Lisbon walking (make the world a better place 1)

pavement1    pavement2  pavement3  pavement4 Lisbon walking.

Often, the idea to make the world a better place to live in, makes us think of great and revolutionary ideas. What I like about Lisbon is that they make the world a better place just by adding high quality details into daily life.
I don’t know where you live, but I guess the pavement in your city or village is just an ordinary thing; a bunch of stones, maybe low, maybe high quality stone but nevertheless: just stones. It does not really add to the quality of your life.Lisbon is different. The Portuguese understand that quality of life is experienced precisely through daily details like the pavement we walk on. Look at the pictures: aren’t they adorable? It is a joy to walk there! And it is clear that these pavements were made by craftsmen who really enjoyed to deliver a piece of art to the many customers they would have after finishing their job; thousands of passengers feel better just by trotting on the paths they laid. Thanks to all to visionaries to improve daily life!

Read other blogs in the theme ‘make the world a better place’
Lisbon pavements
Warsaw Christmas lights

Jurylid SlimmerIQuiz: inventiviteit viert hoogtij

willem Willem Bouwens, oud-voorzitter van Mensa Nederland en van Mensa International, was jurylid bij de finale van de SlimmerIQuiz op 9 oktober 2013 en is opnieuw jurylid bij de Mensa Fonds veiling vrijdag a.s.

1. Willem, hoe kijk je terug op de finale van de SlimmerIQuiz?
Ik heb met heel veel plezier deze rol op me genomen. Het was erg leuk te zien dat de SlimmerIQuiz zo aanslaat en dat de kinderen zo gefocused waren. Alle kinderen waren allemaal gekomen met één doel: de fietsen winnen. Presentatrice Dolores Leeuwin is iemand die perfect met een groep kinderen om kan gaan. Als jurylid was ik getroffen door de soms slimme “bijdehand” antwoorden op lastige vragen. De inventiviteit vierde hoogtij wat het voor de jury niet altijd makkelijk maakte om te zeggen of iets “goed” of “fout” was. Af en toe was juryoverleg echt nodig en ook binnen de jury was af en toe discussie over de inventieve antwoorden.
Ik kijk er op terug als een ervaring waar heeeel veel mensen een plezierige middag hebben gehad, de naam SlimmerIQuiz definitief op de kaart staat en het enthousiasme inspireert mij en vele anderen om de komende jaren aan de verankering in de schoolagenda te werken.

2. Wat vond je van de SlimmerIQuiz zelf?
Als niet onderwijskundige vond ik de variëteit in de vragen bijzonder. Maar ik heb geen onderwijs achtergrond. De quizvragen zijn vanuit een theorie samengesteld die mij onbekend was. En ik hoef me niet te schamen, ook ik wist niet alle antwoorden. Het meest inspirerend vond ik het enthousiasme van de leerlingen EN het meegereisde onderwijzend personeel. Kijk, dat inspireert mij om de organisatoren te blijven ondersteunen, waar ze me ook nodig hebben.

3. Denk je dat jij de finale had kunnen winnen als je tussen de deelnemers had gezeten?
Laat ik daar vooral een oprecht en niet een politiek antwoord op geven: Ik denk dat ik een goede kans zou hebben gemaakt maar in deze wereld is niets zeker. 🙂

4. Raad jij Mensa leden aan om deel te nemen aan de SlimmerIQuiz op het feest van 3 januari a.s.?
Ja, om twee redenen. Ten eerste is het gewoon hartstikke leuk om aan een quiz mee te doen, Mensalen doen graag quizzen. Ten tweede, iets serieuzer, het is goed als meer Mensaleden een beeld krijgen van de SlimmerIQuiz. Er is immers besloten de SlimmerIQuiz de komende jaren voort te zetten en dat creëert groeiende PR-perspectieven voor Vereniging Mensa. En, oh ja, dat vergat ik nog; de opbrengst gaat naar een erkende ANBI instelling: Stichting Mensa Fonds!

