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5 Questions to Rutger Bregman about Moral Ambition

Improve the world, start with ambition. Moral ambition, that is. Rutger Bregman is a strong advocate for it. In September, he will speak about it at the Amsterdam Business Forum 2023. We asked him 5 questions in advance.

1. The Amsterdam Business Forum is about making an impact. What do you think about it?

“A lot! I see it as one of the great tragedies of our time that so many people waste their talents.

The anthropologist David Graeber (1961-2020) also spoke of bullshit jobs, jobs that people themselves consider useless. Interestingly, this often refers to people with decent salaries and impressive degrees. Isn’t that a shame?

A full-time career consists of 80,000 hours. How you spend that scarce time, in my opinion, is one of the most important moral choices of your life.”

2. How does moral ambition work at the organizational level?

“Companies can also develop moral ambition. It’s actually quite simple:

• You start with the question of what the biggest global problems are.
• Then you ask yourself how your organization can make a difference.

But don’t settle for just marketing, like planting a few trees. Set the bar really high. When it comes to improving the world, we can use some return-on-investment thinking. More is more.”

3. Can you give any Dutch examples of this?

“In the Netherlands, we are at the forefront of the protein transition, from animal meat to plant-based and cultivated meat. Take companies like Meatable and Mosa Meat, I believe they are doing historic work.

In 2013, a team led by Mark Post produced the first cultivated hamburger, which did not involve slaughtering any animals. The first production facility in Maastricht is now open, where hundreds of thousands of hamburgers will be made per year. Initiatives like these make me proud to be Dutch.”

4. If you want to increase moral ambition in your company but you are not the decision-maker, what can you do?

“The economist Albert O. Hirschman said that you basically have two options: exit and voice. You can look for another job or raise your voice. The best option depends on your personal situation.

I think many employers themselves need to think more about how they want to retain their talent. There is a large group of people who feel like they are wasting their talent right now—and as an employer, you could easily lose such people.”

5. Fear of change is prevalent in many organizations. How do you break through that?

“It starts with embracing your discomfort. It’s a fact that people with moral ambition often pay a price for their ideals.

For example, the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson traveled a staggering 35,000 miles from 1787 to 1793 to distribute pamphlets and petitions against the slave trade. On horseback, often at night. At the age of 33, he had a complete nervous breakdown, or what we would now call a burnout. Year after year, he saturated his brain with appalling facts, figures, and images of slavery.

No, Clarkson wasn’t very mindful, and he probably should have taken it easier. It doesn’t benefit anyone if world-changers collapse at the age of 33. But at least he didn’t get a burnout from staring at boring PowerPoint presentations and Excel sheets.”

September 29, Amsterdam Business Forum
During ABF23, Rutger will share his story about moral ambition: “I’m excited about it,” he says. “In a room with so much talent together!”

Will you be there?

Yes, I want to register!

Table of Contents

Melati Wijsen is a young changemaker from Bali. In terms of personality, she is best characterized as a blend of Greta Thunberg, Bojan Slat and Barack Obama. At the age of only 12 (!) Melati and her sister managed to get single use plastic bags banned in Bali. Melati is the founder and figurehead of Youthtopia, a network of young changemakers around the world. A film about her and this movement launched in 2022: Bigger than Us. Melati is one of those speakers you may not know upfront, but will never forget after September 29.

Glenn de Randamie, better known as Typhoon, will wrap up this seminar. He will take us on a journey to connection, inclusion and fresh perspectives. How can we make even more impact by working together in a better way? How do we ensure that all voices are heard and blend into better decisions? How do we bridge gaps and break barriers? Glenn will share unexpected and valuable lessons about personal leadership, vitality, inclusion and diversity, growing, slowing down, trusting and connecting.

Tim Ferriss is one of the world’s leading experts on leadership, entrepreneurship and personal innovation. He is the author the iconic global bestseller: The 4-Hour-Workweek. He is an early investor in companies such as Uber, Shopify, Duolingo and Alibaba. Tim is on Fast Company’s list of “Most Innovative Business People.” His podcast The Tim Ferriss Show is the world’s most listened-to podcast for entrepreneurs and leaders with over 900 million (!!!) downloads.

“Tim Ferriss is the Oprah of Audio”
(The Observer)

Maryna Saprykina  won the 2023 Speaker contest with her speech: “Sustainability in the Times of War”. 

She is sustainability consultant from Ukraine who has seen the resilience of Ukrainian businesses firsthand.  

Her keynote addressed the role of sustainability in business continuity during times of war.

Britt Breure is Director of HR and CSR at AFAS Software, a unique family company with a strong corporate culture and impressive results. 

AFAS has 600 employees, but only 1 HR employee. That’s Britt. She is also committed to social responsibility and sustainability within AFAS and beyond.

Alix Jacobson is Former Vice President HR EMEA by Netflix. She is a commercially driven international HR executive with an extensive track record of building and sustaining healthy, efficient and high-performing teams.

Alix staunchly believes in company culture as a business driver – A clear and common set of values and behaviors can drive employee performance and team effectiveness, and ultimately business performance.

Douglas Lamont is CEO of Tony’s Chocolonely, joining in October 2022 from innocent drinks where he was CEO for nine years. 

As innocent’s CEO, Douglas put his advocacy for building businesses that balance people, profit and planet into action.

Lilian Geijsen is Managing Director of Ben & Jerry’s Europe, she embodies the company’s mission of delivering high-quality, socially responsible products while making a positive impact on the world.

She is responsible for driving growth while prioritizing social impact across all three parts of the business, including product, economic, and social.

Erin Meyer is a science rockstar in the field of (company) culture. She is professor at INSEAD Business School and she is listed in Thinkers50 the list of best leadership thinkers in the world. Erin’s book The Culture Map became a worldwide bestseller. Her book No Rules Rules, co-authored with Netflix founder Reid Hastings, deconstructs the unique culture that enabled Netflix to grow and become one of the most successful companies on earth. “The most important document to come out of Silicon Valley” (Sheryll Sandberg on the Netflix Culture Manifesto)

Rutger Bregman  is one of Europe’s most prominent young thinkers. The 35-year-old historian and author has been nominated twice for the prestigious European Press Prize for his work at De Correspondent. His articles have been featured in The Washington Post and on the BBC. His book, Human Kind (De Meeste Mensen Deugen) is a worldwide bestseller, with over 1.5 million copies sold and translations in 40 languages.

“Rutger Bregman is the Dutch Wunderkind of new ideas”
(The Guardian)