The Amsterdam Area: a home for social enterprise

In 2016, Ger Baron, the City of Amsterdam’s first Chief Technology Officer (CTO), said, "If you are into creative, disruptive models, Amsterdam is the place to be". Three years later, the city is living up to its pioneering reputation. In 2019, the municipality teamed up with professional service company KPMG to ensure the local government develops and uses ethical algorithms in all its municipal programmes. Among them are ambitious initiatives to make Amsterdam more circular, healthier, better connected and more inclusive – precisely the aims of the CTO Innovation team. To achieve their goals, which include fully closing the loop on waste and becoming climate-neutral by 2050, the City of Amsterdam is working closely with businesses, knowledge institutes, startups and non-profit organisations. 

Long-standing partnerships between the scientific and business communities play an essential role in the Amsterdam Area’s innovation and tech ambitions. Take Amsterdam Data Science (ADS), a joint initiative of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Vrije Universiteit (VU) Amsterdam, the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and the Dutch Research Institute of Mathematics and Computer Science. ADS aims to develop world-class data science and artificial intelligence (AI) talent and technology within the Amsterdam Area. Among the gold partner companies of ADS since 2016 is Elsevier, a Dutch-by-origin global leader in information analytics in science and health. ‘It’s exciting to be part of the ADS network, working with local knowledge institutes to help develop our home city into a national and international data hub,’ says Alexander van Boetzelaer, EVP Strategy at Elsevier, ‘and seeing it evolve into an even more attractive place for technologists and data science researchers from around the world.’ 

Ger Baron

Photo: Ger Baron 

In 2018, Elsevier’s partnership with ADS, as well as its ongoing research programmes with the VU and UvA, led to the opening of the ICAI & Elsevier AI Lab, a collaboration between Elsevier and the City of Amsterdam, VU and the UvA-led Innovation Centre for Artificial Intelligence (ICAI). Located at the 70-hectare Amsterdam Science Park, the lab connects Elsevier’s data scientists working on product development with their academic counterparts to fuel innovation and tech solutions with immediate practical applicability. ‘With our global headquarters here in Amsterdam, the ICAI & Elsevier AI Lab will allow us to learn how AI can be used to serve the interests of our customers while simultaneously investing in talent development, creating new jobs, and drawing AI experts to Amsterdam,’ says Van Boetzelaer.

How to connect to Amsterdam's skilled labour market

Tech talent who can wield the power of data to create products and services that make a difference abounds in Amsterdam. For companies looking to attract top talent from abroad or to recruit from the homegrown generation, the Amsterdam School of Data Science – a collaboration between four of the Amsterdam’s research and applied sciences universities – offers over 300 data-science driven bachelor’s, master’s, postgraduate and professional programmes. Here, students have the opportunity to work on data challenges with companies such as Google, Air France-KLM and Ahold Delhaize. Upon graduating, there’s a ready job market waiting for them: More than 1,600 tech companies, from seed start-ups to scale-ups such as online supermarket Picnic and established names such as, make for a lively tech job market with 69,000 positions – the equivalent of 13% of the Amsterdam Area’s employment market. 

Picnic operate in the Netherlands and Germany

In addition to supporting higher tech education, Amsterdam’s local government, the business community and knowledge institutions have established House of Skills, a private-public partnership to advance a flexible, skills-driven labour market in which lifelong learning is the norm. House of Skills supports professionals in acquiring and renewing the skills needed for the jobs of the future, which must respond to the rise of AI and digitalisation, as well as new societal challenges. In 2018, more than 90 organisations signed the Regional Skills Agreement for the Amsterdam Area, including consulting firms Accenture and Deloitte, housing corporation Ymere, telecom player VodafoneZiggo and airport operator Royal Schiphol Group, underscoring how serious companies in multiple sectors are when it comes to creating a future-proof workforce. House of Skills is there to help them: From ascertaining companies’ five-year plans for digitalisation to assessing required skills to matching them to the right talent and supporting on-the-job training schemes.

To ensure an inclusive labour market, the City of Amsterdam, which signed a Diversity Charter with 20 other Dutch municipalities, is leading by example. In 2017, Amsterdam’s local government launched the ongoing Young Professionals Programme for Status Holders, a two-year traineeship for highly educated newcomers with a refugee background. During the traineeship, newcomers learn Dutch, make valuable professional contacts and perform assignments in areas ranging from waste and raw materials to accounting and data visualisation. Complementing the municipality’s efforts, startups like Makers Unite are connecting newcomers to companies in Amsterdam’s creative industries. In Makers Unite’s Creative Lab, a professional skills course, newcomers craft contemporary designs from responsibly sourced materials, such as the life vests worn by refugees as they journeyed to Greek shores. The process instills newcomers with the confidence needed to take their next career steps. 

Connecting to Amsterdam's impact ecosystem

Makers Unite is just one of Amsterdam’s hundreds of impact enterprises devoted to positive impact in areas ranging from renewable energy to inclusive growth and circular cities. The remarkable growth of Netherlands based impact ventures is underscored by the €3.5 billion turnover the sector realised between 2010 and 2015 alone. ‘Impact entrepreneurs are the pioneers of a broader movement that includes large companies, SMEs, universities and government organisations, who are all striving to add more societal value and solve pressing challenges,’ says Ellen Oetelmans, Programme Manager at Amsterdam Impact, the City of Amsterdam’s Impact Entrepreneurship Programme. 

