Puteaux: a French world in pink and blue

puteaux  Puteaux: anger has risen in Puteaux, a suburb of Paris. In this city, the mayor provides school materials for the kids – in itself a most interesting fact. And he chose to give pink schoolbags to the girls, filled with jewelry stuff, and blue schoolbags to the boys with a constructable robot for the boys, thus inclenching a heavy debate:
http://www.lexpress.fr/education/puteaux-cartable-rose-aux-filles-bleu-aux-garcons-l-opposition-voit-rouge_1572098.htmlThe year before, the bags were black and it seems the mayor wasn’t aware and was completely surprised by the national and even international comments he got. It is very funny to see how some people still live somewhere ‘outside’ of the developing world and great to see that reactions are allover the place and bring him back to the real world; although there is quite some politics in there, too.

Now that we speak of Puteaux, a little puzzle for all of you who like the French language: how do you call a person living in Puteaux? Un(e) Putéolien(ne)…


Gay Pride Canal Parade 2014

Gay Pride Canal Parade 2014: in Amsterdam we have the Canal Parade as a unique event that can hardly be copied because only Venice would have canals like Amsterdam has them. It was, again, a very joyful event; it is so nice to be hundreds of thousands citizens celebrating together that we are a free country where we can love whoever we want. And the creative way it is expressed makes the party even better, see for example:
gay pride canal parade 2014  gay pride canal parade 2014  gay pride canal parade 2014gay pride canal parade 2014
And the Mensa boat ‘gayniaal’, alas not recognisable as such but beautiful colours:
gay pride canal parade 2014
A specific problem for the boats is that there are lots of low bridges to pass. Those who want to make ‘volume’ have to think of a way to bring it all down to pass the bridge and come up again after it. See how this works:
gay pride canal parade 2014  gay pride canal parade 2014
Also for the Army Boat, notice how all uniforms bow for the bridge – and notice also the American militaries on the boat who brought their own flag, a political statement!
  gay pride canal parade 2014gay pride canal parade 2014
Another political statement that I like: gay pride canal parade 2014
And finally a great message:
gay pride canal parade 2014
See you next year for the next Canal Parade!

Spanish Princess and Spanish Mensa

princess letizia and princess (now queen) máxima August 2011 we were 15 Mensa women to visit our Princess (now Queen) Máxima, a meeting in which we could tell all about the life of high gifted people in our society and listen to the ideas of our Princess on the subject. It was a very nice visit at her home De Eikenhorst in Wassenaar: http://www.mensa.nl/informatiecentrum/nieuws/20110822-15-Mensa-vrouwen-bij-Maxima .
It inspired Mensa Spain to take a similar step. In 2012, during the 65th anniversary of Mensa International, the chair of Mensa Spain requested a meeting with the Spanish Royal Family. Next 8 May, Princess Letizia will receive a group of Mensans to better understand the Mensa Spain association. Congratulations Mensa Spain!
I hope this meeting will be relevant to Mensa Spain and to Mensa in general and that it will be a very nice meeting, like we had with Princess Máxima. See also (in Spanish)

Best practices refugees at work

tandwielen1 Yesterday my company Seba (www.seba.nl) and the Dutch Foundation for Refugee Students UAF (www.uaf.nl) presented best practices to use refugee talent at work. One would say, why is that necessary at all? But it appears that employers and recruiters do not automatically recognize the talents of refugees, also the high educated with Dutch diplomas. To develop these best practices, we cooperated with organisations like Dubois&Co, Hogeschool Leiden, NS, Van Houtum, Vluchtelingenwerk and VUmc so the background of our findings is real life! See for more info (Dutch only) at: http://www.uaf.nl/dend

We did do research about findings elsewhere in the world, but there was not a lot of specific information. Some was about migrants in general, other was about the coaching of refugees. Hardly any material was found to study how organisations can and will use refugee talents, what is necessary for that at organisational level. If you have such material about organisations in your country, we are very interested to hear from you. Refugees are often entrepreneurial as they face the need to set up and establish themselves in a new environment so why do they not get more involved in organisations and instead colour the ranks of unemployment figures – not just in the Netherlands?
Migration and the intake of refugees can diversify and enhance the skill level of the population, increase economies of scale and foster innovation and flexibility. One interesting detail: we found that five of Australia’s eight billionaires were people whose families had originally come to the country as refugees.
dobbelsteen1a Want to order this die on the photograph (Dutch only)? Available for free from info@seba.nl

