Guest column

Theo Bovens

Commissioner to the King

Warning: this will be a column containing shameless preaching to the choir. After all, as a member of the Board of Governors for the Marc Cornelissen Brightlands Award, I am going to tell you in less than 500 words what a great prize this is, and that we have chosen a great winner in Bart Knols for the 2018 edition of this award.

Marc Cornelissen is a familiar name to the Brightlands audience by now. Before he died at a far-too-young age, the scientist, polar explorer and do-gooder combined his knowledge and skills with a huge drive to convince the world that intervention is necessary to save nature, the climate and mankind. These might sound like weighty words, but for those who knew him, they are true and recognizable.

One of these people was Peter Nyquist, a photographer and filmmaker from Norway, who experienced many expeditions with Marc. A speaker at the awards ceremony, he made an impression on the audience with his story about a special expedition: his 52-day experiment leaving hearth and home (and partner and child) behind to live as a homeless vagrant. This was an expedition of the first order since it essentially involved unknown territory, but also had huge consequences for him personally. A polar expedition demands meticulous planning, and you either go with a partner or a group. In this case, Peter was on his own and had yet to discover everything involved in such a journey; where do you get your food, for example? Am I safe? Where can I sleep? How will my friends and family react?

It became the account of an expedition that moved everyone hearing it, and also taught the audience about what real values should be in society. People rely on one another, and those living on the fringes of society also deserve attention and contact.

Along these lines, I would like to refer to the national charity organization Kansfonds that supports causes that help the most vulnerable in our society (such as drop-in centers, projects to fight poverty, homeless youths and so on). The funds’ campaign motto is “You have the right to do good.” Dozens of “chance cards” have been made that call attention to certain issues in the form of a poster, such as “You have the right to greet a homeless person.” We have the choice to do good for others.

This also applies to people active in science and technology. And this naturally applies first and foremost on a personal level: You can support a good cause, greet homeless people and put together food parcels. This also applies to our work; is it useful, efficient and sustainable? The same goes for the activities at the four Brightlands campuses. Many of these activities contribute to solving major global problems such as those involving climate change and sustainability.

  The award provides inspiration to many
to give their work direction and meaning.

This is precisely why the Marc Cornelissen Brightlands Award is so apt. The award provides inspiration to many to give their work direction and meaning. The 2018 winner, malaria researcher Bart Knols, aims to eliminate malaria through his work because this disease claims 500,000 victims every year. This is unnecessary if you can fight the mosquito, the tiny insect that is responsible for the spread of this disease. The award casts a spotlight on these efforts. It provides financial support for the work being done, increases the impact and is therefore an inspiration to so many.

May we all use this inspiration to face 2019 head on. I wish you all a very Happy New Year!


Theo Bovens (Maastricht, October 1959) has been the Commissioner to the King (Provincial Governor) for the Province of Limburg since October 2011.

Bovens studied history at the Catholic University in Nijmegen. From 1983 to 1989, he worked for the Christian Democratic Youth Appeal in The Hague.

In 1989, he took a position at Maastricht University (Faculty of Economics).

From 1994 to 2003, he was Alderman for Socio-economic Affairs and Deputy Mayor of Maastricht.

In 2003, he became the vice chairman, and then from 2005 to 2011, the chairman of the Board of Regents of the Open University. From 2006 to April 2012, he was also a Crown-appointed member and member of the Executive Committee of the Socio-Economic Council (SER).

Theo Bovens is a member of the Board of Governors (Recommendations Committee) for the Marc Cornelissen Brightlands Award. As governor for the Province of Limburg, he is also the one who presents the award.