Tag Archives: crisis

Dutch “golden generation” dares to dream

Arjen Hoekstra, founder of Scherp!media

Arjen Hoekstra, founder of Scherp!media

WHILE WE ARE still in an economic recession, entrepreneurship is on the rise in the Netherlands, especially among young people. They don’t seem worried. On the contrary: they dream and dare to take risks.

The sixth floor of an office building just outside the centre of Amsterdam holds a large and nearly empty space. There’s one table and one entrepreneur. From behind his laptop Matthijs Otto puts two orange plastic disposable cups under the coffee maker . “We still need to get real cups. ”

Matthijs Otto (24) graduated with a Master’s degree in Finance and Investments last year. After an internship at Rabobank in Hong Kong, he could have easily found a job. But Matthijs did not want to work for someone. During his studies he had come up with the idea to set up a website where people, who do not know each other yet, could meet online and plan to have dinner together. Now he works long hours to turn Eattomeet.com into a success.

As a user of Eattomeet, you can organize a dinner at various locations around the world. You can organize a dinner at a restaurant of your choice, or you could join someone else’s table. At the moment, a table at restaurant ‘Boom’ in Amsterdam still has three open seats, and an international party in Barcelona could still use one more companion at their table. According to Matthijs, the website is especially suited for expats and foreign students. They can build up a network in the city in which they live. “If you eat with people, you often have meaningful conversations and really get to know them.”

Thus far, Matthijs has had to pay himself and his team with the returns he received from an investment. But he wants to earn his own money as quickly as possible, by charging a small commission to the participating restaurants. Whether this will be viable remains to be seen, but Matthijs believes in his idea. “I’ve taken a risk, but I just had to try it. Otherwise it would have haunted me for the rest of my life.”

Freedom
Marijke Synhaeve (24) never applied for a job after she completed her Masters in International Development Management. Alongside two others, she started a private research and consulting firm. “Because I live now. I want to try new things. I am not looking for a lot of security.”

Marijke spends her days in an office building where she works hard on different projects for ‘BEvraag’. The company conducts research within organizations, interviewing employees about the way things are going. Their answers reveal what the biggest problems and challenges are and are turned into a recommendations for improvement.

Marijke enjoys the challenges she encounters in her work. She can do what she loves and take the responsibility she wants, without having to ask for it. “If I would have started working for a large company at the age of 24, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing now.”

The Dutch Chamber of Commerce sees more and more young entrepreneurs like Matthijs.The spokesman for the Chamber of Commerce noted that the young generation is attracted to entrepreneurship particularly because it allows them a great degree of freedom. “We detect a trend, in that young people do not want to commit to a permanent job. Securing a lasting long-term contract seems to be of little interest to them.”

Maryse Brand, lecturer in Innovation Management & Strategy at the University of Groningen, also noted that entrepreneurship is becoming more popular. “You could say that in the last decade, entrepreneurship has gotten a better reputation in the Netherlands. Before that, entrepreneurs were seen mainly as money grabbers, while, nowadays, they are admired.”

Cockiness
According to Matthijs, entrepreneurship is in your blood. “You have to really be an enterpreneur, you cannot become one.” As a little boy, Matthijs was also known as ‘Matthijs Eigenwijs’, eigenwijs meaning something like cocky or pigheaded. Sometimes his cockiness gets in the way and he comes across as arrogant. However, as an entrepreneur, he is able to take advantage of this part of his personality. “It’s really a bad personality trait, but I can use my arrogance in a positive way. If you yourself aren’t sure of your idea, others will not believe you either.”

The Dutch Chamber of Commerce also comes across people who see entrepreneurship as a solution to unemployment. Their experiences often show that entrepreneurship is not for everyone. “People do not want to receive benefits from the state and start their own business to get by. But that does not mean they will succeed. We see that the majority of these businesses don’t last longer than three years”, the spokesman of the Chamber of Commerce explains.

Rick and Matthijs, founders of

Rick and Matthijs, founders of Eattomeet, in their office in Amsterdam

Competing with Google
Rick Boerebach (24) works on Eattomeet.com with Matthijs, but is also involved with another company named ZEEF. ZEEF is based in the same office building in Amsterdam, and is run by a small group of entrepreneurs. Behind desks full of computer screens, a group of young men is building a search engine that aims to compete with Google. By making use of expert opinion when placing ads and presenting search results, ZEEF is trying to dig in to a particular part of the market. “If we take just one percent of the market share away from Google, we’ve made 500 million”, says Rick.

