State of the Region: Look and act differently

From limits on growth and solar panels for all to talent recruitment in a different way and a new perspective on newcomers, if we really want to give inclusive prosperity a chance, we need to look and act differently. Welcome to the 6th edition of State of the Region, at de Meervaart Amsterdam.

Sustainability. Housing. The energy transition. When presenters Tex de Wit and Janine Abbring use the Mentimeter to ask the audience about the biggest challenges facing the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area, a varied word cloud appears on screen. Poverty alleviation is mentioned, less meetings and accessibility.

Also, many people mention inclusive prosperity. “And that’s an important issue today,” Abbring said. “In previous State of the Regions, the focus was more on numbers, on economic prosperity. Now we also focus on less material things.”

In a video, Pallas Achterberg, Challenge Officer at Alliander calls for listening, for cooperation in a different way, in which the common interest takes prevalence over our own interests. In another video, we see a paediatrician wondering why we don’t focus much more on prevention. We see entrepreneurs looking beyond diplomas when recruiting new talent and offering affordable solar panels.

No empty term

These are the concrete examples that tie in closely with the annual State of the Region, Femke Halsema’s address during the eponymous event. She is mayor of Amsterdam, but today she is primarily the chair of both the Amsterdam Metropolitan Region and the Amsterdam Economic Board. They’ve organised this event, together with the City of Amsterdam, amsterdam&partners and ROM InWest.

Halsema repeats the call that’ll be reiterated several times today: look differently and act differently. “We have to make fundamental choices to ensure that inclusive prosperity does not become an empty term. That we are actually going to implement it. We are making this call now. And I hope that together with residents, businesses, social institutions and you in the audience, we can make it a reality.”

Special cooperation

The Board chairwoman has just returned from Hatay, the Turkish province so badly hit by the earthquake. Due to poor cooperation, the region is not managing to repair the massive damages. Life is at a standstill. In the Netherlands, this cooperation is in our veins. The first Dutch dike ran along the Gooi area, through Diemen and Amsterdam to the IJ and was the result of a special collaboration between farmers, fishermen, the count and residents.

“That collaboration does still require our attention. Our business model is in need of renewal. Economic growth will have to go hand in hand with social progress. Our current prosperity doesn’t yet reach everyone. Income differences are large, there is too much emission of particulate matter, too few human resources and there is a shortage of housing.”

The Metropolis as a common

Still, Halsema sees no reason for pessimism. Thanks to large and small companies based in the Metropolis, we’re earning 20 percent of the gross domestic product. Facilities and academia are of a high standard. And we are a resilient region.

Trust is at the heart of our future cooperation, according to Halsema. “We cannot continue to compete with each other; we must strengthen each other. We must see our Metropolis as the communal land of old, a common pasture that we are jointly responsible for. If you don’t use it properly, it affects the other users. For too long the Metropolis has been viewed as an unmanaged wilderness that does not require cooperation.”

Halsema cited economist and Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom, who argued for proper institutions for communal management. “We manage assets that we need to prosper for the good of the entire community, she says. That means we always have to consider the interests of others, including those of people in the rest of the Netherlands and the world, as well as those of future generations.”

‘A mega radical transformation’

Look and ac differently may sound simple, but it requires a new way of thinking and doing, by everyone in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. On stage, Femke Halsema discussed the topic further with Ingo UytdenHaage, co-CEO of Adyen, architect Thomas Rau and researcher and community builder Soraya Shawki. How do they feel about the call to look and act differently?

As far as Thomas Rau, architect, entrepreneur, innovator is concerned, the call does not go far enough. “It’s not radical enough yet. We are talking about 2050, but I think we should have a clear picture of where we want to be in seven years as a Metropolis. In doing so, we should not do what is possible, but what is necessary: a mega radical transformation. And that’s not always comfortable.”


Ingo Uytdehaage, co-CEO of Adyen is a bit more positive. “Companies often already look beyond just making money. We also look at our impact on the region, on the city.” That impact of Adyen, for example, is that they have a lot of expats working for them, Abbring said, and they all need housing as well. Uytdenhaage sees it differently. “I don’t call them expats; they are young people in their early 30s who have local contracts and the same challenges as other young Amsterdammers. And they don’t all want to live in the city at all, either.” He is joined by Halsema: “We need international labour for the work at hand.”

Soraya Shawki is a researcher/community builder at Open Embassy, which introduces newcomers to Dutch society. She would have liked a more concrete call. “For example, there is still a lot of systemic inequality. There are a lot of people here who are only allowed to work after five years. These are all people who could work in healthcare and engineering.” Recently, she spoke to an Iranian math teacher who speaks Dutch and English. “The municipality felt she needed to get to work as soon as possible and forwarded a vacancy for a cashier. Employers could take on that challenge and make pathways available for newcomers.”

Teaching newcomers

Adyen, for example, is already doing just that, by giving programming classes to newcomers. The company also demonstrates how technology works in schools, to spark young people’s interest in technology. As far as Halsema is concerned, it is a good example of how companies have changed their perception of their role in recent years. “Where before they might have donated to cultural institutions, now you see them investing much more in the local economy and talking to young people and residents.”

According to Shawki, this could be taken a step further, by governments and businesses alike. “Participation is often still a tick on a list, it is not embedded so there is little knowledge in companies and governments about what exactly is needed. And that while people are literally experts about their own experiences. For example, we have expert pools of people who know all about the new Integration Act.”

New encounters

Soraya Shawki and Ingo UytdenHaage did not know each other until today, even though there is some overlap in their work. Looking differently and acting differently is also about these kinds of encounters, notes interviewer Abbring. “The future is always in the people you don’t know,” Rau affirms. “In conversations with people you don’t know. So enter the conversation. We are the solution.”

Halsema concludes, “For too long the Metropolitan Region was a kind of necessary evil, but I think we should turn it around. We should discuss all major issues with each other at a regional level. We must exchange distrust for trust. Only then can we take radical steps.”

Would you like to get started right now? Check the page Look differently, act differently to find inspiring interviews and great examples. These allow you to examine your own initiatives and ways of working. Does they fit what is needed for the Metropolis of Tomorrow? Learn more in the workshops we will organise in the autumn.

Before the main programme, there were two side events:

State of the Youth

Young on Board talked about engaging young people in shaping the future of the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. The topic of participation proved more relevant than ever after this weekend. How do we ensure broad civic engagement and have young people regain confidence in politics as well as their right to vote?

Paula Smith (lecturer-researcher in Social Work at InHolland) gave a crash course on youth participation. She discussed not only the differences between young people and the rest of the electorate, but also the variations between young people. Paula’s main message was that we should start embedding youth participation in (policy) structures. When engaging young people now you create engaged citizens for later.

Younes Douari (Represent Yourself) and Kimberley Snijders (president of The National Youth Council) talked more with Paula Smith. They shared their experiences on what works when engaging young people in public debate and in shaping policy. Some important lessons:

  • Involve young people in time, and don’t use them as window dressing.
  • Make use of social structures in neighbourhoods and villages and actively seek out young people
  • Dare to really hand over the result

Economische Verkenningen

The other side event was entirely devoted to the Economische Verkenningen MRA 2023.

13 July 2023

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