Honorary consul in Phoenix: Odette Bakker
In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, Odette Bakker was appointed honorary consul in the American city of Phoenix, Arizona. Since then, she has been helping Dutch people who want to do business in the area, need official documents or are in trouble. This is her story.
About our honorary consuls
The Netherlands has almost 300 honorary consuls all over the world. They act in the interests of Dutch nationals abroad on behalf of the Dutch government, without receiving a salary in return. Together with our embassies and other missions, they are the Netherlands’ eyes and ears abroad.
How it started
‘In 2003 I moved to the US for love,’ Odette says. ‘It didn’t last and I found myself literally out on the street with two small children. But we Dutch people are tough. I rebuilt my life and found a job with the City of Phoenix. I started out working on urban policy, then I moved to planning and development and now I work for the economic development department.’
‘My heart and my talents lie in public administration. I use that passion to represent the Dutch government and Dutch people in the US. Those tasks mesh well with my work for local government here in Phoenix.
Honorary consul during the COVID-19 pandemic
‘I became an honorary consul for the Netherlands right in the middle of the coronavirus crisis. I used to help my predecessor organise exhibitions and events. Meeting people and networking wasn’t easy during a pandemic. I was on video calls all day, when I’d much rather have been meeting with people in person. After all, networking is a big part of what an honorary consul does.’
Emergency assistance for Dutch nationals
‘As honorary consul my tasks include helping Dutch nationals in the Phoenix area who need official documents or are in trouble. COVID-19 means I do that mostly from home. My guest room is my office now. But, recently, when a 90-year-old Dutch woman needed a laissez-passer to leave the country, I made a house call.’
Opportunities for Dutch entrepreneurs
Thanks to her job with the City of Phoenix, Odette has a large professional network. ‘In my professional capacity I’m involved with the local economic interests groups and that helps me in my role as honorary consul when it comes to introducing Dutch people here.’
‘I familiarise myself with the sectors in which the Netherlands has a lot to offer and go to as many relevant events as I can. I’ve also drawn up a plan for cross-pollination between sectors in which both the Netherlands and Arizona have a lot to offer. And I keep track of which sectors are attractive, and how the Netherlands can raise its profile in those sectors. At the moment these include semiconductors and life sciences and health.’
Visiting Dutch businesses
Odette maintains close contacts with Dutch entrepreneurs in the area. She recently drove for five hours to visit a Dutch algae grower in northern Arizona. ‘Their land is situated over an underground water supply with a higher salt content than average, which makes the water unsuitable for horticultural use,’ she explains. ‘But those are great conditions for growing algae naturally. The company derives protein powder and omega-3 extract from the algae they grow.’
‘Algae are the new proteins. For the Netherlands this is big business. The small Dutch company I visited has a great future ahead of it and is working passionately to make a name for itself. I’m excited about helping them achieve success.’