Max Havelaar event at RSM - students and companies working on how to leverage the SDGs

This year’s Max Havelaar ‘lecture’ broke the mould of previous events. The event at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) on 30 October became an experimental session of dynamic action for businesses plus 133 students from the MSc Global Business and Sustainability programme. Companies and organisations attending were matched with student research groups and received tailored advice in confidential sessions and breakout groups. It was also the official launch of two new books written by RSM’s Prof. Rob van Tulder about sustainability in business.

Around 40 organisations – companies of all sizes, government agencies, social and youth movements – participated in the live experiment at the event, which was organised by RSM, the Stichting Maatschappij en Onderneming (SMO, ‘Society and Enterprise Foundation’) and the Netherlands’ Fairtrade organisation, the Max Havelaar foundation. Students conducted a 60-minute interview with these companies, prepared their advice and provided feedback in confidential sessions. All organisations valued the recommendations, and these led to further discussions and plans for follow-up sessions. A full report can be found here.

The experiment validated the value of the two new books and the students’ preparation: before the event these master students undertook a month-long course using the books. Students also prepared display boards about major international company’s strategies for the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Tools to make sustainability work

The event demonstrated the books’ usefulness for developing new and sustainable strategies for business. Essential elements for taking international corporate responsibility (ICR) to the next level – ideas which came out of the panel sessions – include tools that the next generation in business can use to take action, and sectors working together to take action and joining forces with young professionals and government.

Other points highlighted for action included:

  • Showing leadership and highlighting good examples
  • Using tools to measure social impact
  • Pride in achievements
  • Actively looking for a role for your organisation
  • To start collaborations and to adopt pilot schemes as part of a business model.

Double book launch

Author of both books, Rob van Tulder is professor of international business-society management at RSM.

  • Getting all the motives right – Driving international corporate responsibility (ICR) to the next level summarises ten years of thinking about international corporate responsibility (ICR), some of it from previous Max Havelaar lecture events. It applies the latest insights from organisational psychology, organisation science and business model literature to help managers better understand their motivations to become more sustainable.
  • Business and the Sustainable Development Goals – a framework for effective corporate involvement, was published by RSM in October. It offers seven principles to help organisations to understand how to use the SDGs, which have already been widely accepted by business, government and civil society since their introduction in 2015. Van Tulder’s book is the ‘cornerstone’ volume in RSM’s Series on Positive Change. It shows how the SDGs can be used as a strong mechanism for guiding strategic planning that takes sustainable development into account.

Expert endorsement

Impact investing expert and chair of the Dutch SDG Charter Herman Mulder endorsed both books as complementary to each other. He commented that Getting all the motives right – Driving international corporate responsibility (ICR) to the next level reflects the fact that laws do not suffice for resolving “pervasive, international and systemic issues such as climate change, poverty, hunger, health, peace and education. That is exactly why ICR strategies from business should be driven to the next level.”

And Business and the Sustainable Development Goals – a framework for effective corporate involvement is “a practical overview that drills deeply into the opportunity for business to become an important driver to bring sustainability.”

He added: “A good idea needs its moment to be adopted by many and brought into broad practice. The combination of both books do exactly this.”

Speakers from business

The event was organised by RSM’s Partnerships Resource Centre, the Max Havelaar Foundation and SMO, a Dutch non-governmental organisation focusing on society and organisations. Participants in the panel discussion were Prof. Annemieke Roobeek from Nyenrode Business University; Peter D’Angremond, executive director of the Max Havelaar foundation;  Herman Mulder who is an expert on impact investing; Mark Didden who is manager for Sustainability Reporting and Continuous Improvement at AkzoNobel; Carola van Lamoen, head of active ownership for Robeco; and Brechtje Spoorenberg, manager of corporate social responsibility for KPN.

The next level

Corporate participants engaged in a panel session in which they – under the Chatham House Rule – exchanged views on the ambition of the two books: how to drive international corporate responsibility (ICR) to the next level. The session concluded with the identification of five follow-up trajectories for master students, alumni and organisations.

More information

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top-ranked 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.

For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Erika Harriford-McLaren, communications manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at

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