Rotterdam School of Management

Erasmus University, The Netherlands

To be a force for positive change in the world


In 2017, the Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) adopted a new mission: “to be a force for positive change in the world”, and uses the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework in guiding its teaching and research activities, although, Dean Steef van de Velde emphasizes:  “Some goals are closer to the core of a business school than others, but we aim to show how all SDGs are interconnected and relevant for/related to businesses—and thus for all of management science.”

This new mission has released a lot of energy, enthusiasm, and passion from many of the school’s stakeholders (faculty, professional services, students, alumni, and corporate relations). The mission is short, to the point, easy to understand, and appeals to the heart of many people. Using the framework of the SDGs helps the RSM to translate how its activities in research, teaching, and outreach support its mission. For example, accounting researchers can enthusiastically adopt the new mission because it helps them contribute to better and more effective institutions/SDG16.

Pursey Heugens, RSM’s Dean of Research, adds: “RSM has always embraced a heterodox approach to management science, leaving intellectual free space for researchers to conduct research on societal challenges, corporate governance and ethics, the importance of a multiple stakeholder approach, and so on. One of the challenges traditionally is: how do we showcase, disseminate, and unlock the results of our research? We’re positive that our new mission will help us with that.”

Real changes are taking place. Dean Steef van de Velde says: “The school is in the process of gradually adjusting its curricula by giving more attention to values and attitudes; in the undergraduate programs there is more explicit attention to the 17 UN SDGs. There is a focus on business models that combine doing well and doing good; we are reviewing our research capabilities to reveal what we should have but don’t have yet; and we are reconsidering our outreach activities—and even redefining our recruitment policies. For example, we’ve included a question in the new application form asking how they are a force for positive change.”

Specific Projects Initiated at the Rotterdam School of Management:

  • Including the SDGs in the Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME) progress report.
  • The development of a series of online learning modules about the relation to, and relevance of the Sustainable Development Goals and business and management. These modules cover the SGDs, how companies contribute to that particular goal, provide short lectures by faculty, and feature one or two relevant research projects. All of the learning modules conclude with a business case.
  • The Positive Change series. A series of essays that present new frameworks. Two have already been published, one on ecological restoration with a business approach, which is also the subject of one of our MOOCs, and one on sustainable finance. Both publications have created much interest and have contributed to research fields. Other essays are in the pipeline.
  • In 2017, the Rotterdam School of Management was part of creating a joint initiative for inclusive prosperity, with the Erasmus School of Law and the School of Philosophy, and with the support of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Heugens: “We wholeheartedly support this inclusive prosperity initiative—how can business help to reduce the inequality in the world, and contribute to more inclusiveness?”


The Rotterdam School of Management’s faculty and staff have not only adopted the language of positive change, often referring to the 17 sustainable development goals, but researchers are also actively recalibrating their research agendas. In Dean Steef van de Velde’s words, “I did not expect our new mission would have such a big and positive impact on the school.”

Progress towards the new mission is hard to measure but to illustrate the efforts that are underway, RSM uses narratives and shows them to great effect on the Positive Change web page.