"This is our task: to teach them how to make a positive impact later in life"

Prof.dr. Steef van de Velde is an Erasmus alumnus – he studied econometrics – and he is now Professor of Operations Management and Technology at Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) and Dean of RSM. We spoke to him about the RSM mission statement and the similarities between Challenge Accepted and RSM’s mission.  

"It was 2016 when we started thinking about a new mission statement for RSM. The desire for a common ambition was expressed by many of us, stressing the need to revisit and update our mission statement. After a thorough process, with focus groups representative of our stakeholders such as students, alumni, corporate representatives, faculty and staff, we defined a new mission: A force for positive change in the world."

Why was it important to formulate this mission statement?
"Our previous mission was quite long and old fashioned. We wanted to tell a story, one that went beyond business. Next to this, RSM started with the ‘I WILL’-campaign in 2009. As you might know, all RSM students can formulate a personal statement, showing their drive, passion and ambition. By now we have more than 12,000 ‘I WILL’ statements. If you look at all of these, you will notice that most of these statements are self-transcendent: they are about how to contribute to society, more so than about how to contribute to your own well-being. So you could say that our RSM students already see themselves as enablers of positive change."

And why do you think it is important to become a change-maker?
"RSM feels that business can and should play an important role to address and solve the big challenges the world is facing. As a business school, we aspire to contribute through our research, our educational programmes (by educating future and current responsible leaders), and engagement with industry and society. We encourage students to find a combination of making profit and at the same time having a positive impact on society and the planet. It might sound ambitious, but this is actually what we’ve been doing for a long time already."

Isn’t it a contradiction: making a profit and at the same time taking care of the planet? 
"It can be oppositional, but we find it important to show that it can also go well together. For example: think of the big energy transition. I believe there are big opportunities in this transition for companies, also with the potential of profit. You can see the same is happening in the world of healthcare, nutrition, technology, and so on."

And what do you do with the mission?
"I find that more and more, people are looking for a purpose: in life, in their work. Purpose goes even further than mission. We noticed a lot of students like to end up working at organisations where they can really make a difference. We deliver about three-thousand graduates each year, certainly more than two thousand of these graduates will actively enter the labour market. We would like to see them as enablers of change – whether they end up at an NGO, a government or a big company. This is our task: to teach them how to make a positive impact later in life."

Don’t you think most students would rather end up at a high position at somewhere like Unilever?
"Well, Unilever also made progress in terms of sustainability. Now we meet students who really would like to work at Shell, to be in charge of their energy transition policies. It can be a conscious choice to work at a conventional enterprise."

"RSM feels that business can and should play an important role to address and solve the big challenges the world is facing"

Prof.dr. Steef van de Velde

Do you recognise similarities between RSM’s mission statement and the campaign Challenge Accepted?
"Yes, for sure. Challenge Accepted and the aim to have societal impact as a university as a whole both fit really well with our mission statement. The university’s 2025 mission runs along quite parallel lines. It’s all related. It’s also a statement you can hardly be opposed to. Probably in the next couple of years a lot of universities and business schools will head in the same direction: to not only create welfare and wellbeing on an individual level but for everybody, or for as many people as possible. This is very related to the Inclusive Prosperity initiative, which we are a part of."

Do you like the multidisciplinary approach from Challenge Accepted?
"Yes, to work with a multidisciplinary approach comes naturally in our field. Moreover: business administration is eminently multidisciplinary. We work with professors of all other faculties, including philosophy. Internal collaboration is a very natural part of our job. We are also used to working together with the universities of Leiden and Delft."

Agree or disagree: ‘above all, a student of business administration wants to strike it rich’?
"For some it’s a yes. Some students might think that studying at RSM is an easy way to get rich. But if this is your only motivation, you will not succeed. You might not even be able to finish the study. They are the first to drop out."

More information

Challenge Accepted is a joint campaign of Erasmus University Rotterdam and Erasmus Trustfonds. It calls on all scientists, students and alumni to contribute to advancing three ambitions that help shape the future.
In Fostering Inclusive Prosperity we’ll try to find answers to questions like: how can entrepreneurship and economic activities drive sustainability and fairness? What disruptive technologies can become a force for positive change? How can financial systems become drivers for inclusive prosperity?

How to contribute as an alumnus? Sign up to EUR Connect and join the conversation, contribute to a broad network, and meet old friends.