Planting the seeds of change

25th July 2003, Comments 0 comments

'Venture catalyst' Robert Rubinstein is an expat on a mission to heal the planet. Jonette Stabbert speaks to him about what it takes to make a difference.


Robert Rubinstein is a man with a mission.

"I'm working towards healing the planet," he says in his soft-spoken voice, the Brooklyn accent still discernible.

A self-proclaimed 'knowledge broker', Robert's business, aptly named Brooklyn Bridge, connects people by finding financing for large-scale sustainability projects. It attempts to bridge the gap between the profit and non-profit sector.

One of the things he's working on is a green cement project.

"Currently, one ton of cement produces one ton of carbon dioxide. The production of cement threatens to become the world's largest carbon dioxide pollutant within a few years, more than airplanes and cars," he says.

"A new process has been developed in France that will produce nearly no carbon dioxide...In China, which is 40 percent of the world market, they've decided they'd like to shift their entire production. I'm helping to arrange the funding of the technology transfer...We expect to get it funded by the end of summer, which means that this one project alone will reduce the global carbon dioxide production by five percent."

Robert has zero tolerance for people who gripe about their jobs or the state of the world. "The saying, 'if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem' is true. Everyone can change his or her job," he states adamantly.

He speaks from experience. After graduating from Brooklyn College with a bachelor's degree in 1974, Robert travelled and worked a variety of jobs. He did manual labour on oilrigs in the North Sea, France, Iran and the US, before settling in the Netherlands in 1978.

Over the years, he established a company that imported and built innovative products in the bicycle and furniture industry, worked as a sales director in advertising, and went on to become the founding publisher of three magazines. His bicycle periodical, Fiets, was the first Dutch hobby magazine for cyclists.

Robert formed Brooklyn Bridge in 1998 with the goal of creating a more responsible business environment.

Residing in Amsterdam South with his wife Rikki, a cultural anthropologist, and their young son, Sammy, their large, airy apartment has a distinctive look, achieved by a blend of the Amsterdamse School with Eastern artefacts and generous use of bright reds and yellows.

From his home office he converses with movers and shakers in the corporate world.

His answering machine tells callers "We're out making connections". And those connections are considerable.

Robert is an advisor to EBNSC (European Business Network on Social Cohesion), a network supported by the European Commission, aimed at implementing social responsibility among corporations.

He organises the annual International Conference on Responsible Investment, is a communications advisor to the SVNE (Social Venture Network Europe), an Adjunct Professor at the Rotterdam School of Management, and is active as a chairman and advisor to a host of other noteworthy committees and organisations.

"I'm a venture catalyst," he explains. "I give presentations, lectures and hold brainstorm sessions with companies and organisations to explain the strategic importance of CSR (corporate social responsibility). I plant seeds."

With a shy smile, he adds, "On more than one occasion, an attendee has come up to me and told me I've changed their life."

He adds many people are at a crossroad and want to find more meaning in their jobs: "They ask themselves, 'What the hell am I doing - making sure more processed food is made or more junk is put into a pipeline or establishing the next Internet website of crap?', and I get through to them."

asked what his advice would be to the man in the street, Robert is quick to point out that not everyone feels responsible for the planet.

"You need to do things in tune with your own values. If just dying rich is your goal, maybe that's really what will make you happy. Follow your heart and be true to yourself."

He practices what he preaches. He's a man making a difference. Let's hope he succeeds.

For more information about Brooklyn Bridge, write to Brooklyn Bridge, Watteaustraat 36-I, 1077 ZM Amsterdam. Phone 020 428 6752, e-mail: and visit

© 2001 Jonette Stabbert

Subject: Expat profiles

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