Become Mayor of Rotterdam

Alumnus Ahmed Aboutaleb’s story

Ahmed so can you image

Not everyone follows the obvious path. It’s logical to complete a Nursing degree to become a nurse, or primary school teacher training to become a teacher. But it doesn’t always happen this way. Take Ahmed Aboutaleb, for instance. He studied Electrical and Electronic Engineering - among other things - and went on to become the mayor of Rotterdam.

On Alumni Day, a special day for THUAS graduates, Ahmed paid a quick visit to his alma mater. Well, not quite. Ahmed actually studied Electrical and Electronic Engineering in the 1980s at the HTS Wegastraat technical school, which is now part of the THUAS campus.

Life plans you

Much has happened since then. After technical school, Ahmed went to work as a journalist for Veronica, NOS and RTL. He then took a job as chief information officer for the Social and Economic Council. “I never had a plan mapped out for my life, but once I sink my teeth into something, I’m extremely persistent and tenacious. That tenacity - being curious, wanting to know and understand everything - has always been part of my nature. I always say: you can’t plan your life, life plans you. In my wildest dreams, I could never have imagined where I’d be today.” 

Urban management, technologist-style

Today, of course, he is at Rotterdam City Hall and as mayor, his technical background still proves useful. “I manage the city like a process technologist would. You supply input, something comes out and you quantify that output. Is it what you wanted? If not, you provide feedback and adjust the course. I think it’s really important to keep a finger on the pulse to know what people want, to reach out and embody solidarity.”

A global citizen is still a global citizen in their own surroundings

A mini Ban Ki-moon

Ahmed Aboutaleb mentions awareness of other people once more when speaking of global citizenship. While it’s a term that might describe someone who visits many countries and travels the world, according to the mayor, there’s more to it than that. “If you ask me, the concept of global citizenship isn’t necessarily just about travelling around the world. After this lecture I’m off to Vietnam and Singapore. Two weeks ago, I was in Washington and Los Angeles and before that in Berlin, Paris and Brussels. But I spend many days of the year in Rotterdam, which is a world-class city as well. A global citizen is still a global citizen in their own surroundings. The world is made up of over 200 nationalities and my city is home to 174 of them - we’ve got an equal number of cultures and every religion on Earth. I like to say I feel like a mini Ban Ki-moon. You walk out the door and it’s like you’re in the middle of the United Nations.

By improving your own lot in life, you’re improving the world as well

Expand your knowledge

The mayor has this important tip for students at THUAS. “By improving your own lot in life, you’re improving the world as well. I think that’s a vital realisation for all of us. An American guru once taught me that it starts with learning, then you move into the phase of earning. And once your knowledge has expanded, it’s time to start thinking about what you can give back to the world - returning. ‘Learn, earn and return’. So the important thing is to make sure your knowledge is as extensive as possible.”