5. Wat motiveert jou om wederom jurylid te zijn en wat kunnen we van jou verwachten op 3 januari?
Ik wil werken aan een gezellige middag EN ik werk graag aan de PR van deze quiz. Wat je van mij mag verwachten? Een integere jury, omkoopbaar voor 1000,= per antwoord per vraag (bate Stichting Mensa Fonds), en veel fun! Mijn bestuursadagium was “ creating more dynamics”  en daar ga ik vrijdag zeker voor! Ik zal een ander karakter zijn dan het jurylid in “de slimste mens van Nederland”, Maarten van Rossem.

Deze blog gaat over de 1e Mensa SlimmeriQuiz. Actuele informatie vind je op

Lees ook: maak kennis met Mensa SlimmerIQuiz presentator

Another interesting blog is Mensa Fonds Awards: why?

Beware of the dog

beware of the dog

Beware of the dog!

This is what we found in a fashion shop in Bonn, Germany: dogs guarding the place… So nice! It can be details, nothing to do with the clothes themselves but setting an idea, a trend, a mindset. It was, by the way, a men’s – maybe even young men’s shop. Somehow, I doubt whether this would be added to a shop for women although me myself I would love it. I would love even more a ‘beware of the cat’ thing, but that is a detail. The picture shows for me that shops can be creative and attractive more than with just the things they sell. Few (financial) means are used here but the design is beautiful and the effect is major! I love it…


Read also:
Street dogs in Famagusta
Warsaw Christmas lights (make the world a better place 3)
Lisbon pavements (make the world a better place 2)

Never ever give up

never give up cat  ‘Never ever give up’, a special English friend said to me during the first years of my company. I remember that I told him how much initiatives I took to have more customers and that the phone was so silent… He was very empathic with his reaction ‘yes and then you sit down in despair and think nobody is ever going to contact your company again‘ and he surprised me so much there.

He was a selfmade multimillionaire, I was staying in his ‘house’ (I don’t know how to call a place like that) overlooking the Mediterranean and having parties like I never had before and still he was so down-to-earth that he fully understood my problem as a beginning entrepreneur. He had lived it all himself I guess which felt like a consolation and he could only advice me what had been the best recipe for himself: ‘never give up’.

All this came back to me when I watched Diana Nyad who reached Florida beach after three days swimming starting from Cuba: an amazing and most incredible action. She was not just swimming from Cuba to Florida to set a record, she is setting a major message: ‘never, ever give up’ is her motto. Apparently she is a late believer in realising dreams, as she explains in a most interesting Ted presentation after her 4th attempt to cross that sea full of sharks and jelly fishes: and before this recent 5th and finally succesfull attempt. Watch that speech, it is amazing!

She was almost 60 years old when she decided to transform the discontent she felt about herself, about the things she did not do or not change, into the realisation of the dream she had had since 30 years. She failed 4 times, she succeeded yesterday and the first wisdom she spread when she could talk again – apparently it is pretty exhausting, to cross a sea swimming 🙂 – was: ‘never, ever give up’.

Also very beautiful:
For me her age of 64 years adds to the message, as the crossing of a sea while swimming is rather expected (by me at least) from a young strong person than from an elderly person. ‘You are never too old’, Diana Nyad tells us in her speech and she is right. We usually find too many excuses not to fulfill our dreams and to give up… Mankind is blessed with special people that encourage us to follow our dreams and never, ever give up; may they be blessed too!

Read also: 10 children and a PhD

And this blog; Pigs, kids, and why it works in Malawi

10 children and a Phd!

8 March women's breakfast    10 children and a PhD
Talent to the Top, a Dutch organisation for a better gender balance at the top levels of organisations, 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 🙂

Other blogs about career women:
Neelie Kroes saves us…
Few Dutch women in top positions: we need a Dutch spring!
Women, be the leader you want to be!

Diversity in hotels; it exists in Stockholm!

     diversity in hotels   Diversity in hotels: it exists in Stockholm!