UN also involved in Black Peter

Sint en Piet  It is a surprising step in the Black Peter debate: the UN is now investigating the Sinterklaas and Black Peter tradition. Chair of the investigating group professor Verene Shepherd has already concluded that Black Peter is a return to slavery and should be abolished (see http://www.eenvandaag.nl/binnenland/47577/zwarte_piet_waarom_raakt_de_discussie_heel_nederland_?autoplay=1) She is surprised that the Dutch close their eyes for racism and she thinks it is the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, who should abolish the tradition (as if we live in a country with a dictator, and not in a democracy with a poldermodel). She gives her comments as ‘a black person’ even before the investigation has taken place and shows her limited multicultural knowledge by remarking that the Netherlands do not need ‘two Santa Clauses’. The Dutch only recently knew the American Santa Claus that comes with Christmas; it is certainly not a Dutch tradition and many Dutch hesitate to adopt it: they think that Christmas is for religion and Santa Claus is not part of that, or they think it is too commercial or too American. Very strange to see the head of a UN team as a promotor for American traditions around the world.
All this is part of the Human Rights policy of the UN and it leads to cynical remarks: that apparently the UN finished the job for human rights in Syria? that there is no starvation, genocide or war left the UN could better be busy with? In the meantime this year, the UN also ranked the Dutch children for the 2nd time as the happiest children in the world: http://www.dutchdailynews.com/dutch-kids-ranked-happiest-in-the-world/

So far the Dutch debate was much about the origin of Black Peter: people were trying to prove that the source was bad so Black Peter should be forbidden, as the art historian Elmer Kolfin thinks (see: http://www.volkskrant.nl/vk/nl/2686/Binnenland/article/detail/3531694/2013/10/23/Geen-twijfel-over-mogelijk-Zwarte-Piet-stamt-af-van-kindslaven.dhtml), he says Black Peter reflects 17th century child slavery. Others say the opposite, that Sinterklaas has freed black child slaves or just one, the Ethiopian boy Piter, and that that is what the Dutch celebrate. Organisations were talking about experiments, working with a black Sinterklaas and white Peters, or multicoloured Peters. But the freedom of experimenting has disappeared suddenly. Whoever experiments with this tradition now, is seen as someone who calls others ‘racist’. Anger has entered the debate. The world is now really black and white, some are ‘good’ (Verene Shepherd c.s.) and some are bad, racist (the Dutch celebrating).
A new facebook page was opened yesterday to support the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas and Black Peter and it now has already 1,5 Million likes, an extreme amount of reactions for a country like the Netherlands: https://www.facebook.com/pietitie. The debate has sharpened and I think the UN involvement has done a lot of harm.




Black Peter in full debate

zwarte piet in parool19-10-2013  It is not even December yet and the discussion of Black Peter is more alive than ever. Here you see the newspaper Parool that spent 4 pages to the subject last Saturday! This means, I guess, that we are now leaving the theoretical discussion and coming to the period where some people really want change. On the other hand, others are very much opposed to that and see it as a threat to the Dutch culture. This is just one of the pictures I saw passing on Facebook:
black peter on facebook1  Personally I do not see why we cannot have a multi coloured group of Peters helping Sinterklaas, maybe because I do not think it is so easy to threaten my culture just by changing some symbols. I am not against Black Peter either. The discussion itself is most interesting though: what do people come up with to make their point? Today I found this youtube that is showing how Sinterklaas and many Black Peters arrive in Paramaribo, Suriname: it is sent around social media to prove that black people can like Black Peter. Don’t ask me what else it proves….
See for yourself at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJeUye3zZnU


Black Peter heating minds again

black peter  As ‘Sinterklaas’ (5th December) approaches here in the Netherlands, the discussion about Black Peter (Zwarte Piet) comes to life again: should we forbid Black Peter as a racist expression, or maintain him as an authentic Dutch – or whatever – tradition?
Living in an international city with many expats, Amsterdam, I know that especially  foreigners are surprised about the Sinterklaas tradition: they see an old white man, a bishop, entering the city/different events, followed by black servants who give sweets to nice kids and have a whip to punish those who did not behave well. They judge it as racist and are usually shocked about  it.
Today the Amsterdam newspaper Het Parool shows new visions on Sinterklaas and Black Peter. I have followed this discussion now during several years (see below my former blogs) and I notice that proves of history ‘nothing wrong with Black Peter, nothing to do with racism’ become stronger as well as the resistance against it.

