Nikki Trip: ‘I’d rather have a bit less pension and a liveable planet than the other way round’

Ebbinge talks to the leaders of today and tomorrow and asks the questions that really matter. This time: Nikki Trip, co-initiator of Network 2100 and chairwoman of Stem op een Jongere, a non-partisan Dutch advocacy group that helps promote voting for younger political candidates.


What was your first job?
Tutoring in economics, mathematics and other subjects at my own secondary school in Hilversum, the Netherlands. They let me start when I was in my second year, so I must have been fourteen then. That’s where I developed my love for teaching and speaking.

What would you like to change about the status quo?
I think representation is very important. You see too little diversity in boardrooms and other places where important decisions are made, even though diverse boards govern better. With Stem op een Jongere (Vote for a Young Person), I’m actively trying to get more young people elected in politics. We did this during the Dutch parliamentary and municipal elections. We have two goals: for young people to vote and for them to vote for other young people.

Another barrier is that the candidate’s age doesn’t appear on the ballot. I’ve spent nights digging around on LinkedIn to figure out how old candidates are. On the political party’s website, you can find out whether the candidate is a dog person or a cat person, for example, but not how old they are.

What does age say about a person’s qualities? Austria’s very young former chancellor was recently booted out because of corruption.
I don’t think age says anything about qualities, but it does say something about lived experience. I don’t have the lived experience of my parents, who consciously lived through the 1980s and 90s. But I have experienced, for example, how depressing it is to live with massive student debt—my parents didn’t have that. No one is more qualified than you are to prioritise and come up with the right solutions for the particular set of problems you face. If you put people on a board with the same lived experiences, you get a lot of blind spots. We shouldn’t want that, especially not in politics or on important boards.

Have you seen any results yet?
Every time someone casts a ballot stating their preference for a young candidate, it’s a success, but I can’t tell you yet if it went well or badly in all the municipalities in the Netherlands, as we have to dig through a huge amount of data for that. We’ve received dozens of messages from young candidates who won. We also know that our method works because of the success of a similar initiative, Vote for a Woman, which led to Kauthar Bouchallikht of GroenLinks (the Dutch Green Party) being elected as a young woman to the Lower House.

‘Besides working on my Master’s degree in Global Business & Sustainability, I’m active in about six initiatives and organisations’

What’s keeping you busy these days?
I’ve made a list of things. Besides working on my Master’s degree in Global Business & Sustainability, I’m active in about six initiatives and organisations: Vote for a Young Person, Network 2100, Youth in Institutional Pensions, Shareholders of the Future, Green Pension and the Netherlands Investment Managers Forum (NIMF). I’ve christened this academic year my ‘year of impact’ because I’m making the transition from student to young professional. I sometimes earn a bit from speaking and moderating, but earning money is not my top concern right now until I have a ‘grown-up job’.

Tell me more about 2100. It sounds mysterious.
I plan to be around in the year 2100. But no one is working on that. People think 2030 is already far away. That’s why I and a group of like-minded people set up Network 2100, with the support of the Impact Economy Foundation. We’ll start by preparing 21 young, aspiring professionals for non-executive positions. The other half of the network consists of experienced organisational directors, such as Barbara Baarsma and Alexander Rinooy Kan. Our goal is to get the boardrooms of the top 100 Dutch companies to commit to a liveable planet and broad prosperity.

Aren’t you afraid you’re heading for a burn-out with so much going on?
I’ve never had a burn-out but came close. When I wanted to do a research project on children’s rights in addition to my studies a few years ago, my supervisor warned me that he didn’t want to ‘drive me into a burn-out’. My boyfriend helps me recognise my limits and makes sure I let go once in a while. ‘You have to put your laptop away now’, he says. Then we go and watch really stupid TV or go to the beach.

‘In the beginning, when I hadn’t talked to that many CEOs, I sometimes made myself too small. In boardrooms, the people you come across are usually pretty intimidating’

What is one mistake you’ve made that taught you a lot?
In the beginning, when I hadn’t talked to that many CEOs, I sometimes made myself too small. In boardrooms, the people you come across are usually pretty intimidating. If they would say something like, ‘You are so young. You can’t possibly know anything about this yet’, I just wouldn’t say anything. Now, I would push back on that, because I’ve learned that I shouldn’t let other people take away my space. If someone says ‘I’ve got kids who are older than you’, I reply ‘How nice that you have children. You must be very committed to young people, because you know how important we are.’

You already sound like a politician. Do you have ambitions to run for office?
I would like to become a senator. But young—preferably before I turn 30. So, that would be within five years. I live in The Hague, even though I study in Rotterdam, because I think it’s cool to live so close to politics. If there’s a protest in front of the parliament building, I can get there in ten minutes. Having a drink on the square, you meet MPs and policymakers and have a little chat. I can’t say which party I feel most at home with, because I have to remain neutral because of my work with Stem op een Jongere.

What keeps you up at night?
The position of younger participants in the pension system. But even more so, the climate crisis. It’s going to hit us young people so hard. The pension sector, with all its billions, could do something about it. I think it’s fine to build up a pension, but it won’t be much use to me if I have to live on a mound somewhere with an oxygen tank. I’d rather have a smaller pension and a liveable planet than the other way around.

Do you owe your career to anyone?
Professor Harry Hummels supervised my bachelor thesis research into pension funds and introduced me to all kinds of people in the sector. ‘I’m about to retire, so I’m not much use to them anymore, but you could be a new voice to promote the importance of sustainability in pensions,’ he said. He just took me along to meetings, including one with Wouter Koolmees, the Dutch Minister of Social Affairs and Employment. In the middle of meetings like those, he’d send me a message: ‘Nikki, you’re about to ask a very pointed question.’

Photography: Pieter Bas Bouwman