“Mark can call me any time.” These were bunq founder and CEO Ali Niknam’s parting words to me recently during his brief visit to the Netherlands from New York City. Though he runs the trailblazing digital bank from The Big Apple these days, he used to live behind Rotterdam’s Central Station. By Mark, he means Rutte – as in the Dutch prime minister. I met with Ali to talk about the People for People Foundation, a charity organization he speed-launched with two business friends – Robert Vis (of MessageBird) and Joris Beckers (of Picnic) – to help Ukrainian refugees. By rallying his vast professional and personal networks, he has been able to set up jobs, bank accounts and so much more. Whilst Mark Rutte huddled up in his tower, these three entrepreneurs threw themselves into the aid effort.
A little earlier I’d met with Vincent Karremans. This was two weeks before the municipal council elections, for which the voter turnout – at a dramatically low 38.9 per cent – was nothing less than tragic. Angry young man Karremans has worked his way from entrepreneur – founding Magnet.Me – to Rotterdam VVD party Vice Mayor for Enforcement, Public Space, Integration and Community. Our conversation was about why it’s okay for public officials to go into business. Right now, fear of failure is debilitating government’s capacity to learn. Vincent concluded our conversation with: “Celebrate your mistakes. Heck, put up a failure board.”
Ali’s and Vincent’s words have been bouncing around in my head. Their sentiments map onto my previous column, about more actively engaging RCD’s international community in our local politics. But how do we get from where we are to Ali’s and Vincent’s world? I’m pretty sure that beyond the façades of all those shiny skyscrapers in RCD are some brilliant companies that could do something about, say, low voter turnouts. If Pieter (Coolblue), Ellen (OMA), Matthijs (Fabrique) and Julian (Somnox) send their most original minds to Biergarten, maybe Vincent could drum up his most enterprising officials. With a little trial and error, they’re sure to come up with useful ideas for when the next election rolls around. Because let’s be clear: tackling that shamefully low turnout is a job for the public (Vincent) and private (Ali) sectors working together.
Eduard Voorn is a freelance journalist with a focus on economics, and first and foremost a Rotterdammer. He lives in the villagey outskirts of Rotterdam Central District, eats his pizza at Bird, raises a pint at Biergarten or Weena, gets his caffeine fix at Lebkov, catches the latest flicks in Pathé Schouwburgplein and sees Scapino at Theater Rotterdam. His kids were born in the now famous Mecanoo architectural firm’s first project on Kruisplein.