural cooperatives, which is also supported by the Belgian NGO SOS Faim. 

“It was clear from the outset that this was not a one-off cooperation. But I didn’t expect the task to take so long. In 2014, BRS asked me to help Ciderural and the cooperatives build a new IT system. The system they were working with was on its last legs and needed urgent replacement. It wasn’t the idea that I would develop a system myself. My task was to evaluate the proposals on the table from my IT background and to guide Ciderural and the cooperatives in making the right choices. 

The supervision of such a course mainly revolves around asking questions: why are these particular things important to you? What is the added value of the elements that you put forward yourself? And is the technology you’re looking for suitable for this? And good listening is also part of this. And not only paying attention to the weak points in their story, but also to the strong ones. At the end of the day, they themselves possess a lot of knowledge. 

On my first visit, the path to the new IT system wasn’t looking very favourable. I went a second time to work on a new direction together with them. From a number of options that were on the table at the time, the people of Ciderural and the cooperatives distilled a proposal together with me that seemed the best scenario to us. But instead of working it out further, a little while later a completely different plan was suddenly on the table. A vague design with questionable technology, without a budget or a list of requirements. I had a lot of questions about it and, together with Jacques De Raeymaeker of the BRS Institute, I sped back there again to evaluate this proposal and discuss it with them. 

So there have been a lot of twists and turns in this journey in those two years. And it is taking much longer than expected. But I have no regrets about getting involved in this project. It still excites me. And after all this time, a bond has grown that makes me feel involved in what’s happening with Ciderural and the cooperatives. 
In the meantime, I also got to know BRS better. I appreciate their approach to empowering people. That is a longer-term investment. I am very happy to contribute to this from my experience in the financial world.

By meeting so many people who are fulfilled by their cooperation, I have also become really interested in the cooperative spirit in the meantime. In Peru, cooperatives are deeply rooted in society. The way people there try to make it better for each other is fascinating. I’ll definitely be grabbing that idea, the idea that everyone should benefit from what you do, and using it in my work here.”