Amsterdam Impact’s objective is to strengthen the ecosystem for impact entrepreneurship, to support the development of entrepreneurial skills for young people and to position the city internationally as a prime location for impact-driven organisations – from established companies to up-and-coming ventures. After a successful run between 2015 and 2018, Amsterdam Impact is set to continue for another four years. ‘We are looking for more partners who want to team up for the accelerators and challenges we aim to organise using the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework,’ adds Oetelmans. ‘We invite companies to become impact entrepreneurship ambassadors and join awareness events such as our yearly The Impact Days in November, which encourages consumers, companies and other organisations to buy more products and services that make a difference.’

To facilitate connections between established companies and impact entrepreneurs, Amsterdam Impact has co-developed several Buy Social events with key partners, including Social Enterprise NL. During these events, which introduce procurement professionals from large organisations to the products and services of impact entrepreneurs, more than 30 business deals have been closed in areas ranging from sustainable food to circular electronics and inclusive labour, including the collaboration between digital agency Swink and PwC Netherlands. At Swink, employees with a form of autism use their above-average analytic skills to build websites and SEO strategies. ‘We think it’s important to do good with social entrepreneurs, but ultimately, it’s also about the quality of the companies we work with,’ says Jacqueline Marell, Senior Digital Marketing Manager at PwC Netherlands. ‘Swink rebuilt our recruitment website; it was a great cooperation.’

In addition to continuing its Buy Social series, Amsterdam Impact encourages more young people in the development of entrepreneurial attitudes to solving societal issues, which perfectly complements the rise in local impact initiatives launched by bright young minds. Take the SDG World Tour founded by young people for young people with the support of Randstad and the Goldschmeding Foundation and the endorsement of the City of Amsterdam. The tour will sail from Amsterdam to New York between 2020 and 2022 to create awareness of – and opportunities for – the UN’s SDGs. Meanwhile, the growing Young Impactmakers community co-hosted by Impact Hub Amsterdam and Starters4Communities supports and regularly brings together young people who want to do good while doing business, either through starting an impact enterprise or making a change from within an existing organisation.

Find out more about social entrepreneurship in Amsterdam

Nurturing the next generation of entrepreneurial impact-makers is one of the ways in which Impact Hub Amsterdam accelerates the transition to a new economy 
that works for all. ‘We build impact ecosystems around key issues, such as food, plastics, circularity and an inclusive society,’ says Tatiana Glad, co-founder and director of Impact Hub Amsterdam. ‘This approach offers us an extraordinary opportunity to take responsibility for the state of our world together with our growing Impact Hub network of entrepreneurial innovators in over 100 cities worldwide.’ Since 2008, Impact Hub Amsterdam has helped more than 1,000 impact entrepreneurs to start, grow and scale. They’ve also helped numerous large companies and organisations, such as Tommy Hilfiger, WWF and the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, to achieve their innovation and impact goals.

Meet Amsterdam's circular economy pioneers

Impact Hub Amsterdam is also one of the organisations helping to grow the circular economy eco-system in the Amsterdam Area and beyond. It recently signed a partnership with the Province of North Holland, which aims to become fully circular by 2050. A major player in realising this target is the Amsterdam Economic Board, the agency tasked with strengthening collaborations between businesses, knowledge institutes and government organisations, including the City of Amsterdam, the Province of North Holland, directors of knowledge institutions such as the UvA and business leaders from companies such as the Royal Schiphol Group, Rabobank and Salesforce.

As a private-public partnership, the Amsterdam Economic Board encourages innovation and collaboration to help address five key urban challenges: Health, mobility, digital connectivity, jobs of the future and the circular economy. It already has plans to hit crucial milestones for each of these challenges by 2025: Adding two years to the lifespan of local residents, ensuring emissions-free urban traffic, making Amsterdam Europe’s top location for both data-driven innovation and job opportunities and turning the Amsterdam Area into a role model for smart solutions to the shortage of raw materials.

A circular economy approach, in which raw materials never become waste, is essential for a region with growth goals as ambitious as Amsterdam’s. When it comes to the built environment, for example, some 230,000 new homes will be constructed in the Amsterdam Area by 2040. New organisations such as C-creators want to make circular construction the norm. Officially launched in 2018, this joint initiative of the City of Amsterdam, the Municipality of Haarlemmermeer, Rabobank Schiphol and the Royal Schiphol Group aims to speed up the transition to a circular economy within the Amsterdam Area. One of its core activities is the Construction Programme in cooperation with Cirkelstad, the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) and the European Investment Bank. 

The Construction Programme welcomes new companies and organisations keen to exchange expertise through events such as masterclasses and lectures. Current partners range from private-public partnerships, including the Amsterdam Economic Board, to established construction corporations such as the Royal BAM Group, circular strategy and revenue model consultants Copper8 and architecture firms such as Architekten Cie. In a C-creators talk, Architekten Cie associate Hans Hammink said: ‘I share everything. I currently spend my days promoting circular construction through lectures and guided tours. My children have the right to a healthy world and, if circularity is how we can get there, shouldn’t we all embrace it?’

For those who believe we should, the Amsterdam Area offers plenty of opportunities to connect with like-minded organisations working towards a sustainable future. 

Find out more about Amsterdam Impact and the Amsterdam Area's inspiring, innovative and active ecosystem.