Journalist Arnold-Jan Scheer says he studied Sinterklaas-like events in many countries and ‘blackening the face at the end of the year happens from Cornwall to Macedonia, I discovered‘. He says that in Persia since 5000 years the venue of New Year was celebrated with men in black acting foolishly, dancing during a week in Black Peter like clothing. They were followed by an old man with a long beard who brings presents like seeds and nuts. Iranian Islam does not allow this tradition he says, but in the Iranian country side and among Dutch Iranian immigrants this feast still exists.
On the other hand Machiel Keestra and Mercedes Zandwijken also refer to history and claim that Black Peter was added to the Sinterklaas tradition by an Amsterdam school teacher in 1850 who considered (black) slavery as a normal state of life (the Netherlands abolished slavery only in 1863). They claim that the historical roots of the Sinterklaas feast are irrelevant, and so are the intentions of the most probably good willing people playing the role of Black Peter. ‘Only relevant is whether this tradition is humiliating or painful for a part of our population, or that it provokes humiliating or painful behaviour in children or grownups. In a decent society the majority follows no concepts or customs that hurt or humiliate a weaker minority‘. And they see as an even more important reason: ‘who wants to celebrate a children’s feast where part of the parents and children are not happy‘?

We see 2 sides of the same medal here. One side is going back all the way to Persia and other locations (see former blogs below, explanations were usually more close) to prove that Black Peter is a valuable tradition more than 5000 years old. Maybe his documentation is good, but his argumentation in the newpaper itself is rather week.
The other side is talking in terms of a ‘weaker minority’ and you think of your black friends and whether they should be included into their ‘weaker minority’ concept? Their core argument that people cannot celebrate because others are unhappy about the celebration remembers me my orthodox education: we were never allowed to do anything because always someone more orthodox would get unhappy with what we did: whatever a person did, a more strict interpretation was possible and prevented others/us from being happy.
In the midst of this discussion – that matters – we should not forget to live and let live.

Former blogs about this subject:

10 children and a Phd!

8 March women's breakfast   Talent to the Top, a Dutch organisation for a better gender balance at the top levels of organisations (see www.talentnaardetop.nl), invited many top women to a breakfast meeting at 8 March, Women’s Day 2013. So I think we were more than 100 women in The Grant hotel in Amsterdam center, in a beautifull hall that was both large and cosy for our meeting.
Particularly impressive was the interview with Ms Sri Mulyani Indrawati, the director of the World Bank. She is a real example in her inspiration to create a better world. I liked the moment when the chair of the meeting asked her what she saw as the best investment in her career and she asked: “Do you mean for myself or for society?”. “For yourself, of course”, the chair asked but I think Ms Sri Mulyani Indrawati is in a top position of the World Bank because she has a broader, deeper approach. We can all learn from her! As her own role model, she mentioned her mother who had 10 children and still finished her Phd…
Thanks Talent to the Top for organizing this. There is a lot of work to be done, in all countries. The ambassador of Indonesia was present and she said that poverty and gender are the most difficult issues to tackle for countries worldwide. And she noticed that they are not one-to-one related: the Netherlands are much richer than Indonesia, but they are still struggling with gender problems. Reducing poverty will not automatically mean equal opportunities or equal rights for men and women. Work to do! When the 8 March breakfast was over, I felt full of motivation to go for it 🙂

Companies do not use the full potential of HIQ (yet)

don't see (yet)  High gifted people who work freelance are much happier in their work than high gifted people who work in a company, actual Dutch research results reveal (see www.koosvanderspek.nl). In general, high gifted workers are positive about the work they do, they have a good work-life balance and not too much stress. However, when it comes to passion, HIQ’s who work independently are much more passionate than the average Dutch worker and HIQ’s who work in companies are clearly less passionate than the average Dutch worker. This is a big contrast.
Mensa members are not really surprised about this outcome. We knew this already and what we like is that there is now scientific evidence for it! 1250 HIQ’s cooperated for this research, 80+% of them being Mensans as Mensa the Netherlands supported this research of the University of Utrecht.
Another outcome: 37% of HIQ’s in companies are bored and lack challenge; this is again much more than average Dutch workers. So there is a lot of neglected potential in companies, even in times of crisis where companies absolutely need all available talents to survive and if possible innovate. HIQ’s are innovators. So most probably these research results (that are the first part of much more results to follow) indicate that Dutch companies are not good enough and not fast enough in innovation – yet. HIQ will be discovered in the near future as an excellent source of that, I am sure!

