Arjen Boekhold - Co-founder of Tony's Chocolonely and owner of Game Changer Unlimited
Arjen Boekhold graduated from IRIO in 2005. Since then, he has done an internship in Tanzania, he has co-founed Tony's Chocolonely and right now he is owning his very own company: Game Changer Unlimited. How did IRIO influence his career path and what would his advice for current IRIO students be? Read all about it in this interview.
Could you shortly tell us something about yourself! Absolutely! My name is Arjen and I have been living in Haren for the past the two years. Before that, I have lived abroad and in Amsterdam for about fifteen years. I am currently the owner of my own company, Game Changer Unlimited. I graduated from the University of Groningen in 2005 and I did an internship that was supported by the Rabobank. The goal of this internship was to give coffee farmers/planters a stronger position in the commercial chain. I went to Tanzania for this internship, where I worked with a large coffee plantation near the Kilimanjaro. It was here that I found my first job.
Why did you choose to join Tony’s Chocolonely when it was just a start-up? Before I started working at Tony’s I was already involved with initiatives related to improving the international commercial chain on multiple fronts – social, environmental and political. I decided to quit my previous job when I met Henk-Jan, the Chief Chocolate Officer of Tony’s Chocolonely. I saw that Henk-Jan had large ambitions and that his plans had merit and potential. He needed someone who was experienced in the field of impact entrepreneurship and social issues. We started out in an empty office in Amsterdam with only four people, but I saw the potential of this – at the time – small idea.
What were the biggest challenges you and your colleagues encountered along the way? Tony’s mission is not only to make sustainable and fair chocolate – it’s mission is to change the entire industry for the better. This takes a lot longer than you would hope. Apart from that, the largest challenge was to ensure that Tony’s commercial ambitions and impact-ambitions balanced each other out because they supplement each other. When Tony’s grew commercially, we got more and more impact on the industry, and having more impact leads to more growth. It is important to keep this balance –if you shift too much to one side it might harm Tony’s in the long run.
What aspects from your IRIO-background helped you when working at Tony’s? When I look at the jobs that I had, I can say that my career perfectly fits the IRIO course. To understand international structures, also within the cacao-world, you need to understand international economic and political power structures well – something you learn in IRIO.
Could you tell us something about your current job? I currently have my own company, Game Changer Unlimited. My goal is to use my skills and knowledge to help a large variety of companies and organisations to create a positive impact through their business case. Nowadays many companies and organisations are concerned with corporate social responsibility, which only entails minimal responsibility. The question shouldn’t be ‘How can I limit the damage that my company is doing’ – instead, companies should ask themselves how they can use their business to solve a social or societal problem. This requires a radical shift in thinking. I try to help companies and organisations, ranging from local start-ups to international companies and the German government, tackle these issues.
Do you have any advice for the IRIO-students reading this? Make sure that you specialise a little in a certain topic or area – do not become a true generalist. Apart from that, it is important to always follow your heart – it worked very well for me. Many people are afraid to go against the current. You are never too small to have an impact. At Tony’s, we were driven by the saying ‘Don’t think that you’re too small too make an impact – try going to sleep with a mosquito in the room’. If there is one piece of advice that I can give you, it is to become that mosquito.