It is new and it is brilliant, the Adam Tower – a remake of the former Shell research labs in Amsterdam. I had a great time this week while giving a presentation about dealing with international business and culture in front of spectacular views over Amsterdam. Nevertheless my public was highly attentive, for a moment I doubted whether they would be with me at all but they did 🙂
If you look at the photo above and you see the 9 meter high windows in top of the building, that is where I stood – and here are some pictures of the views:
The making of the Adam Tower is a story out of a wizard book: three Dutch guys who were succesfull in the international music scene decided to cooperate in this and won the battle for the tower in competition with 34 other interested parties. They turned it into a combination of music company offices, a hotel, different bars, restaurants and clubs with a 360° turning restaurant in top: a music tower!
On top they offer a platform for all inhabitants of Amsterdam and our tourists to watch the spectacular panorama and to take a seat in Europe’s highest swing: the Amsterdam lookout. Alas I had serious business to do when I was there so I definitely have to come back to experience that swing!
Our city is blessed with these creative entrepreneurs who make such major contributions to the quality of life in Amsterdam: well done, thank you guys!
Last but not least an photo-impression (made with my phone, lack of quality, in reality much better) of the elevator going up: the music experience starts already from there…
Vlinderado is an entrepreneurs’ dream, and it is beautifull: www.vlinderado.nl . It started with the cultivation of the Anthurium plant in special variations in a place that most of the readers of this blog never heard about I guess: Waarland, a small village to the north of Alkmaar or for the non-Dutch readers: 40 miles north of Amsterdam. As a hobby, bouquets were made with the different species of Anthurium; and then the bouquets became an important part of the business itself. Isn’t the best business the business that starts because it has the love of our hearts and the focus of our minds? It is interesting, yet inspiring to see how businesses develop in the hands of passionate people.
And then the next step was made, another entrepreneur’s dream was realised: Vlinderado, a garden full of butterflies. It is guaranteed that you see many, very beautiful varieties. Visitors come from different countries, all tourists suddenly discover where the village of Waarland is. Go there too and enjoy!
Entrepreneurs creating their dream make us happy because we can enjoy what they create. They also inspire us to do the same: to make our own dreams come true!
It is one of the myths in our family history: my grandfather ‘saving’ a Jewish girl from a Nazi. It was in the 2nd World War. In villages, children from Jewish families lived as if they were part of the farmers’ family, trying to escape a certain death when the Nazis found out they were Jewish. A 14 or 15 year old ‘secretly’ Jewish girl, described as very beautiful, accidentilly fell in the village street and bumped her head against a stone right in front of the house where one of the Nazis in charge was temporarily located. He came out of the house, saw the beautiful girl and took her into the house to take care of her. All of the village worried, they were talking about it: what is he doing to that beautiful girl and also, most of all: what if he finds out that she is Jewish? They were extremely nervous!
The worries and talks in the village took a great part of the day, then at the end of the day my grandfather returned from work and heard about it. When he was told, he didn’t even think for a minute but just got angry and went to the house of the Nazi. Did he have a plan? I don’t think so. He did not talk, he did not ask questions, as he never did. He just had the impulse to act.
Did he save her? He didn’t I guess, everybody who was in this story agreed that the girl saved herself once the opening was given. As soon as my grandfather appeared at the doorstep, this ‘wounded’ girl stood up from the couch where she lied down, she ran to the door, embraced my grandfather and acted as if he was her father: ‘o dad, dad, please take me home’. The Nazi guy nodded and my grandfather took her ‘home’.
Summer 2014 we are living a period in Europe, and to my great great regret also in Amsterdam, where antisemitism is fully alive. And just like the village in the 2nd World War, everybody is talking about it. Everybody is ‘worrying’, like all of the village did in the War. But how many of us are acting?
What my grandfather did seems easy > he just went to the house. Anybody could have done that… but nobody did. So the real question is: why didn’t they do it? As the girl could save herself just upon the impulsive action of my grandfather.
I wonder about the conclusion of this story. Doing has more value, more effect than talking? Don’t spend time worrying, just act? Maybe that is true, also today…
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.
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!
The UN is building Millennium Villages to accelerate development and the achievement of the millennium goals that were set. In many countries in Africa an integrated approach of agriculture, health care, education etc. is brought into practice. The Millennium Village in the Zomba region of Malawi contains a vaste area with a lot of very small villages and 35.000 people. What jumps in the eye at first sight is the larger scale of agriculture that is applied here, with the use of mechanics and new kinds of crops that are richer than the former ones (like the pieces of orange patatoes at the picture above). The project works with partners rather than donors (like the electricity company of Malawi), although visitors see a big sign of US Aid when they arrive.
The success formula to make this work was to have villagers involved from the beginning in the cooperation they formed, and also to give village chiefs a role in it. An increasing amount of farmers are now self supporting, getting crops from the cooperation and giving back a few bags of crops after harvesting – thus they guarantee the continuity of the project. See the picture of the barn above. They have some extra money now so that they can pay education fees for their children and have a little luxury at home.
The best breakthrough was when they started to talk business. In the beginning, ‘food security’ was in the center of the program. But when there was food security and they started to think of markets to sell their harvest to, that is when general interest and participation really grew. An important lesson learned in the Millennium Village is: start from the needs the people have (which can be different from the needs others tell them they have!).
Yet there is a lot of work to be done. It is clear that this is another project in Malawi that got a lot of outside / donor money put into. Managing the cooperation, building barns or other materials are not included in the ‘self-support’ so far. Health care has improved considerably in general, and specifically for pregnant women, but nobody pays a dime for health care. How sustainable can that model be? Well, they have some more years to go. The good news is that many visitors pass by to learn about the Millennium Village model and return to their own region full of ideas and inspiration.
Yesterday me and my colleagues visited this beautiful Dutch Park called Efteling, in January even more attractive as Winter Efteling. It started as a project in 1952 to create in real life what was designed by Anton Pieck in his rather romantic drawings: a park with fairy tales and fantasy houses and castles.
I visited that park already as a small child with my parents with hundreds of other people. Nowadays, they are millions to come and see and enjoy, and the Efteling has grown, flourished and created so much more fairies and dreams.
As an entrepreneur it is encouraging to see what can evolve from initiatives when creative people have a dream and dare to make that come true in reality. Everybody dreams but the steps to creating your dreams in reality are often not made or proven unsuccessful. It must have been a very risk taking business for a person who’s core quality was drawing and designing, not running a park whatsoever – but he did it and it became a wonderful parc to visit for people from all over the world.
So my wishes for 2011 for everybody including myself is: may this be the best year for creating your dream and may millions enjoy it!