Royalty and commoners in the Netherlands

Edwin Venema

Queen Máxima and Princess Laurentien offer a style of royal philanthropy more in keeping with the modern era

As in many other monarchies, the link between the royal family and philanthropy is strong in the Netherlands. The House of Orange is involved in many worthwhile social causes. While the traditional role is that of patron, giving charities a royal seal of trust, the involvement of the Oranges sometimes goes beyond this ceremonial function. In fact, we can see a strain of next-generational philanthropy mixing with royal philanthropy through personal involvement, social entrepreneurship and attempting to influence the direction of a charity’s impact, all playing a greater role. Two female members of the Dutch royal house are consciously taking the lead in this: Queen Máxima and Princess Laurentien.

Elite and egalitarian

The image of a cycling queen or school-riding princess may be remarkable to some, but for the Dutch it is the expression of the strongly egalitarian society that the Low Countries unmistakably are. It also means the Dutch have a somewhat schizophrenic relationship with royalty and wealth. There is certainly still broad support for the Oranges, so long as the members of the Royal House behave within the social conventions of that egalitarian ‘habit’: no opulence or ceremony (in no other monarchy is there so much whining about the cost of the royal house to taxpayers) and especially joining in with other ‘normal’ Dutch citizens.

Many examples of this ‘normal citizenship’ might be mentioned, but the annual volunteer day NL DOET is the highlight. This event, in which hundreds of thousands participate, is organised by the Oranje Fonds (The Orange Foundation). Established in 2002 as the national wedding gift to the then Prince Willem-Alexander and Princess Máxima, the Oranje Fonds is the largest Dutch fund in the social field, spending some $34 million each year. On volunteer day almost the entire Orange family goes into action: Princess Beatrix feeds the goats, King Willem-Alexander bakes pancakes and Queen Máxima takes up a paint roller. And for the record, this is not simply a photo opportunity, because the Dutch do not settle for just pretending – roll up your sleeves!

On volunteer day almost the entire Orange family goes into action: Princess Beatrix feeds the goats, King Willem-Alexander bakes pancakes and Queen Máxima takes up a paint roller.

In 2012, the then Princess Máxima, the undisputed darling of the Dutch and by far the most popular royal, brought personal participation to new heights. Together with a number of famous Dutch swimming champions and a thousand other participants, she dived for charity in the Amsterdam canals. A queen in a swimsuit in the Amsterdam canals: it seems impossible to be more ‘Dutch’ than that.

The modern approach

Queen Máxima and Princess Laurentien (the wife of Prince Constantijn, the third son of Princess Beatrix) also demonstrate how the Oranges substantively fulfil their social tasks in a modern way. Both Queen Máxima and Princess Laurentien are global citizens who address problems which cross national borders. Queen Máxima worked in the financial world in New York and Berlin before she met Willem-Alexander. She was active as an adviser for the United Nations from 2005 and acquired fame as an ambassador for microcredit. Laurentien van Oranje studied political science and journalism and worked at CNN in Atlanta and the Belmont European Policy Center in Brussels, among other jobs. In terms of philanthropy, she is best known in the Netherlands as founder and ambassador of the Reading & Writing Foundation. The image of a champion of illiterate and low-literate people is deeply etched in the collective consciousness of the Dutch.

Laurentien has also become a textbook example of social entrepreneurship in the Netherlands. In 2017, she was named ‘most influential’ in the world of philanthropy by the Dutch philanthropy magazine De Dikke Blauwe. She belongs to the type of social entrepreneur that aims for system change through a specific means. In an interview, she said: ‘By looking at the risks and opportunities of a societal issue not only on the basis of their own expertise, but also from a single integral interest, a more strategic approach emerges. This makes the chosen solutions more sustainable, more effective and more efficient. I am confident about that.’

This member of the Dutch royal family could not have formulated a new vision of philanthropy more in keeping with the spirit of the times and the temper of the Dutch people.

Edwin Venema is owner of editorial agency De Kopijmeester and former editor-in-chief of Dutch philanthropy publication De Dikke Blauwe.

This article is a result of a collaboration between Alliance magazine and De Dikke Blauwe.

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