According to him, our desire for a secure income is standing in the way of societal progress. “The world is becoming a boring place. People don’t really take risks or think big.” The next step, says Rick, is space. “I want to put people on Mars, because it’s possible. But in order to do that I need about 3 to 6 billion .” That’s why Rick is hoping to start to make a lot of money soon. “I hope to have 25 million in my bank account by the age of 25.”

Marijke thinks that most young entrepreneurs work towards a dream. “When I look at other enterpreneurs, I see that it is often important for them that their work has some social value. They are idealists.” Marijke counts herself as one of them. “I want to make the world a little better.”

Golden generation
According to professor Brand, the reason for young people to think big, might be that they have seen more of the world than previous generations have: “Travel, TV and internet encourage us to dream big.” The Internet in particular, offers many opportunities for young entrepreneurship. “It’s not only easy to sell online, we also have faster access to a growing pool of information and are in contact with all the world,” says Brand .

Matthijs and his friends sometimes call themselves the “golden generation”. They’ve had a carefree childhood, been given good education, and can now enjoy the benefits of extremely fast technological development. But all of this has not made them lazy. “The crisis has taught us that it’s important to work hard for your money and not take things for granted.”

To achieve his goals, Matthijs must work hard. “It’s not just fun. Actually, it’s good only twenty or thirty percent of the time. The rest of it, you’re just working really hard.”

A calling
BEvraag is busy. Marijke has thought about expanding, but not anytime soon. A couple of months is as far as the future goes for her. The word ‘retirement’, although a much debated topic in the country, makes Marijke laugh.” Oh no, I’m not thinking about that right now.” This carefree attitude, according to Brand, is typical for the young entrepreneur. “But once they start a family and buy a home, income security becomes a necessity.” As people age, they increasingly avoid risks.

Matthijs is aware that he should take advantage of his youth. “I don’t know if I’ll still be doing this when I have a wife and children.” What he does know is that he will continue to do what he likes, because ultimately that’s what it’s all about. “This does not feel like work, it’s a calling.”

By Sofie Willemsen

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Spanish exile: future beyond the borders

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The future for the youth of Spain is one of the darkest in Europe. As youth emigration hits record levels Aida Pelaez explains the current difficulties that young Spaniards have to go through on a day to day basis.

“In the current situation I think it would be a mistake to return to Spain”

“The chances of emancipation are almost nil, so you make up your mind and hop on a plane”

“When you leave because there is no other choice you feel a little exiled”

These are direct quotes from young Spanish emigrants who have told their stories on camera for the future documentary “Spanish Exile”.  Rubén Hornillo is a young Spanish filmmaker and is living and working in Los Angeles. His documentary “Spanish Exile” will show the first-hand testimonies of young Spanish people who have seen themselves been forced to emigrate because of the economic crisis; showing the reality of a country that is seeing its qualified and educated youth leaving the country because of the lack of possibilities.

Spain faces one of the highest rates of emigration in the recent decades of its history, but rather than focusing on the number of migrations, different movements were born in the country to express their preoccupation and outrage about the situation and reasons for the exodus of young Spaniards. Juventud sin futuro (youth without future), La Marea Granate (the maroon tide), No nos vamos nos echan (We are not leaving, they kick us out); are the names of these movements.

Youth without future was born in 2011. Their slogan: “without a house, without a job, without fear” summarizes the demands of this organization whose purpose is to demonstrate the precarious situation of youth in the labour, educational and social fields.

“We are not leaving, they kick us out” is another a movement who denounces the precarious situation of Spanish youth, but it is focused on emigration; they defined Spain as “No country for young men”. This initiative criticises the forced exile of the precarious Spanish youth; their calls have gone beyond the Spanish borders by demonstrations that have taken place in different cities of the world such as Rome or London. The young Spaniards who live there as immigrants have shown their dissatisfaction with their own country that has failed to provide them a future.

The most recent platform  is “The Maroon Tide”, named by the color of the passport as a symbol of forced migration it is a transnational movement formed by emigrants from Spain who struggle from outside the Spanish borders against the causes that have led to the economic and social crisis which in turn caused them to migrate.

All these platforms seek the reasons for the Spanish youth exodus, but they are mostly trying to give a voice to all the young people who have seen the need to emigrate from Spain to look for work possibilities. But, on the other side of the table, the authorities of the country have not shown much concern about youth emigration. The government has not presented a clear answer for the increasing rates of emigration of skilled labour among the youth. The Spanish General Secretary of Immigration and Emigration, Marina del Corral, explained last November the reasons for the emigration of the younger part of Spanish society; she mentioned the economic crisis, but she also emphasised the adventurous spirit of young people as a reason for their migration.

The different movements concerned about forced migration, the stories of Spanish emigrants in foreign countries narrated in first person, show a different reality that contradicts the adventurous spirit expressed by the Government as a cause for migration. They point at the search for an sustainable present and future which their own country has not been able to provide them with; the crisis has made them exiles.