All women who travel frequently for business will recognize what I experienced: most hotels are somehow similar, ‘efficiently’ organized, coloured in white/cream combined with black or brown, in one word: predictable – which is nice -, but boring – which is a poor contribution to the joy of life. The more a hotel is ‘business’, the more urgently Pay TV is brought to the customers attention. I have no specific opinion about men watching Pay TV but I do not want to be confronted with it when I travel for work. Finding a big sign to advertise Pay TV in the middle of my bed when I enter a new hotel is an absolute minus point for me and I never return to that hotel. Why don’t they bother to just find out whether the new customer is going to be man or woman? Is that against the rules of ‘efficiency’ in business hotels?
Stockholm proves how different this can be! The Collector’s Hotels offer a completely different environment. The hotels are full of antiques in all colours, live paintings turn the walls into something special and beautiful and many details are taken care of: from a special gift to the customer arriving until little cards on the breakfast tables with interesting quiz questions about Sweden. I felt at home in this hotel from the very first minute, it is nice and comfortable to travel like this!
The Hotel info says: “we are convinced that our chain of hotels are in step with times” and “Personality and history is scarce in the hotel business; but we feel that there is a lot more that we can do to change that“. They announce they might expand outside of Stockholm and even outside of Sweden. I think their concept would be real added value in Amsterdam. When they start a hotel in my home city, I will be the first to advertise it! It’s great when you see that people in a ‘standard’ business have the vision and the courage to introduce diversity…

Other blogs you might like to read:
Forget about the rules. Be human.
Travels with Herodotus
South Korean wisdom
Japanese looters

When inclusiveness met apartheid…

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!

Other blogs about Malawi culture:
President in the warm heart of Africa
Pigs, kids, and why it works in Malawi
Creative use of waterpipes in Zomba

Pigs, kids, and why it works in Malawi


On the south side of Blantyre, the Stephanos Foundation runs a project that is based on participation of villagers and their empowerment. Many people work in the tea plantations that cover the hills in the area: in good days, the wages can be 600 kwacha(= 1,70 euro) per day. Workers of Stephanos sat together with the community to find out how to improve their situation and this is how the pig-project took shape. Isn’t that a great way of working?! This is what the community wanted and so this is what they were going to do. So different from projects that start from the idea of the donors, and what donors think should be done and paid for…
9 female and 2 male pigs were given to the community as a start. The female pigs are given to a child that has to take care of it; when the child is at school there is a watchman (usually woman). The male pigs go around to do their favorite thing and this is how young pigs are created. In general, a pig gets 6 young ones. 2 young ones are given away to other children to make the project grow, the rest can stay at the house where they were born. Now in a few years time, already 300 children are participating in this program. A committee that has a real constitution and a serious chair is overviewing the project and making decisions.
The value of a pig is 5 times more than a goat, between 42 and 57 euro. Compare that to the income the tea plantations offer…! So now children can fund their school fee for secondary education because of the pigs. And their surroundings are profiting too. There is already more money than necessary, so the committee decided to invest in agriculture. It was their idea, not the idea of Stephanos.
Stephanos offers the encouragement and the knowledge input for what the committee wants. And they offered a pump for water that can be handled by feet (so no need for electricity, oil or whatever that will make the pump stop when there is no cash money – very practical). The villagers have made a beautiful field where over 10.000 oignons are growing now. One oignon can be sold at a price of 30-40 kwacha (say 10 eurocents). So next October they expect a big profit… and it might be invested again.
This project is not a Millennium Village: there was no ‘integrated total approach’ of things, no fancy barn, no mechanical work on the fields, no manager. But it has a very good chance to be sustainable because all of it is run by the community itself in the first place – and it is affordable without donor because the people run their own business and don’t rely on the donor’s money.
I like to add one thing, and that is that I found the villages we passed very clean. The reason could be that this is a different area, with even a different tribe, but it was striking the eye (also when I went ‘at random’ to the toilet in one of the houses) and I do think it matters. Consciousness of health and hygiene, even in poverty, is a great asset for self-esteem and development. The sheds for the pigs were well made and looked after. Animals can stink and reduce the pleasure of living at a place, but this was not at all the case because the cages were also well maintained.
Photographs above: the pigs in their cage, and a girl who is the happy owner of a pig, with her watch(wo)man (green shirt) on her side, and the field with the oignons.