Trade mission to Turkey (4): Turkish businessmen about the Dutch

  Maybe it is because I have always worked with people with Turkish background in the Netherlands, that I assumed Dutch business people work easily with Turkish business people. Or is it the research that was done in peacekeeping missions of the army, where relationships between the Dutch, German and Turkish soldiers were studied? Unexpectantly, it appeared that Dutch soldiers cooperate better with Turkish soldiers than with German soldiers, although the Germans are our neighbours, our largest trade partner and a country with whom DE-NL exchange at army level has been intense since many years. One of the reasons was that both the Dutch and the Turkish soldiers showed a practical orientation when confronted with problems during the peace mission, while the Germans were more rule oriented. Maybe I expected that to happen in business too…
Well, the trade mission to Turkey opened my eyes: it is not true and doing NL-TR business is not easy at all. The main reason for that is: culture. There are quite some cultural differences that prevent smooth NL-TR business relationships. I have spoken to both Dutch and Turkish entrepreneurs and heard many stories, also about huge des-investments because it really did not work out.  On several occasions I heard Turkish businessmen describe the Dutch as: STUBborn, NOT flexible and ARROgant. This mainly refers to the style of doing business and daily work.
For example the Dutch are planners. Before doing the job, they plan it all the way, often in many details. The Turks are not planners, if they want to do the job, they start it. They will find out down the road what the consequences are and react immediately to difficult circumstances. This is very difficult for the Dutch. If they have to work the Turkish way, they meet with mistakes that in their eyes are unnecessary, could have been prevented. That is stressful for them. Also, Dutch workers are used to respond to difficulties by some reflection, to find out what went wrong in the planning phase. In the Turkish style this means that they are not flexible and too slow. And then when the Dutch start to explain to the Turks what planning is and how to PREVENT problems, the final perception is there: the Dutch are stubborn and arrogant!
The good news for me is that these kind of cultural issues form the expertise of my company: there’s a world out there for us! And we are looking forward to services in NL-TR culture and diversity issues …

When inclusiveness met apartheid…

  In our last workshop at Stephanos Foundation today, participants looked for role models in change and innovation. They came up with a list that is different from what European groups would make, except for Mandela: he is always everywhere present in the list of role models participants come up with.
Afterwards one of the managers told me that Malawi did not deal with South Africa in the apartheid period the same way other African countries did. The first president of Malawi Mr. Banda was in favour of dialogue, much in line with the inclusiveness that I experienced in Malawi during the last ten days. While other countries boycotted South Africa, Mr. Banda refused to stop his contacts and met with the president of South Africa. But when he did that, he made a statement. He helt a black child on one hand, a white child on the other hand and like that he showed that all humans are equal and that that would be the way forward also for South Africa. Mr. Banda got political ennemies in several African countries because of his vision, my manager told me, but he had a vision that suited Malawian culture and did not give it up. Later, he might have become more like a dictator, but for this attitude towards South Africa he can be considered as a role model.
I think I learned at least as much as the managers of Stephanos Foundation who followed my workshops. For me, it was like presenting familiar themes and practices in a completely unfamiliar context. Maybe it could have been better if I had known more about the local context – on the other hand, this might have been the key for interaction and participation of the managers, as I asked explicitly for their help at the beginning.
One thing is for sure, themes like culture, diversity, change, innovation and even project planning don’t differ per country: only the context differs – and the language was not an easy step to take. The workshops were highly appreciated and I highly appreciated to be given this opportunity that was really ‘out of the box’ for me. Not easy, but very rewarding!

All managers are alike!

Today I worked with the management team of Stephanos on several principles for strategic planning. Interesting was the drawings they came up with after making a stakeholder analysis (see above). I will not explain them to you here but if you have been in sessions like this, you can certainly see what I mean.
Another remarkable aspect is that people will stay in a session without a break if this is what is expected from them. In The Netherlands, people usually start to ask about the break within 45 minutes time – it is not just important to have the break, it is also very important to know when exactly it will be. Here it isn’t.
Furthermore you can see from the pictures that spending money in expensive places is not for managers here. We sat in a basic room, normally used for the vocational training of Stephanos students and: without coffee or tea. Nobody was eating or drinking during the session. That did not positively or negatively influence the results I think. People just perform under the circumstances that they are used to perform. In a country like Malawi with an average yearly income of 250 euro, people do not eat and drink all the time: forget about the bag with candies and sweets that finds its way over the training tables while the workshop is going on. No such thing here.
But, miraculously, looking at your cell phone during the workshop is a favorite activity both here and in Western Europe. When it comes to that kind of communication, all managers are alike 🙂 The same goes for content: managers are managers, and they want to get things done. Give them ideas for that, and you have their interest.