Connecting passion with impactful projects

Nyenrode’s Désirée van Gorp talks to David Woods-Hale about enabling students and graduates to pursue their desire to make a positive contribution in the world through a new digital ecosystem

It’s official. Meaningful work that helps others is of more value to a growing and vocal proportion of workforce than the salaries they earn. According to the UN’s 2020 World Youth Report: ‘Youth are increasingly demanding greater inclusion and meaningful engagement and are taking action to address development challenges themselves, including through social entrepreneurship.’

In response to these findings – and based on her own experience of working with people on projects aiming to positively impact society – Désirée van Gorp hopes to create a trailblazing global movement with the engagement of a group of MBA students from Nyenrode Business University. She has set up an organisation enabling people of all ages to come together and work on projects to make their community and society a better place.

The organisation, Young & Bold, has set itself the ultimate goal of creating a digital ecosystem where professionals, students, academics, entrepreneurs, NGOs, and others can build a network with like-minded individuals and work together towards solving social impact issues that they care about: creating a positive bubble. Through this network, it plans to run programmes, campaigns, and events that help people build leadership skills and establish a network of allies through which they can make a lifelong impact. 

Ambition spoke to van Gorp to find out more about the initiative and to get her thoughts on how she and her students plan to take the platform to the next level. 

What are the biggest challenges facing international Business Schools and their graduates? Where does social impact fit into this? 

Social impact is increasingly important, and companies need to define their relevance for the future in a purpose-driven way. In other words, what is their positive impact on society?

Business Schools should educate their students in such a way that they take the responsibility and are enabled to lead in making a positive impact on society, while making money and being successful at the same time. In a climate defined by increasing volumes of uncertainty and disruption, how does your School work to prepare students and alumni to survive and thrive? 

We focus on preparing students to work in agile teams that are able to adapt to new developments swiftly, moving away from hierarchy and control to positively influencing different stakeholders in their ecosystem. To do this, we may sometimes have to give up on short-term gains in order
to contribute to the long-term goals of the wider ecosystem, realising that the ecosystem can only grow if all members are also willing to give up on short-termism. 

Can you outline the background to the launch of Young & Bold? What was the impetus for this and was it driven by the School or the students and alumni? 

During all Nyenrode programmes, we have a lot of young people working on projects aiming to make the world a better place and deal with our scarce resources in a more sustainable way. Unfortunately, by the time the MBA, or master’s, has finished these projects have often disappeared. The projects had no follow up and this was my reason for inviting students and alumni to initiate Young & Bold in order to combine forces and to continue working on these projects. 

The aim is also to open things up for a larger community of people to join us in making a positive impact on society with concrete projects. The business arena has a need for combining the strengths of young people and professionals to bring their ideas alive and have others join them in making their dreams of contributing to making the world a better place come true. 

What are the values and goals of the movement? 

The mission is simply uniting the young and bold for a better world. We want to enable people to achieve their ambition to be a factor of change for good, and feel confident with the competence and skills necessary to provide their assistance and support to companies in need of their talent.

As a non-profit organisation, Young & Bold aspires to be the platform that ambitious professionals (students and entrepreneurs) will use to support socially impactful initiatives with their energy, knowledge and innovative ideas. The platform will also enable connection with private parties (such as companies, investors and academia) that can act as coaches, sponsors or initiative initiators.  

The movement is described as a ‘digital ecosystem’. How does this look and operate? 

Young & Bold’s platform supports students and professionals in engaging with projects that have a positive impact on society and offers easy access to our network. We mostly operate digitally through our platform and social media channels. 

In order to share more of our stories with our community, we recently launched a new programme: The Bold Brigade – a call to everyone that wants to join forces in doing good. This programme allows direct access to our projects, our community network as well as the opportunity to co-create and identify new ideas for good. 

Can you outline how long the initiative has been running and some of its key achievements? 

In the past year, we have focused on projects for refugees and collaborated with an organisation called Movement On The Ground (MOTG). 

