Challenge accepted: throwing down the gauntlet

The launch of an ambitious fundraising and alumni engagement initiative by Erasmus University Rotterdam titled Challenge Accepted will see RSM take a full part in rallying the Erasmus community together. In addition to generating resources, one of the other main aims is to build upon RSM’s already strong reputation by integrally involving its main flagbearers – the alumni who offer the most concrete and inspiring proof of the strengths of the school.

Story by Kevin Titman

In a bid to raise the reputation of Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) and RSM even further, a bold endowment and engagement campaign has been in gestation since 2015, aided and abetted by Stichting Erasmus Trustfonds (Erasmus trust fund foundation). This wide-ranging project revolves largely around alumni, both as bastions of the university’s excellence but also as vital contributors to its future and to society at large. To quote Prof. Steef van de Velde, dean of RSM, ‘we need a compelling narrative to convince people to accept the challenge to be a force for positive change. What better way than by showcasing the people who have been through the doors of the school and gone on to great things in working life?’

While the project offers opportunities for members of the community to get involved, give back and also derive benefits, it also includes an important fundraising component comprising a target figure of €100 million by 2025.

Laying new foundations

When the project was in its infancy, EUR and Trustfonds came to a rapid and crucial conclusion, as Michiel Muller (Erasmus Trustfonds chair and Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship advisory board member) recounts: ‘no-one could dispute the track record our institution had established over the past 100 years. However, over the six to seven months of preparatory discussions it soon became clear that we needed to set in motion a campaign that would look ahead to the next 100.’

An initial private fundraising phase of the project has already seen €26 million raised and in November of this year the project went public in terms of its targets. So why give back in such a way? For Dean Steef van de Velde, all involved stand to benefit from participation in the campaign. ‘To bolster our standing on the international stage, it is true that we need to generate additional resources. However, raising our profile and reputation by foregrounding the alumni who have done us so proud over the years represents an additional win-win scenario and will hopefully inspire current students to aim as high as their predecessors.’

Leading by example

The case of RSM alumnus Jan-Paul Vegt (MSc International Business Administration 2006 and MSc Finance & Investments 2009) provides an excellent illustration of how contributing financially to the campaign is so much more than a matter of simply handing over a sum of money. Along with his business partner Yonggao Liu, he provides the G&D Europe Scholarship to support incoming Chinese students, for whom the cost of studying is often prohibitive. To avoid RSM losing such talent for purely financial reasons, a one-year scholarship is made available. Jan-Paul explains the reasoning: ‘By offering students a year of support we give them a necessary foot in the door but also make them aware that they will need to work to cover the rest of their studies. I am under no doubt that they will go on to succeed in business like I have, but they need to assume their responsibilities as part of the process.’

Inspiring rising talent

Another alumnus to have shown the way whilst also helping to inspire current students is Himanshu Kachhwaha (MSc in Financial Management 2009). Nominated for the RSM Distinguished Alumni Award in 2015, he is now actively involved in the school’s Strategic Business Plan project, a flagship part of RSM’s bachelor programme that encompasses a comprehensive analysis of a business, its environment, and the formulation of strategic options and an implementation plan.

For him, the opportunity to get involved in this way was too good to refuse. ‘I learned so much not only inside but also outside the classroom, in the corridor and while networking. I went on to forge a career thanks to what I learned but also how I learned at RSM. The chance to come back, give back and hopefully make a positive impression on students and the school was a no-brainer for me.’

Meeting the challenge

With such a driving ambition at institutional level, inspiring success stories among the alumni community and budding talents within the student community, the future looks bright for the campaign. Alumni are the cornerstones of the initiative, reflecting the quality of the teaching and research from which they benefitted in the past and pointing the way forward for the younger generation that will follow in their footsteps. With an initial campaign evaluation scheduled for summer 2018, EUR and RSM will soon have an idea of how well they have responded to the gauntlet that has been laid down. Challenge Accepted? Challenge to be met.

More information

This article was first published in RSM Outlook winter 2017 – RSM’s alumni and corporate relations magazine. You can download RSM Outlook here.

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