RSM exchange student brings local positive change to Ontario

Homeless young people in the Canadian town of Kingston, Ontario have benefitted from the force for positive change from Benjamin van Aalst, a third-year BSc Business Administration student on study exchange at Smith School of Business, Queen’s University from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM).

Benjamin van Aalst and fellow students at Queen’s, fourth-years Moritz Wolf, Taylor Vanden Bygaart and Sandy Hsu joined a group project in the leadership course of the Canadian University's Bachelor of Commerce degree programme.

Modern social problem

Students are asked to propose ways to improve a modern social problem. Benjamin’s team wanted to improve the quality of life for homeless young people by raising the support in the local community, and also set out to establish and encourage a new and better relationship with the homeless community by founding ‘Locals for Locals’.

“We want to encourage the local community not to ignore a problem they see every day,” says Benjamin. “Although there are already several institutions within Kingston that help the homeless, the general community has trouble seeing a bright future for people living on the streets. One of the main reasons homeless people are unable to escape their vicious circle is because they do not feel supported by their surroundings.”

Benjamin was interviewed by the Queen’s Journal, “It’s not just about making [homeless youths’] lives better. It’s about them being recognised and knowing that other people care about their situation.” 

He told the university newspaper that he was aware of homelessness in the Netherlands but he was shocked to see so much of it every day in Kingston.

Misery is taboo

He told us: “Their misery is almost a taboo, which other people avoid. Forming a strong relationship between the homeless and the local community means their motivation to escape their situation will most likely improve.”

There are organisations committed to tackling the problem of homelessness in the Netherlands, but Dutch cities have less ‘local feeling’ than that Benjamin and his team felt in Kingston, Ontario where many of the homeless people are focused in one street, observed Benjamin. “If you do groceries you will always walk past homeless people,” he explained.

He and his teammates formed ‘Locals for Locals’ to ask local shop keepers to donate to the Kingston Youth Shelter. The team began visiting shops and restaurants in the town centre on 3 November 2017 to collect donations and goods – particularly outdoor clothing.

“Our first collection raised over CAD$800-worth of new clothing within a day, and our project reached an estimated audience of 10,000 people, of which many are students.”

The items were all brand new; jackets, gloves, scarves, hats, underwear, t-shirts, belts and bags – basically any items of clothing that help the wearer to face Canada’s fierce winters. It will be distributed through the Kingston Youth Shelter.

Locals for Locals didn’t ask for money. “We didn’t aim for money so we wouldn’t have any influence on how it was spent,” said Benjamin.

Extra meaning

The fact that many of the people donating to Locals for Locals are local and young – including students – gives the donations extra meaning. “The Kingston Youth Shelter was extremely grateful for our effort and was sure the homeless youths felt the same.”

Locals for Locals will continue after three of the four original project team members leave Queen’s at the end of December to return to their home universities. They said they hoped it would become a new tradition at Queen’s University. “One of the team members, Taylor, is a Canadian student here at Queen’s who we hope will carry the baton forward to make this a sustainable annual initiative during every winter holiday season.”

Benjamin van Aalst said he had pushed hard to make sure the project was running successfully before he had to return to the Netherlands, when he would no longer have influence or control of the project he had played a part in creating.

Precious experience

Now that all the hard work is nearing an end, I’ll make the most of my last weeks here in Canada with the amazing people I’ve met. This study exchange has been the most precious experience so far and the reverse culture shock on my return will be a seriously difficult challenge I’ll have to face,” said Benjamin. “For me, the only way of overcoming this challenge is to move forward and prevent myself from falling into the same habits that I had before my exchange. My experience at the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University and this project specifically have helped me become aware of my potential as a leader. I will continue pursuing my dream of becoming a sustainable leader and make a difference in today’s world.”

Smith School of Business at Queen’s University is one of Canada’s leading business schools and offers both undergraduate and graduate business degree programmes. Smith maintains student exchange partnerships with over 100 top business schools in 38 countries around the world.

More information

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top 10 business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers. Study information and activities for future students, executives and alumni are also organised from the RSM office in Chengdu, China.

For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Marianne Schouten, communications manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at


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