More about this theme in Malawi that you might want to read:
Millennium Village Southern Malawi
Aid for orphans in Malawi
Dead Aid in Malawi
What people in Zimbabwe learned (and will Malawi follow?)

Zomba: creative use of waterpipes

zomba  Zomba, Malawi: waterpipes were sent here by a donor in order to help create a better draining system. Part of those waterpipes – that by the way are a very good quality and quite expensive – found another destination as you can see on the picture above, they will never serve a draining system. Well, at least the water pipes in Zomba were not just thrown away…
Some people suggest that systems like Western Europe has, cannot work here in Malawi anyway. For example something will get broken halfway the draining system and there will be no one or no money to repair it. So then all of the street or maybe even all of the village will stay without a good draining system. A more individual or ‘serial’ approach would do better than a community system. Could be true.
A thought that comes to my mind all the time is how creative people are here in Malawi. They might not use the products the way the ‘western world’ does, but they find new ways to use them for things that apparently matter to them and that are also lacking: just like the waterpipes in Zomba. If that creativity would be combined with a (long term) business attitude, what would we see happening in Malawi!

Other blogs about creativity you might like:
Vlinderado: creating your dream
Visages Villages: brilliance of the normal

More about Malawi:
Majete Wild lifeReserve
Malawi Fever Tree
President in the warm heart of Africa

Floriade 2012: splendid but with limited identity

floriade    floriade  Floriade 2012 is a spectacular show about horticulture. It is one of those Dutch masterpieces that make you very proud of your country. We are great in green, we are great in flowers and we are great in presenting it.
Although the location of Floriade – Venlo –  is ‘far away’ in the perspective of most Dutch citizens, transport is very well organized and this should absolutely not stop you from going there. Anyway it is easy to spend a complete day there either to see all the presentations, to follow daily programs or to have a picknick or a drink in a great environment so you don’t travel for ‘nothing’, you will be rewarded for any minute you spent to get there.
Best places to go in my view, loving horticulture and loving trade, are:
– Villa Flora with unique expositions of many many horticulture examples, extremely beautiful, innovative and creative
– Rabo Earthwalk, combining horticulture with trade dynamics worldwide and sustainability in a very innovative way
– several smaller ‘houses’ of local companies in horticulture who present their love for what their product is, for example a house where the diner table is all plants (see the photo on top) or the house where one can combine different trees with a house to find out which tree suits best in the neighbourhood
– art in horticulture as presented by the garden of Sjer Jacobs, it will touch your heart!

One point surprised me in this ‘once in ten years event’: that it somehow lacked identity. It is big, innovative, spectacular, beautiful – all that is true. But it was clearly made by engineers (sorry if you are one and feel hurt by my remarks). This is a top world exhibition but identity is less developed. Not only few souvenirs could be found that relate specifically to the Floriade – thus missing the opportunity to create Floriade ambassadors from within the public.
Also the catering was really below expectancy level. A visitor that is confronted with the best innovation practices and inspired by sustainability examples in this exhibition, expects to find good food in the restaurants and bars that reflects this innovation and sustainability. However, nothing like that. The food was in the hands of caterer Sodexo who obviously had no relation at all with the themes of Floriade and presented sandwiches in plastic as they do in our office restaurants all over the country.  No experiments with products presented in the exhibition, not even fresh juices or vegetables… In the ‘big’ Aqua restaurant, they present ordinary sate with atjar tjampur and krupuk both from a plastic bag, with no rice or french fries at all but at a price as if they were included. It is the worst Dutch side of food things, that caterers tend to give you as less quality and quantity as possible for the ‘best’ price – in Belgium and Germany the word ‘spoiling the customer’ exists in foodland, but not in the Netherlands.

