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Students and practitioners came together at the two-day RSM-STAR Changemaker Forum at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) on 24 and 25 May 2023. The Forum focused on the strategic implementation of sustainable initiatives in business, and its aim was to inspire and enthuse participants to start their journey as changemakers upon graduation.

“It’s very important for us students to learn from professionals who can teach us valuable lessons about our future career because a practitioner’s viewpoint is completely different from the academic perspective,” said Zara Jesenek Dolinar (MSc Global Business & Sustainability, Class of 2023).

Free access to experts

“It is also incredibly valuable to have access to events that involve renowned experts, for free and on-campus,” she continued. “I learned about the four steps of purpose-driven leadership, but also about myself, where I can improve, realise my full potential, and take inspired action to achieve a set goal. The key learning for me was the importance of breaking down a goal into small steps and working your way up towards it.”

Climate change: inspiring not overwhelming

Day 1 saw inspiring keynote speakers speaking to about 50 students about climate change, biodiversity loss and waste pollution, and how changemakers approach those issues. 

“It’s often overwhelming to think about what to do about climate change and other issues we are facing, so it was great to get inspiration on how other people manage to make an impact,” said master student Annemarie Keller (MSc Global Business & Sustainability, Class of 2023), adding that she enjoyed learning different perspectives and how the Changemaker Forum encouraged participants to challenge each other‘s views and think more about their own views.

Speaker Kata Bors focused on how her company South Pole, which develops and finances projects that reduce carbon emissions and protect biodiversity, makes people and businesses care and act about climate change. The associate director and global head of communications explained that people tend to care less about future risks, so awareness comes first. Then, by associating climate issues with ordinary life, people start caring and take action – for example the Nike campaigns drawing attention to climate change.

Definition of success

Entrepreneur Lieke Hallegraeff said purpose should be a part of the measurement of success. This means people make conscious choices about how to live their lives, and this requires bravery. She founded the Purpose Club, which helps organisations implement a purpose strategy to stay relevant, make more impact and grow faster.

“I learned about different perspectives of sustainability and alternative views that I was not aware of before,” said master student Stan Verdurmen (MSc Global Business & Sustainability, Class of 2023). “I will keep reminding myself to continuously define what success looks like to me. When I graduate and start looking for jobs, I will consider if the position can bring me what I really want and if I can call it a success if I would work there for several years.”

Social entrepreneurship

How can you identify a gap in the market and become a social entrepreneur? Speaker Marisa Conde took the plunge and shared her entrepreneurial journey of founding environmentally friendly cosmetics company Primal Essence. She talked about industry pollution and many aspects that can be improved, and the advantages of vegan products.

“Don’t hate the player, hate the game,” says RSM alumnus Tom Marshall (MSc Management of Innovation 2016). He said the economic system is not leading to the results the world needs, making it hard for us to be ourselves and make a positive impact in society. Tom suggested three approaches to help resist the negative impacts of the game and thus contribute to society: drive change from within, be a freelance entrepreneur, and break the system.

For master student Yahan Yang (MSc Global Business & Sustainability, Class of 2023), the Forum was very insightful in helping her understand the consequences of ‘business as usual’ and its potential devastating effects. “I feel motivated to become a changemaker in the future and explore the most sustainable approach for driving change in the long run.”

Day 1 also featured the presentation of the KPMG-RSM Sustainability Master Thesis Award to master graduate Maximilian von Wels (MSc Global Business and Sustainability 2022) for his thesis The Social Acceptance of Agrivoltaics.

Sustainable success workshops

Workshops on Day 2 focused on sustainability topics:

  • Sustainable business strategies by Kata Bors from South Pole

Kata used two case studies to illustrate the use of the GHG Protocol method in identifying companies’ emissions. She also explained the role of South Pole in helping other companies take steps to become more sustainable and aware.

  • Sustainable entrepreneurship by Marisa Conde from Primal Essence

Participants explored sustainable practices in the cosmetics industry, and dived into Marisa’s personal journey. The session explored the insights and skills essential for this challenge.

  • The 4 steps to purpose-driven leadership by Lieke Hallegraeff from Purpose Club

What qualities do you need to become a successful purpose-driven leader? With a few exercises, participants got an idea of where they still lack potential and how they can further implement purpose into the things they do.

The workshop included interactive exercises allowing participants to experience inner resources they may never have used before. In this way, participants became familiar with the Inner Development Goals (IDGs) and how these are essential in successfully addressing societal issues and the SDGs.

‘Where we can improve’

The highlight of the Forum for master student Zara Jesenek Dolinar was the reflection part. She joined Lieke Hallegraeff’s workhop on the second day. “At the end of the session, everyone shared their insights and we all had different perspectives on where we can improve. It felt special to hear from the other participants and learn from them. I will keep my future goal in mind for the next year and try to work towards realising what I’ve always dreamed of. Reminding myself of the purpose behind my actions is key and I will make sure to keep in mind why something is important in the long run.”

RSM-STAR Changemaker Forum

The RSM-STAR Changemaker Forum aims to inspire and motivate RSM students to become the future changemakers that society needs. At the Forum, business leaders and alumni from several industries shared their journeys on the topics that every changemaker talks about the most: sustainability, purpose-driven leadership, responsible entrepreneurship, and positive social impacts. The event is organised by study association STAR, and builds on the essence of previous RSM-STAR Sustainability Forums, and expands the discussion of sustainability to a broader scope: ‘a positive change’.

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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