Alumnus Mark Schneiders: ‘Aid and trade in one place is a good thing’

Mark Schneiders, alumnus of Law, made the surprising move from Chief Development Officer at a private equity fund to Director of the strongly reduced Royal Tropical Institute.’ Leiden is where I learned to think critically and to really tackle issues.’

I really welcomed the challenge of determining the course of the KIT. My predecessor had already set a number of things in motion but there was – and still is – a lot to do. I can steer the KIT towards those things that I believe are important. The hundred and fifty people who work there are enormously enthusiastic, which was part of the attraction. It’s true, my salary did go down, but money is relative; it’s more important to have a job you enjoy.’

Mark Schneiders in the imposing foyer of the KIT

Mark Schneiders in the imposing foyer of the KIT

The main tasks of the KIT are consultancy and training people in preparation for working in developing countries. Can you say something about your knowledge of finance and your international experience?

‘You’re always busy with managing. And we are also working on a future vision: who do we want to be in 2020? For that kind of strategic forward thinking you need to be able to rise above the daily routines. Our consultancy specializes in advice about healthcare and agriculture in developing countries. How do you achieve better healthcare that is accessible to more people? And how can farmers get more out of their land? I don’t know all the ins and outs of KIT yet - I’ve not been here long enough - but I do know how things go in developing countries and I understand the economics. That’s definitely a link with development cooperation. 

Major reorganisation at KIT

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stopped its annual subsidy of 20 million euros to the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) in Amsterdam at the end of 2012. The Tropical Museum was under threat of closure and was separated from the KIT and as a result it managed to survive; it merged with the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden and the Africa Museum in Berg en Dal. The library did not survive and was closed. Part of the kilometers-long shelves of books went to the Leiden University Libraries. In total 90 people lost their jobs and the institute now has to be financially self-supporting. The KIT has become a knowledge hub for development cooperation focusing on Africa


Linking the business sector to development cooperation has come under criticism. The idea behind it seems to be: self-improvement by helping others.

'I don’t have any problem with that; I also think it’s good to have aid and trade in one ministry. By working together, new job opportunities are created on both sides. One thing that does need to be borne in mind is that you can’t reach the whole population with a commercial approach. You have to do both.’ Schneiders then waxed lyrical about ‘the subject that Queen Máxima is also keen to promote’: promoting microcredits and arranging insurances against poor failed harvests. ‘The main thing is that people are able to open a bank account, otherwise all the rest is impossible. 

Who: Mark Schneiders (1956)

Study: Law (1974-1980)

Association: Minerva

Favorite spot in Leiden: My student house at Rapenburg 95. It was while I was living there that it became a Minerva house. Like all the other Minerva members I met at the association, I still have contact with the students in that house.’

...and in his student years

...and in his student years

You have a special bond with developing countries, in particular Africa.

When I was thirteen, my father became a diplomat in Nigeria. I lived in the Netherlands, with another family, but I went to Nigeria every holiday. Thirteen is an impressionable age, so Africa made a deep impact on me. When I was a student my father was posted in Indonesia and later in Cameroon and Zimbabwe. After graduating, I left the Netherlands and didn’t return until 2004. I then started travelling – including to Africa - for the private equity fund, from my base here in the Netherlands. It’s common knowledge that the region is rife with corruption and stricken with war, but there’s also an enormous energy to progress. You could say that Africa is at an earlier stage of economic development than we are. The country has rejected colonialism and is now travelling its own course. There is a lot that’s still missing and people are working hard to find solutions. And a good solution might also mean the start of a new business. What a fantastic experience.’

What impact has your student time in Leiden had on the rest of your life?

I gained a solid legal basis, and I learned to think critically and to really tackle issues. Your time as a student is also extremely important as a period of social development. That’s had an enormous influence throughout my life. What I do regret is that studying felt like too much of a production line, with large numbers of students being processed. It wasn’t until your master’s that you really came into contact with lecturers and professors who could really inspire you. When I left Leiden to study at Fontainbleau and Harvard, you had those contacts straight away. The difference was really noticeable. I am in favour of selection at the gate. Two of my children have done University College Utrecht; university colleges operate a selection procedure. I understand that the Law programme in Leiden is now organised differently. I think that’s an excellent development.’

The Royal Tropical Institute was the biggest building in Amsterdam before the AMC was built.

The Royal Tropical Institute was the biggest building in Amsterdam before the AMC was built.

Last Modified: 26-02-2016