Few people visiting Floriade are citizens, gay, minority people. That is the ‘engineer side’ of the matter. Things are not presented in a way that the public would be more diverse. Visitors should be in the first place ‘horticulture motivated’. A bigger, combining identity is not formed and the concept of Floriade is not completed in objects and catering. This is a pity because the exhibition is worth it: it is extraordinary in every aspect of horticulture!
It could be so much rewarding, both for our country and for horticulture itself, to include more diversity in the event; starting with the inclusion of identity professionals (marketing, psychology, diversity) in the preparation of the event, and go beyond the vision of engineers only. It will attract more visitors and sell the uniqueness of this industry better all over the world!

Other blogs you might like:
Vlinderado: creating your dream
Keukenhof: 7 million spring-flowering bulbs
Creating your dream: Efteling
Warsaw Christmas Lights (make the world a better place 3)

Van Waveren Tapes make you shiver…

   Van Waveren Tapes form a strange and highly intriguing documentary. I went to the cinema to see it, just because I read the story of its creation in a newspaper. A guy bought a lot of tapes on one of our famous Dutch flee markets, the Waterloo Plein in Amsterdam, and discovered a life story that played mainly in the years ’70 and ’80. The tapes were made by someone who taped many or maybe all of his phone conversations and who also talked to his tapes just for himself. Who would buy tapes like that? And who would be able to make a movie out of it? A guy like that is 100% original and a great artist!

Like in a detective, the story unfolds step by step. When you watch this documentary, you realize that the scenes are not spoken by actors, but real life conversations. It made me shiver to enter this closely into a personal and rather tragic life. The maker did an extremely good job: this movie keeps your attention until the very last minute… and it makes you think about life in an extraordinary way.

When I tried to reserve cards for the cinema, the girl at the phone told me ‘it is not  necessary because nobody will show up’. Then she corrected herself and said ‘it will not be very busy’. Indeed there appeared to be only nine of us in total. All of us very impressed and very enthusiast. Don’t miss it. This is not the kind of thing you can see every day!

Other documentaries you are probably interested in:
Visages villages: the brilliance of the normal
The hunt for my father
Taxi Teheran

Diversity management – progress?

Diversity management: progress?

One of the problems I experience in this crisis for my company Seba is the fact that the concept of diversity management seems to fall back to the situation of 15 years ago, when I started my company Seba.
In that time, the world was divided in consultants working for man-woman issues (gender), or intercultural issues, or gay-straight issues. There were several so-called ‘target groups’ handling their own limited business. Apparently few people understood that all there is, is this: people are different and we have to learn to recognize that, face the consequences and try to create synergy. We simply have to do better than in the past when we thought everybody would be and expect the same in organisations. At that moment, inspired by Roosevelt Thomas (Harvard Business School) my company Seba came up with a fundamentally new way of approaching differences in organisations.

Since then, my perception was that we made a great conceptual progress. It became more common not to just think in terms of man-woman, gay-straight or black-white but in terms of benefits differences can bring to organisations. A friend predicted that it would take me 20 years to introduce the Seba concept in the market since that is the time conceptual innovations need to be fully accepted. After 12 years, I started to think: yes eventually we will be there.

However, in 2011 a new trend came up. Customers started asking for specific ‘target groups’ again: offers we made were refused because, as customer feedback said, ‘we want a more specific approach, not just diversity’. My analysis is that the crisis is bringing many organisations back to original basics, on a spot where they think they will have immediate success by reducing the subject to a single difference-subject.

A hiring company should always have the lead, of course. On the other side, it is not so easy for a commercial company like ours to just leave its truthful concept behind and adapt to concepts risen in times of crisis; because we do not believe in the effect and success that those customers hope for. We do not just work for money, we also want to realize the promise of benefits differences can bring to an organisation. It is a dilemma, because we also think that we should always listen to our customers, and we really lost assignments on this basis in 2011.

Considering it all, I think we will just stick to our concept of diversity management in 2012 and see where it ends. One can loose everything but not one’s truth! We’ll hope for the best in 2012, and I do wish you all the best for 2012 too, with your personal truth becoming true…

Read also:
Seba culture and diversity workshops in Malawi
Investeer in jouw inclusief leiderschap
Diversity as a business case
Diversity in YouTube format