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MSc graduate Tirza Voss from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) has won the annual KPMG-RSM Sustainability Master Thesis Award 2016 for her research into coffee farming partnerships. She was presented with the Award at the RSM Sustainability Forum at the Rotterdam Science Tower on Friday 15 April 2016. The runner-up was Nadine Kooiker’s master thesis about sustainable business education.

The annual KPMG-RSM Sustainability Master Thesis Award recognises the best thesis from RSM’s MSc students; winners of the award demonstrate academic excellence, and their theses contribute to business and society by addressing an important current issue. KPMG provides the winner with a cash prize of €1,000; the runner-up receives €500. 

Tirza Voss, who graduated from RSM’s MSc in International Management/CEMS programme in 2015, won the award for her thesis Partnering up for fair trade climate-neutral coffee. Voss researched the influence of cross-sector partnerships on sustainability-oriented innovations, and selected fair trade climate-neutral coffee as her case study.

Sustainable innovation

“This case is innovative because it includes not only the fair trade aspects of the smallholder but also carbon neutrality,” said KPMG’s Jan van den Herik, who is the chairman of the jury and director of strategy and innovation at KPMG. In her thesis, Voss describes the different stages of innovation and the role of the cross-sectoral partners such as NGOs, academia and global and local business. She provides a checklist for important details that should be addressed when forming such partnerships.

“Tirza Voss shows how cross-sector partnerships can have an influence on all aspects of sustainability, market knowledge, network building and increased sustainable innovation,” said Van den Herik. “This is really important in today’s sustainability developments. The next step in further enhancing sustainability is not within a business or a sector but across sectors through cross-sector partnerships,” he said, adding that this is difficult, because involved parties have different histories, backgrounds, cultures and missions. “This thesis provides a solid base for parties to explore new cross-sectoral partnerships and learn from it due to the handy, comprehensive and practical checklists.”

Educating for the future

The runner-up was Nadine Kooiker from RSM’s MSc in Marketing Management for her thesis Educating for the future, for which she researched a multi-perspective case study on sustainable business education in the marketing curriculum. The jury said the thesis can be used by business schools and universities to teach incorporating sustainability into the mainstream curriculum in the most efficient way in terms of budgeting and learning outcomes. “The thesis is generally aimed at educating our future leaders, so the potential social impact is large,” said Van den Herik. “Nadine Kooiker’s research includes strong recommendations to overcome behavioural, structural and economic barriers in a way that RSM and other business schools can move forward to further educate future leaders with sustainability knowledge, skills and attitudes.”

Almost 1,500 master theses

This is the 10th year that KPMG has partnered with RSM to sponsor this research award. “We desperately need a next generation of well-educated leaders with a different mindset, vision, and high standard of ethics, integrity, and moral compass taking a pro-active approach to tackle the most pressing issues in society,” said Jan van den Herik. “The challenges of today’s and tomorrow’s society are enormous. We need every smart and innovative brain to stretch, be curious, demonstrate courage and present bright solutions that are positively impacting communities around the world.”

Jury members are experienced in the field of sustainability or corporate social responsibility (CSR). They were Jan Bom, chief editor of the CSR magazine P+; Elfrieke van Galen, partner of the Rock Group and former vice-president CSR at KLM; Henriette Davelaar, head of sustainability at PGGM; Jerwin Tholen, director of KPMG Sustainability; and chairman of the jury Jan van den Herik, director of strategy and innovation at KPMG.

In the 2014-2015 academic year, master students from RSM defended 1,439 theses. Among these, 44 dealt with a sustainability-related topic and passed the Award’s academic requirement of 8.5 or higher. Sustainable RSM (RSM’s sustainability initiative) and the jury evaluated and assessed each thesis for academic excellence, practical use for companies, potential environmental and social impact, critical thinking and innovative ideas.


Other nominees who were selected for the Award shortlist were Annemijn ten Brinke from RSM’s MSc in International Management/CEMS, who researched user involvement in radical sustainability-oriented innovations; Vincent de Wolf from RSM’s MSc in Strategic Management, for his thesis about merging social benefit and business value; and Rowan Siskens from RSM’s MSc in Business Information Management for his research into incentives for off-peak charging of electric vehicles.

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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