Meeting a Changemaker: Cees Buisman

Published on
May 11, 2022

Too many times we are told to focus on our work and good things will come, but the reality is way more complex. Success may sometimes hide behind closed doors until we have either the luck or ingenuity to unlock them. At least that’s how Cees Buisman, director of Wetsus and professor at Wageningen University & Research, seems to see it.

If you were to visit Impulse last Tuesday, 3 May, at the end of the day and walked up the stairs to the room above the restaurant, conveniently named ‘Innovation’, you would have encountered a small group casually having a conversation over a plate of ‘bitterballen’. Not unusual, except this was no after work ‘borrel’.


Instead, WUR Ambassador and Changemaker prof. Cees Buisman sat before a group of students while he shared his experience on the path from having a brilliant idea to changing the world.

After developing a novel method to produce energy from fresh and saltwater in his early career, prof. Cees Buisman went on to found Wetsus, a research institute focused on water technology. Stemming from his experience, prof. Buisman advises any budding changemaker to first decide which world they want to live in, and only then which innovations will lead to that vision.

It is true that not all innovations are born the same, and the same goes for innovators. That is why Cees emphasises the need for any young professional out there to do ‘shadow work’, or uncovering the less desirable parts of themselves and address them. While the secret for the ultimate leader, according to the now Wetsus director, is to be modest and persevering.


Without the overarching goal of changing the world for the better, and the perseverance to work on his ideas despite contestation, prof. Buisman believes there would be little chance for his innovation to make it out alive. But there is a splash of luck needed in the process too. “The world is makeable by yourself, to a certain extent, but some things will not depend on you”, he mentions.

After the session, there was still some time to mingle and students got a turn to ask their questions. From addressing climate change, to not sounding crazy when having new and risky ideas, professor Buisman had ready advice for the students looking to become innovators themselves.