Interview with Paul Sutmuller
by Marjan Schaapman on 17 July, 2018

July 31, 2018, we party because ... then our founder Paul Sutmuller will be 70 years old! Therefore…. 7(o) BURNING QUESTIONS TO PAUL!


1. Of all trips you made, what was the most beautiful one and why?

Almost 50 years ago, in 1969, I started my first assignment abroad, in West Africa. Since then I have made many trips for different development organisations to different countries and following my retirement in 2010, I continued traveling for the Van Doorn Foundation. To label one of those journeys as the most beautiful is a mission impossible. But I have to admit that I experienced my trip through West Africa in January 2014, as special and nostalgic because I came back in the countries where I once started with my development work.


2. Which country appeals the most to you and why?

Every country appeal to me for their uniqueness and diversity; I do not have a favorite country. The sub-Sahara countries do make a big impression on me because mother nature makes life incredibly difficult and the population has to be inventive to survive under given circumstances. They must be able to withstand the hardship and always have faith and drive that they will survive. Life for people in the sub-Saharan countries is relatively hardest, at the same time they complain the least and are satisfied with the little things of the day. These countries compel a lot of admiration and their population an incredible amount of respect.


Such as the inventiveness of the population living on rocky hills in Mali (reference to my visit in January 2014): They chopped wells in the rocks to catch rainwater, as  water can be kept longer in those wells than in the traditional barrages on dry ground where it evaporates and sinks faster. On the rocks they created terraced gardens for horticulture by bringing soil from miles away. Experts might have advised the population in those areas to migrate, but the population itself has come up with solutions that no expert has thought of. That confirms for me that we really have to listen to the solutions that local populations themselves propose  for their problems.




3. Of which project are you most satisfied?

It isn’t so much my satisfaction, it is much more my respect for the local organisations that have been able to achieve their objectives. At this moment, I am thinking of a project in the Segou region of Mali where through a horticultural project a local organisation succeeded to persuade parents to send their daughters to school. And a project in Mwanza in Tanzania, where a local organisation developed a roving vocational training program to teach people with disabilities in their own neighbourhood trades and provided them tools to generate their own income. These are just two of the many more beautiful projects! 


4. Where haven’t you been yet but is still on your bucket list?

For the Van Doorn Foundation I haven’t yet visited Zambia (one of our focus countries) because we have not yet received an application from Zambia. Possibly we may support first a project in Zambia through one of our partners (Gered Gereedschap, Tools-To- Work, Tools4Work) before traveling there. In our approach – ideas and initiatives need to come from a local organization; we don’t propose solutions – which makes that we just have to be patient among others because we are not yet well known in Zambia. But that can change anytime!


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5. What do you like best about the Foundation or what are you most proud of?

What I like most is that the Foundation does things differently. Most of the projects I was involved in while working for big development organisations were large-scale projects with large budgets. Consequently, those projects were mainly implemented by large local or international companies. The Foundation explicitly uses a small - scale approach with local organisations that are directly involved or related to the target group and have a better insight into how objectives can be achieved. Not spending the money but achieving the objectives is most important to us. Equally important for us is the durability of the effort and creating independence for those local organisations from sponsors.

I am proud that 'giving underprivileged youth a chance' is not just a slogan for the Foundation, but that we mean it. The search for ways to reach those disadvantaged is not always easy, but that does not matter. Our target group has been struggling for a long time, so we may well do a little as well. As long as we can achieve the best possible result!


6. What would you like to achieve with the Van Doorn Foundation?

Small scale approach, goad-driven involvement and cooperation with local organisations that are directly involved with the target group - that should remain paramount and is what makes the Foundation special. I would like to show everybody that in addition to the beautiful safari parks in Africa there is also a lot of 'survival' for people in the slums and in the countryside. Not to arouse pity but much more understanding. Showing the success of the small scale (small projects) approach and cooperating with other foundations that are in the same way involved in development work. Sharing best practices and encouraging others to follow a similar approach is important for me!


7. Would you like to tell our newsletter readers something else?

In my work for slums dwellers and poor and secluded rural communities I have always been driven by infinite respect for people that can survive under such miserable conditions, continue hoping, continue striving for a better life. Too often 'solutions' were presented to them (including the clearance of slums ....) and rarely listened to the ideas the slum dwellers had themselves about how to improve their living conditions. Unfortunately, the biggest donors are not always the best listeners, while listening and supporting local initiatives has always led to more sustainable solutions.

The Foundation wants to support these unique local initiatives. Small investments with a big impact: a vocational training for a street child; providing a school the tools so that more young people can learn a trade; helping young people to start their own business with microcredits; supporting an organisation that shelter girls who have fled for female genital mutilation in a safe house; helping to create internships for young people who are likely to end up in crime and prostitution ... and so on! It is the small projects with big and sustainable impact, that makes the work of the Foundation useful. And it is incredibly satisfying to see the real 'champions' succeed: that is not us as a Foundation, but the street children who want to learn and apply for a scholarship and local organisations that give underprivileged young people the chance and opportunity to learn a trade….!



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