Jaap de Vries
My passion for sustainability started early. During my civil engineering degree at the University of Delft (The Netherlands) I followed extra lectures about environmental science. One of these lectures, about civil engineering in developing countries, sparked my interest for sustainability in the third world. In 1986 I participated in a study project with other students in Lima, Peru. We conducted a participatory research about sanitation and waste in low-income urban area, with special focus on gender-issues. This was so interesting, that I also did my final research in Peru, writing a dissertation about urban planning and public participation in the city of Cusco.
After one year as a researcher at the University, I left for Peru once again and stayed there for 8 years. I worked as an advisor on sustainable urban development for the Netherlands Development Cooperation (SNV), especially in the areas of drinking water, sanitation, waste, neighborhood development, urban planning and urban management. Later, I started and co-ordinated the Habitat-programme of SNV. With local and international experts we carried out several practical projects for the improvement of the urban environment, particularly in low income settlements. At the national level we supported several organizations in this field, from NGO's to the Association of Peruvian Mayors. Together with some Peruvian colleagues, I started the Forum Cities for Life, which is still very active. My trip to the International Habitat Conference in Istanbul in 1996, together with about 30 Peruvian experts, was especially interesting.
That period in Peru opened up my horizon and made me see the world in a different way. Terrorism, crime, corruption, extreme poverty, natural disasters ... quite some heavy experiences that people in developing countries are themselves confronted with every day. That also taught me to see our own Dutch problems in a different perspective. It also showed me how much people all over the world are interconnected and depending upon each other. Our behaviour and economic actions often have enormous influence on people elsewhere. Finally I also learned how to solve problems in a creative way, because poor countries often lack fixed regulations, laws, rules and methods.
in 1998, after this exciting period in Peru, I took a sabbatical year. This gave me the opportunity to update my knowledge and I followed several courses in sustainable urban development, business management, public management and geographic information systems.
In 1999 I started as a Senior Academic Staf Member at the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS) in Rotterdam, an institute for postgraduate education. There I had the pleasure of teaching students from all over the world. I also conducted some studies for international organisations like the Inter American Development Bank (IADB) and PLAN. This meant a lot of travelling, especially to Latin America, but als to countries like India and Vietnam. This was very inspiring.
In 2002 I got the opportunity to work closer to home and dedicate more time to my family and started as the office manager of engineering firm DGMR in Drachten in the northern part of The Netherlands. It meant a lot of new acquisition and networking, and it also meant that I had to become familiar new areas like acoustics, building physics and fire safety. A complete new world, but also very interesting. It was quite a step from working in the international urban arena to the more rural north part of The Netherlands, but soon I built up a new network. Sometimes I had the opportunity for a trip abroad. For example, I carried out a course about sustainable building for Peruvian professionals, together with IHS and the Forum Cities for Life. Later, I also set up a company in acoustics (Acustinet) in Barcelona, together with Ton van Harreveld of Odournet.
Back to sustainability
The office of DGMR flourished and expanded. That meant that it became filled with new experts in its fields of expertise. For me, a good opportunity to dedicate to my passion sustainability again. So, during the past years I developed a consultancy field about corporate social responsibility or sustainable business. I also did some projects on sustainable urban development. We became especially known because of the Frontrunner Project on sustainability, which I started in 2010 in one municipality and which has rapidly expended afterwards.
On May 1, 2014 I started my own company DZyzzion. From there, and together with many partners, I want to upscale my contribution to a more sustainable world. Read more about DZyzzion.