Political activism

‘Because everybody deserves a meaningful life’

This is my life motto. I do not want to keep it at words, but translate this into action. Therefore, I have always used my expertise to help make the world a place that feels meaningful for many people. I have extensive experience training activists, coordinating social movements, consulting governments, and working in crises.

I base my political activism on a scientific analysis on social change, and on the effective factors of the 400 major social movements and uprising in the 20th century; I have summarised this in the book ‘The Economics of Meaning in Life‘, and my forthcoming book ‘The psychology of political action. Everything smart social movements should know to create change in the 21st century‘.

My political work has been recognised publicly, for example by the EU Council of Europe Nomination Democracy Innovations Award 2022. The Ghanese government awarded me the tribal title ‘Suglo Na’ (Chief of Peace). The Deputy Prime Minister Rouvoet of the Netherlands described my work as a cornerstone of governmental policies. I have received several awards for my political work, such as the Interreligious Dialogue Award and the Leo Polak Humanistics Award. Researchers in the field have described my political work as ‘fascinating’ (Noam Chomsky), ‘promoting values, responsibility & compassion at the heart of democracy’ (Henry Giroux), ‘vanguard, visionary’ (Michael Lerner), ‘The radical psychologist for our time’ (Neil Faulkner), and the British Psychology Society described that my work made them feel ‘fired up for change’.

I have founded many political activities, and developed many training events, workshops, modules, research and books on activism and social change. The following is a small selection of examples (ask me for more details).

Links to my lectures on effective activism

Getting Rid of Dictators and Stopping Climate Change: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Permanent Social Change – Link

This presentation uses a large body of research findings to explain how to build effective nonviolent social movements and political campaigns. This explains the Conditions and Mechanisms of Social Change model. It will be explained that for modern movements, the conditions of social change have changed (e.g. due to new policing laws), due to which they need to develop new strategies. The key message is that political movements need to become smarter, not bigger. The presentation also explains with insider-stories why several contemporary social movements, such as Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil, are failing.

Breaking the Cycle of Injustice and Trauma: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Permanent Individual Change – Link

This lecture offers a thought-provoking overview of how individuals can get stuck in a cycle of structural injustice, and how they can get out of this cycle. This is based on the work from the existential philosopher Iris Marion Young, supplemented with empirical psychological research studies. The presentation offers a step by step approach to support individuals breaking the cycle (Social Justice Oriented Interventions).


Treating Victims of War, Oppression & Trauma + Preventing Activist Burnout – Link

This lecture may be relevant for therapists and laypeople supporting victims of political or social crises, such as information about stress and trauma responses. This may also be relevant for social movements, to develop emotional care for activists to prevent burnout. This presentation also gives an overview of the existential impact of stress/trauma, and how individuals can learn to live a meaningful life again after trauma.


2023-… Psychology Research Group Climate-related Suicide. Coordinator & researcher. Action against climate activists’ suicides.

2021-2022. Mind-Up (UK). Consultant for Department of Education project on the psychological education and empowerment of young people and children.

2020-2022. Departments of Health. Consultancy on the communication strategy during the pandemic.

2013-… SMART Social Movements & Activists Resources & Training. Founder, chair, trainer of social change in several countries.

2018-2020. Extinction Rebellion XR. Founder, trainer, developer of social change and recruitment model, coordinator. I am not active in XR anymore; see my critical analysis of XR in my book ‘The economics of meaning in life’, and in my forthcoming book ‘Narcissism on the left’.

2017 Co-coordinator conference for activists, King’s College (UK). ‘Creating bottom-up political participation: how to do it’. Trainer and consultant of several social change groups in the UK.

2016-2019. Punk4MentalHealth (UK). Chair music events & mental health advocacy, together with Mind. TimeOut: ‘Best good deed 2018’

2016-2018. Psychologists Against Austerity (UK). Collaboration on research/publications.

2013-… IMEC International Meaning Events & Community, (UK). Chair world conferences, trainer, community-building support, therapy.

2013-… EASE Wellbeing (UK). Board of advisers mental health care.

2009-2012. COME Communications in the Middle East (NL, Israel, Palestine). Coordinator and researcher of peace seminars.

2006-2007 FairTrade/Max Havelaar (Ghana). Coordinator programme to improve education; lobbying for schooling girls and women.

2002-2005. Political party, Leiden (NL). Co-founder local youth branch of a national political party.

1998, 2000. Uganda, Tanzania. Member of education projects.

SMART Social Movement Activism Resources & Training

  • Nominated by the Council of Europe, Forum for Democracy, for Democracy Innovations Award 2022
  • Support of individual activists (e.g., coaching, emotion and relationships management)
  • Consultancy on building effective social movements
  • Training modules (in development)
  • Based on the ‘SMART model of political activism’: focus on specifically targeted actions by a small group of trained activism experts, focused on motivations for social change; SMART was developed to adjust the outdated traditional political activities to the changed political circumstances of our era.
  • Based on scientific analyses of the 400 social movements and uprisings since 1900 (Vos, 2000)
  • Outcomes evaluated; controlled experiments
  • Active in several countries and major conflict areas

Myanmar Human Rights Reports & Support to the Saffron Revolution

  • Local support to leaders from the Myanmar political opposition in 2005-2007
  • Local collection of field data on human rights violations (genocide, systematic rape and torture) in East Myanmar, to support Amnesty, United Nations, Red Cross
  • Supporting the planning and organisation of the non-violent Saffron Revolution in Myanmar in 2007
  • Recruitment and training of activists
  • Individual psychological first aid, brief psychotherapy and coaching of traumatised activists
  • Lobbying with Thai government to improve the human rights conditions in the closed-off refugee camp and to deport activists from West-Thailand to Myanmar

Improving access to school for girls and women in Ghana

  • I was Invited by Max Havelaar/Fair Trade Netherlands to improve education in Tamale, North Ghana
  • I set up a team of education experts and sociologists
  • In the assessment stage, we observed that few or no girls went to school, due to cultural taboos and practical issues (e.g., having to help in the household). This stopped the socioeconomic development and independence of women. Traditionally, women play a key role in the local economy and manage household finances; therefore, educating women may also support regional socioeconomic development.
  • We lobbied with local school heads, tribal chiefs and medicine men to accept girls in schools, change school times, run a public campaign, and offer evening school for adult women.
  • Outcome: school attendance by girls in Ghana nationwide: 5% in 2005, 30% in 2006, 80% in 2010.

Extinction Rebellion (XR): developer, trainer & founder

  • I was invited by activists to train them in social movement building, and to develop strategies to quickly recruit activists, get media attention, and create public awareness about climate change. The focus was on quick effects, as climate change needs to be stopped quickly.
  • Based on my research on social movements, I developed training and a movement strategy, and tested recruitment strategies via randomized controlled trials. I focused on the message of existential urgency, personal meaning, targeted events, and minor public nuisance. The name ‘Extinction Rebellion’ is derived from my workshop title ‘To rebel or to get extinct: that is the question’.
  • XR has been described by some researchers as the ‘quickest growing movement in history’
  • I do no longer support XR and associated groups such as Just Stop Oil, due to their ineffective strategies and negligence of social/human resources. I analyse this in my books ‘The Economics of Meaning in Life’ (2020) and ‘Narcissism on the left’ (2024). I have helped in the deradicalisation of activists.

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