MOTG is a Dutch organisation founded in 2015 that works towards the provision of a human-centred, sustainable, and novel response to the refugee crisis that involves and benefits both refugees and their host community. To do so, MOTG implements a ‘camp-to-campUs’ philosophy on the islands of Lesvos, Samos and Chios, and in Athens. It has entered into partnerships with initiatives led by parties such as IBM and Harvard because it believes in the value of involving universities and Business Schools in its humanitarian efforts.

Through these partnerships, MOTG aims to give people in the camps an education and leave the campus with a set of new skills that helps them to feel more confident and prepared for life challenges. Different teams have worked on various projects for MOTG and we are proud of those results and the fruitful cooperation between Young & Bold and MOTG. One project that we are taking to a next level is educating refugees to help them prepare for the labour market. Together with several Nyenrode MBA students, the Young & Bold Foundation network is helping to shape the curriculum of the Movement Academy – an MOTG initiative helping people to prepare for integration into European job markets. 

Could you explain a bit more about your partnership with MOTG? 

We are fine tuning the role Nyenrode can play in delivering and certifying educational programmes that aim to give people in refugee camps an education, in line with MOTG’s aims. 

What have been your learning points since launch? What are you planning to change and adapt going forward? 

We had to reinvent ourselves in the space of a year, as we were founded just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit Europe. Our first event – a hackathon for which 150 young people had signed up for different projects, including those of MOTG – was scheduled to take place on the Nyenrode campus in April 2020 and had to be cancelled. 

Since then, we have found other ways to work on the MOTG projects and launch the Bold Brigade to include a larger community in these and other projects. We learned that people have so much energy, resilience and passion as well as a commitment to join forces in making a positive impact on society despite the difficult situation that the pandemic has imposed on them. 

What are the next steps for the movement? 

We are currently working with the Bold Brigade to match young people to existing and new projects. An important focus over the next few months will be on educating refugees to help them prepare for the labour market. 

We see Young & Bold as a proxy that can bring communities together to make a real difference. This means there’s room for everyone who wants to help and there’s room for all companies that want to show their support. As long as we’re able to reach those who want to get involved and who are aligned to our mission to do good, then we can help them expedite their understanding of our values and involve them in projects aiming to have a positive impact on society. 

The first component is to educate others in the same values that we have and then bring them into our growing community. 

We have a growing digital community on our Instagram page where – during the pandemic – we organised weekly sessions with experts on topics such as ‘how to stay bold and resilient in times of crisis’ and the future of work. 

Soon, we will launch a series of blogs and interviews on YouTube and much more that we can share with our community, either on our website or through our social media channels, to inspire young people to take that first step and to contribute to whatever they think is worthwhile and make a real positive impact. We want to grow and we think social media will allow us to do that. 

We believe that strong collaboration between commercial, social organisations and academia can make a big difference in the way we tackle societal challenges – and together, we can achieve great things. All Business Schools are welcome to join us in our pursuit for good, and to exchange best practices and support projects across the world.  There’s so much power in uniting. If we want to make a positive impact on society, we must work together. 

How important is it that Business Schools are ahead of the curve in terms of engaging students and alumni with social impact programmes and what more could, and should, they be doing?

Business Schools have a responsibility to educate the next generation of leaders who have a responsibility not only to [ensure their business operations do] not harm society but moreover, to proactively contribute in a positive way to society. 

This is the only way we can respond to the major challenges we are facing on a worldwide scale effectively – including poverty, climate change and the scarcity of resources. 

Through this network, you believe simple ideas can become powerful initiatives. Can you expand on this a little?

The power of small acts of kindness should not be underestimated. Many small acts of kindness can make a world of difference and result in a movement that infects others in a positive way. We have seen that with the MOTG projects. They served as a magnet for people wanting to contribute in a positive way to society. 

We shouldn’t just wait for others to initiate change. Let’s be that change and inspire others to join.

Désirée van Gorp  is the Founder of Young & Bold and Professor of International Business at Nyenrode Business University (Nyenrode), where she is also Chairman of the International Advisory Board and of the Full Time MBA. 

Previously, van Gorp has held the roles of, among others, Associate Dean for Academic Degree Programmes and MBA Programme Director at Nyenrode.  

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