How have your first two weeks at the ISS gone?

“I feel like a child in a sweet shop! Every day I talk to great people about great things. I also ask colleagues to send me an article about what they’re most proud of, so one day I might be reading about sex workers in Asia, and the next about the impact of borders on international trade. I find this really interesting, so I’m really enjoying myself.

“I’ve also started observing what’s going on at the Institute. From what I can see, things are going well: we have great projects, and there are no major concerns. This gives us the opportunity to build further and reflect, on how we can work better with each other, for example, both within the institute and with Woudestein, and with all kinds of institutions in The Hague – NGOs, embassies, ministries – that are closely involved with the institute.”

Ruard Ganzevoort (58) has been Rector of the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) since 15 August 2023. Before that he was Professor of Practical Theology and he served as Dean of the Faculty of Religion and Theology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU) from 2017. At that university he also served as Chief Diversity Officer. He has also been a member of the Dutch Senate for GroenLinks (GreenLeft).

Ganzevoort will deliver his inaugural speech on October 12 at the ISS building.

You said in a blog that you have immediately felt at home at ISS. Why is that?

“It’s a really warm community. Students, staff and PhD students engage with each other here on campus and work together in a personal way. It is clear that the community is working towards the same objectives and has shared values. That’s great. The institute is also a place where people from all over the world come together, a home away from home. And I identify with this: as a child I lived in Suriname and moved house frequently, my partner comes from Indonesia. So the concept of home is not necessarily tied to a single location.”

Why did you choose this job?

“I really like science, especially science driven by idealism about what the world should be like. Heading a scientific institution is a great job because you have to be very creative to try to bring the various branches of science together into a bigger story and move forward with that.

“And I really like the fact that all kinds of things that I’ve done over the course of my life come together here. I believe strongly in international collaboration. I coordinated the Indonesian network for the VU for many years, and we visited many different universities and institutions to set up partnerships. I hope I can do similar things in this new role.”

What are you looking forward to over the coming period?

“I want to focus on the question of how we can better and more effectively achieve the impact we want to make, both academically and socially. The identity of the institute is quite clear – everyone has a good idea of what ISS is – but what we want to achieve is less clear. I think we must together formulate a vision for the future: what are our priorities? What do we want to achieve? How can we raise our profile here in The Hague? What can we do to strengthen the collaboration with Woudestein? We must discuss this with each other so we don’t get a new strategy that is top-down but one that is supported by the entire institute.”

Looking ahead, what do you hope your legacy will be at the end of your term of office? What do you want to change at ISS?

“Ultimately, as an administrator you can’t make that many changes on your own. And that’s a good thing. The power of the institute lies with the people who work here. They inspire people and attract students. Their passion and their networks are what makes this institute what it is. What you try to do as an administrator is to allow people to thrive in the organisation. It’s a bit like a play on a stage; the director doesn’t take part in the performance but directs in the background.

“Change is not my first objective. I want to raise the profile of the great things that we’re already doing. But if we are to carry on achieving the same objective, we will have to do some things quite differently. For example, we will have to focus more proactively on the network of ministries, embassies and NGOs in The Hague. We will also have to take a critical look at how we can achieve a genuinely equal partnership with partners in other parts of the world.”

And what kind of director are you?

“Well, let me see. There are two types of directors: actors’ directors and conceptual directors. An actors’ director focuses on people’s qualities to bring out the best in them, while a conceptual director has an idea that they give shape through the actors.

He thinks for a moment: “I think I’m bit of both. I really believe in people and want to see them flourish, but I think that once we’ve all agreed which way we want to go, I’m someone who adheres to the concept. In my view, a combination of the two is the way to make progress.”

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