What should we do when we want to be a force for positive change in the world?

What should we do when we want to be a force for positive change in the world?


By Eva Rood, Director, Positive Change Initiative


The idea to design a series of learning modules on how business, and management science, relate and can contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals came when RSM adopted a new mission: We are a force for positive change in the world.

It’s a great mission, both highly aspirational and highly inspirational.

But with this great mission came great responsibility, and a good number of ethical dilemmas….

  • What does it mean exactly, to be a force for positive change in the world? How should we come to a definition – and once we have that definition, how can we live up to it?
  • How normative should we be? Can a force for positive change collaborate with any partner, or should we apply strict criteria?
  • For a series of stories about how organisations try to make a difference, should we work with anyone who makes a good attempt compared to their peers, or only with the frontrunners?
  • What’s more important, the attempt to ‘do the right thing in the right way’ within a system, or the result? The smaller steps from a multinational corporation with a global impact, or the bold move of a start-up with local impact?

Our graduates are recruited by multinationals, stock-listed companies, but also by governments and civil society organisations. A significant number of our alumni start their own enterprises, and achieve remarkable innovations and impact.

We therefore decided to work with organisations that represent the entire spectrum: from large, for-profit multinationals to start-ups and smaller social enterprises. This way, we can showcase real-life dilemmas, tensions, and different realities. Everyone who worked with us did it free of charge and voluntarily without expectation or promise of receiving anything in return.

We acted from the deep and humble realization that we, as RSM, are also far from there – from fully making a positive change ourselves in everything and anything we do – yet, but we try, and that’s where everything starts.

There’s a curious mechanism that clicks into action when you publicly declare you want to be a force for positive change and contribute to society’s grand challenges: you get measured by a more forward-looking standard than the rest.

On one hand, this is a good thing: we must stay critical and not become blinded by great stories. On the other hand, if we only allow ourselves to act once we have weighed all the information and options, and figured out the ‘200%-better-for-each-and-every-stakeholder’, we can end up in either paralysis, or at best with a grand delay.

This is why, as part of this project, we’ve published Business & the SDGs – a Framework for Effective Corporate Involvement, written by Professor Rob van Tulder. This book acts as the introduction to the series of new frameworks, Van Tulder explains how organisations can engage in four types of business cases for sustainable development, and how partnerships of all sorts are essential to make that happen. The trick with the SDGs is that they are ‘wicked problems’, characterized by the fact that there is no optimal solution.

The best we can get is a clumsy approach towards a solution. We’ll have to accept that in order to get towards the societal transformation(s) the world badly needs, we a) have to work together b) there is no easy and quick solution and c) we will run risks and make mistakes.

So that is it what we do – deeply inspired by the ‘I WILL* be a hummingbird’ story as told by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Professor Wangari Maathai, we strive for perfection; but in the meantime we do the best we can, and we hope you’ll join us in finding and trying out clumsy approaches. To close with some words of encouragement:

“There is something essentially inhuman about the notion of perfection and, while it remains important as an ideal, it is not something that we should aspire to or expect others to exemplify. To be human is to be fallible, imperfect, limited. Is it not then all the more remarkable that, from time to time, some human beings rise to extraordinary acts of generosity, compassion, and understanding?”

Nagapriya, retrieved 23 October 2018 from