A clog in the system: What if a university goes bankrupt?

 

Andre Farrugia

Andre Farrugia

We’re all used to student debt in the UK. But what about if the University you study at suddenly has debt which makes your student loan seem miniscule in comparison? Lisanne Oldekamp examines a worrying situation in the Netherlands.

The University of Amsterdam’s bankruptcy is still not definite. But students of the university, in Dutch known as UvA, might have had the question wandering through their minds last week. An article published on Dutch website De Correspondent painted a picture of the university’s economic situation – and it does not look pretty.

How it all started
The current problem can be traced back to the 1990s. After experiencing decades of growth in the numbers of students, Dutch universities were very optimistic about the future. However, in the mid-1990s this increase stagnated. This in itself can perhaps be overcome, but the decrease in freshmen came shortly after the Dutch government implemented large budget cuts that severely impacted the universities’ budgets.

These governmental budget cuts became necessary when European countries committed themselves to launching a common currency, the euro, at the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. Part of the agreement was that the participating countries’ budgetary deficit could not exceed three per cent. In order to reach this limit, the Dutch government had to make some major budget cuts. These included the return of ownership of the Dutch universities’ buildings to the universities themselves.

This was the first sign of trouble for the UvA. As explained by Radboud University’s professor of economics Eelke de Jong: “When the universities were handed management of the buildings, they did not receive the proper amount of money to maintain them. Buildings are great, but they come with costs.” These maintenance costs tripled the universities’ balances. In order to decrease these costs, the University of Amsterdam decided to cluster its four largest faculties in four faculty buildings. Although in the long run these measurements were supposed to reduce maintenance costs, the expense of this restructuring plan created a new burden for the UvA’s budget.

Banking for dummies?

The university’s budget could not cover the expenses of the restructuring plan, which were estimated at 445 million Euros. Thus, the Board of Executives had to search for external beneficiaries – which eventually were found in the form of loans at two large Dutch banks. Naturally, a loan must be repaid – with interest. Since interest rates can fluctuate over time, as well as taking until 2030 to pay off the loans, the bankers convinced the university’s Board of Directors to buy interest derivatives – and that’s where we reach the tricky part.

Derivatives can be beneficiary: they form what can be described as a kind of insurance against the fluctuation of the interest rate. Without such an insurance, the interest rate can both rise and fall – which could potentially cost the lender money. Professor De Jong describes these interest derivatives as follows: “Imagine you want to buy a building, and you want to pay an interest of five per cent. If you want to contract a loan with a fluctuating interest rate, you are not certain that you pay that 5 per cent. In such a case, you can buy an interest derivative. If the interest rate rises, you obtain an amount of money from the derivative so that you still pay only five per cent. If the interest rate drops, you have to pay the difference yourself. That might seem disadvantageous, but keep in mind that these buildings last for thirty or forty years. Since it is impossible to predict the interest rate over such a long period, it might indeed be wise to create stability by buying off a fixed interest rate of five per cent.”

“However, the University of Amsterdam has contracted more derivatives than it needed, creating a speculative situation that has become detrimental”, explains De Jong. Due to the financial crisis, which started shortly after the University bought its interest derivatives, the interest rates had been low for years. “They probably took a chance and hoped that the interest rates would increase, thus being able to lay by some money. That money would have been very welcome given the fact that the universities received too little money from the government for the maintenance costs of their buildings.” In the current financial climate, the UvA’s derivatives cost the university lots of money. Assuming its restructuring plans do not encounter any financial setbacks, the university’s debt levels will reach an amount of 400 million Euros in 2018.

Risk-taking

So why did the university take these financial risks in funding its restructuring plans? De Correspondent argues that the Board of Directors was swept off its feet by optimism and by what is described as the ‘property intoxication’ in the financial climate at the time. Furthermore, an optimistic report by an external advisory agency announced that the UvA had a promising future, in which it would attract students from all across the world to study in the Dutch capital. Therefore, the Board must have felt confident, and the derivatives seemed a calculated risk. Finally, as pointed out by De Correspondent, the UvA’s Board of Directors at the time consisted mostly of people with a background in finance – professional directors, switching boards every few years. As brilliant as they might be as heads of stock-listed companies where making profit is the only goal, they lack experience in the field of research and education. As a consequence, it is suggested, the university has focused too much on money and profits – in a way, it has become a financial rather than a scientific and educational institution.

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filmfrenzy

Student rates

So where does this financial picture leave the students? De Correspondent argues that there might be certain consequences for the students: “If the market rate is still low when the contracts end – and the first ended on October 10 last year – the UvA might encounter heavy [financial] losses, which in a worst case scenario would be at the detriment of funding for research and education.”

