Simone van den Ham

Simone van den Ham

“We face the future fortified with the lessons we have learned from the past. It is today that we must create the world of the future,” said Eleanor Roosevelt in Tomorrow Is Now (1963, p.XV) (1). Active Health Foundation’s vision is a situation of healthy people and a healthy world in the “here and now” and the “elsewhere and later”. A vision that can inspire and prompt reflection on our human thinking and actions. A vision that is about the process of contributing together, each in his/her own way, to the realization of a dream: one day every person will have relatively equal opportunities to choose for health in a sustainable way and there will be a sustainable balance between healthy people, flora, fauna and natural resources. A vision to which I want to commit myself.

Desire and reality, free will and being steered by a system

Originally, I am a historian. I graduated cum laude on a cultural history of organic agriculture and food in the Netherlands, which was published with the title Wens & Werkelijkheid (Desire & Reality). A title that refers to the individual and social issue that what we say we want as a situation, does not necessarily correspond with how we act in practice. And it touches on the question of the extent to which we act out of free will or are ‘steered’ by incentives from a system of which we are a part at a given moment.

To gain new insights into these types of social issues from a perspective other than scientific historical research, I initially chose to work in the public sector. A traineeship with the municipality of Amsterdam offered me the opportunity to look behind the scenes at various places. This ranged from the first regional food strategy in the Netherlands, the ‘De Gezonde Wijk’ (Healthy Neighbourhood) project with its focus on the relationship between healthy behaviour and physical and socio-cultural interventions in public space, to a posting at the Strategy Department at the then Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality.

A move to the business world was inevitable, as I was still missing that perspective on these issues. I became acquainted with sustainable area development, innovative cooperation in infrastructure construction, communicative influence within organizations and unravelling the system dynamics in organizations that want to facilitate their employees/workers in taking control of their own health and employability. In my current functions, I partly return to where it all started: research and issues concerning desire and reality, free will and steering by incentives from a system. This time, not with organic farming and food as the social theme, but health in the broad sense. I also advise organizations that want to integrate the concept ‘Health as a value’ into their strategy, policy, operational activities and communication.

The future is now

The dream that one day there will be a situation of healthy people and a healthy world requires me to reflect on my choices in the present with lessons learned from the past. The future is now.

(1) Source: Eleanor Roosevelt. (2021, 28 March). In Wikiquote.

Eleanor Roosevelt, as First Lady of the United States (1933-1945), was an active campaigner for political, racial and social justice. Among other things, she campaigned for civil rights for African-Americans and acted as an advocate for American workers, the poor, young people and women during the Great Depression (1933-1939). In December 1946, she was elected chairwoman of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. In this capacity, she played a major role in the drafting and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).
Source: Caroli, B. B. (2021, 5 February). Eleanor Roosevelt | Biography, Human Rights, & Accomplishments. Encyclopedia Britannica.; Editors. (2020, 3 April). Eleanor Roosevelt. HISTORY.; Eleanor Roosevelt. (2021, 28 March). In Wikiquote.

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