'I always wanted to make the world a slightly better place'

Portretfoto Rob Jetten
It is so important to just do it. The rest will come naturally
Rob Jetten
Current role
Minister for Climate and Energy Policy
Previous education
Master Public Administration at Nijmegen School of Management

For over a year now, Rob Jetten (35) has been Minister for Climate and Energy Policy. He laid the foundation for his political career while studying Public Administration (2005-2009), which he opted for on ‘late choosers’ day’.

Who did you want to be when you were a child?

‘As a child, I wanted to become a top athlete. I was then, and still am now, an avid runner, and I ran at a reasonable level in my youth – up to and including the Dutch youth selection. After a career in top-level sports, I wanted to go into the catering industry. It runs in my family. Ideally, I wanted to have my own restaurant, on a beach in a warm country. But it all turned out differently. Not that I regret it: I now have the most beautiful job in the Netherlands.’

Why did you choose to study in Nijmegen?

‘The Seven Hills Running Team is actually the reason I made the move from Uden to Nijmegen. During my secondary school days, I often travelled to Papendal to train. I wanted to study in the city where I also played top sports. Radboud University was the nearest university, so Nijmegen became my student city. On ‘late choosers’ day’, I walked across the Radboud campus to choose a study programme, although I knew I wanted to do something with political science or public administration. I ended up attending some trial lectures and my choice fell on Public Administration. The small-scale nature of the study programme and the variety of courses appealed to me. Just a few weeks later, I went through orientation week, which, by the way, I thought was a very nice experience.’

Did your study programme make you see things from a different perspective?

‘During my studies, I often used to think: ‘What am I actually learning? And what am I going to do when I finish my studies?’ People who study law usually become lawyers. That goes without saying and gives law students some idea of what to expect. But what do public administration graduates actually do? I know that I made the right choice: after my studies, I started working as a management trainee at ProRail where I eventually became an advisor. The different perspectives that I had encountered in Public Administration proved to be extremely valuable in my work. The fact is that you’re often the linchpin in a company or public organisation. And that’s when it’s vital to be able to see the many different perspectives. It still helps me enormously to look at problems and dilemmas from different angles and take the right perspective at the right time.’

Portret Rob Jetten horizontaal

After your studies, you became D66’s youngest ever party leader. How did that come about?

‘A geek. That is really what I was at age 12. I read two newspapers before going to school in the morning, and I watched the news on TV in the evening. So I really was into it quite early on. I always wanted to make the world a slightly better place. As I got older, I realised that there were actually ways to do that. During my studies, I visited a few political youth organisations. I felt most at home with the Jonge Democraten (Young Democrats, JD). Some people enjoy spending a few evenings talking about how to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the JD, I was surrounded by people working on concrete issues: they were working on creating changes close to home, and in this way directly impacting their surroundings. That appealed to me. Pretty soon, I made the switch to the municipal council. I am convinced that you mostly learn political skills from being active in a youth organisation or local politics. It is so important to just do it. The rest will come naturally.’

What do you take away from your studies into your political pursuits?

‘Still, really that helicopter view. Within public administration, a lot of attention is paid to policy making. But in the end, of course, it is also about implementation: the people behind the helpdesks, and the citizens at the helpdesk. As a politician you’re often hounded by the press and social media, for example people asking for a few ‘quick quotes’. As a public administration expert, I prefer to delve a little deeper; I like to look just that little bit further. It’s this substantive approach that enabled me to quickly take over the role of party leader from Alexander Pechtold.’

How do you impact your environment?

‘As Minister for Climate and Energy Policy, I'm also an enquiry point for family and friends who have questions about sustainability. Not that I mind; I am more than willing to answer their questions. Of course, as climate minister, I’m happy to see that more and more people are working on sustainability. In addition, in my role as minister, I work every day to put the Netherlands on course towards a climate-neutral society by 2050 at the latest.’

Do you have any tips for alumni with political ambitions?

‘Get active. Just walk in somewhere. You don’t even have to do it just because you hope to end up in the House of Representatives one day. It’s fascinating to find yourself in the political arena, thinking along and feeding your interests. So don’t just ponder things from the lecture hall, but take a step towards practice. Attend guest lectures and keep growing and developing.’

Over the next five years, Nijmegen School of Management should focus on...

‘... training a new generation of modern, hands-on managers, politicians, administrators, etc. who can look at complex problems holistically and have the skills to manage the major transitions in this country.’

Text: Kelly Janssen

Photo: Duncan de Fey