Currently, more indirect consequences appear to already be having an effect on the students and researchers at UvA. As described before, the balance between scientists and people with a financial background has turned over to the financial side. According to De Correspondent, this affected not only the university’s financial situation (which became very opportunistic), but also the scientific and educational climate in the university. This has created a climate in which the results became central: the university needs to be an effective, oiled machine that produces research and graduates on a regular basis.

Although such a trend is found across the nation, the financial situation in other Dutch universities is far better than that of the UvA and its Amsterdam counterpart the VU (Free University). Professor De Jong said: “Although I am not fully aware of the Radboud University’s budget, I do know that our Board has always been very conservative in this field.” The provincial Radboud University has never experienced the ‘property intoxication’ that affected the UvA’s Board of Directors. It is perhaps not surprising that two universities based in the capital of the nation, surrounded by multinationals, were swept off their feet in the heyday of the Amsterdam stock exchange.

The Italian Job: Italy’s Employment Emergency

rahuldlucca

rahuldlucca

The so-called ‘brain drain’ aspect of migration has seen a steady increase in the past years and it is affecting many countries in Europe. Among the nations who currently suffer the most is Italy. Irene Dominioni examines the opinion of Italian student media on this controversial issue.

Brain drain isn’t only a cultural or moral concern, as the student’s newspaper Inchiostro reports. It is a problem that affects the economic interests of Italy, a problem worth 1 billion euros a year. Bringing a student from elementary school to university degree costs $164 million to the Italian system, a sum that packs up and leaves together with the skills of those who migrate. Investment in education and research is one of the few truly effective methods to substantially improve the economic status of a country, and it also enhances political involvement. It still remains an Italian achilles heel when the situation is getting worse day by day combined with mass unemployment.

Italy has been choking on an economic crisis for too long, a crisis from which it does not seem to be able to shake off. The student paper Uninformato reports a rate of youth unemployment of 41.6 per cent, which shows an alarming situation. The so-called NEET (Not in Education or Employment Training) are becoming a dangerous reality, counting more young Italians every year who are increasingly discouraged. They don’t work because they are convinced they won’t find a job no matter what, nor do they study because they see university as an effort that will never be paid in return. Those who should be leading the country out of the crisis are the ones who are most heavily hit by it.

Employment emergency

Among the crises that the country needs to face, youth unemployment should be the priority. The young are paying the consequences of a crisis that they have not provoked and the state needs to start looking after them as the first and most durable source of wealth, when resources are drastically reduced and need wise redistribution. Saving its future, Italy must invest in its youth today. It is a waste to provide its citizens with good education and then force them to leave the country because of lack of job opportunities. Furthermore, letting someone else take benefit from their capacities. This does not mean that studying or work abroad should be stigmatised. They should be encouraged instead. The problem is that nowadays for Italians leaving their home country is often not a free choice, but the only alternative not to weigh too much on one’s family.

The feeling of obligation is one of the elements within the critique made by Il Bo, as the results of a study conducted in 2012 on the Erasmus Generation, which emphasises the entrepreneurial spirit of young Italians. The reality is not so bright. According to the study, 46 per cent of the young Italians surveyed are enthusiastic about working abroad. This number however can be read in a different way – that unemployment is what leads them to leave. Moreover, the study reports that a significant percentage (54 per cent) of this generation expresses a desire to work and live in a place close to home or in Italy.

This suggests that Italians would rather not walk away from their roots: a sign that contradicts the apparent wish of moving to a different country. 7.7 per cent would like to run their own business and 12.8 per cent  aim to be freelancers. It is important to note that freelance positions are the only solution for professionals as lawyers or architects cannot hope to be hired in the public system or elsewhere. In addition, 32 per cent aim to work for a multinational corporation and 18 per cent for a major national firm. These numbers reveal that autonomy in business is not a very attractive option for Italian youth. The unconditional praise of mobility in Europe and Italian entrepreneurial initiative needs to be re-conceived in a way that sticks more to reality, a reality which does not appear pleasant.

Is there a way out of the brain drain and desperate unemployment rates for Italy? To invert the tendency it would be necessary to have more people at work for a shorter time and to reduce (instead of extending) the retirement age, suggests Domenico De Masi on Uninformato. But these are adjustments that are not very likely to happen in such a moment of economic crisis. Effective solutions have not been adopted yet, and the future for young Italians remains more insecure than ever. What will come next still remains to be seen, but, if a change has to start somewhere, it should be right where it is most needed: a deceived youth united under collective awareness and concerted action is the only solution to ensure the attention of the nation is on this problem.