ONE CITY AT A TIME
Robin Vogelaar is widely known as the Dutch pancake guy.
Over the last decade, the 29-year-old from Amsterdam has toured the world, throwing 532 pancake parties in 82 countries.
Pancake parties? The flatter the better – and no one does can limbo down with a ladle any lower than Vogelaar whose profession had more to do with corporate consultancy than making sure his dough doth rise.
A convivial meet-up session organised at the home of friends where Robin would cook and serve Dutch pancakes has grown into a globally-recognised social event that has a worldwide schedule and following.
His globetrotting food adventure, however, is not all fun, travel and meeting new people. There is a more serious, and altruistic side to Vogelaar.
For the last 16 months, the corporate-turned-social impact consultant spends time with NGOs and social enterprises at every city he stops along his journey to do volunteer consulting.
Many SMEs don’t have the resources or know-how. So, I gave practical and small steps, so that they could do achieve some of the SDG goals
“I’m helping them with topics like fundraising, impact management, volunteering engagement and social enterprise,” says Vogelaar. “Whatever they want to learn from, I can probably source insights from all over the world.”
Vogelaar has worked with more than 250 organisations, including UNICEF, UNDP, World Wildlife Foundation and The International Committee of the Red Cross.
“In Brazil, I helped WWF to drive people to their e-commerce platform. I did a lot of work on conversions, promotions and how to run campaigns,” says Vogelaar. “They have seen improvements and I hope some of my insights lead to that.”
Meanwhile, UNDP has seeked Vogelaar to help smaller organisations achieve the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“For large companies, they have the resources to to make it work. Many SMEs don’t have the resources or know-how. So, I gave practical and small steps, so that they could do achieve some of the SDG goals,” says the MIT Sloan School of Management graduate.
As Vogelaar consults for free, he gets his way around the world by picking the most affordable form of transportation and couchsurf at locals’ homes. His first destination was Colombia, after he quit his job in Amsterdam. “It was the cheapest flight from my country to Latin America.”
Vogelaar typically spends a week in a city, throwing pancake parties and consulting NGOs at the same time. “Most people think that you need to be in a place for few months or so to help. I come in for two to three hours. So, what can you really add, right?,” he says self-effacingly.
In fact, he admits to being ridiculed by friends leaving his consulting career of five years to go on a pro-bono journey, and without prior experience consulting NGOs.
“They were laughing at me, saying ‘You don’t know how to do fundraising or impact management’,” Vogelaar says with a smile. “Yes, I don’t know, but I have the mindset and methodology from consulting to figure it out.”
“So, initially, I wrote to (social impact) experts around the world, asking whether they have 30 minutes to talk to me on Skype and to explain fundraising.”
Vogelaar compiled those insights and shared them with NGOs he came across, and over time, relied more on his global insights and experiences. “My initial and end goal is to continue to inspire,” he says.
Vogelaar made his way to Malaysia recently. Besides throwing pancake parties at Ipoh, Georgetown and Kuala Lumpur (‘It’s a great way to meet people and allows me to see a different side of a country’), he conducted workshops for a number of organisations, including Transparency International, Teach for Malaysia, Epic Homes and Kechara Soup Kitchen.
“The NGOs I’ve met in Kuala Lumpur are really professional,” says Vogelaar. He was invited by Strategic Public Relations Malaysia to conduct a workshop on fundraising to group of NGOs and social enterprises.
“They are already aware of the quick wins,” says Vogelaar. “They have the right methodologies, and I must say, they are more advanced compared to countries I’ve seen. I am hoping to help take it a step further, to make it a more viable business model.”
After a year and half on the road, Vogelaar admits that the travelling has itself become a routine, and he is figuring the next step of his journey.
“I want to be able to make more impact. Right now, I am making a one day, or few hours impact, but it stays at a more surface level. I want to go to a deeper level,” he says.
Watch the full interview with Robin Vogelaar below: