Influencer Arthur Nivillac: focused and driven

Interview April 2022

Arthur, could you share with us some information about your family life?
I was born in Curaçao in 1959 and I have a sister and another brother. My parents were proud of their children and we grew up with a mindset that having a good education was considered to be an extra “edge” in life. They always considered our education as being very important. My father passed away in his seventies and the four of us, my mother and my siblings (and their family) are still very close. We still regularly come together. As the family is relatively small, we are always very inviting to other people to join us in our family activities

Could you share something about your educational background and your experience?
My parents were very open to letting us choose whatever we wanted to study, as long as you loved what you studied and committed to it, that was important. They also wanted the best for their children, they wanted their children and our family to be happy and unified, with no room for sadness.

However, when I graduated at the secondary school level, my parents were afraid of losing me and letting me go to Holland at a young age. So they preferred me to start working. I started at the Lung function Department at the Sint Elisabeth Hospital (SEHOS), where I worked for 6 years. But I felt that this was not what I wanted to do and I started studying in the evening hours Social Welfare/Science at a secondary level and I graduated and liked it. I was inspired back than to continue my studies in this field of study, by Dr. Rob Rojer (a befriended internal specialist at the hospital), as he took notice that I was very interested in visiting and empathetically listening to the stories of patients in my own free time. I would approach them on how I could help them, as they shared their pains and sadness with me. Dr. Rojer was the one who suggested that I change my field of study and continue to study more in the field of Social Welfare/Sciences. The moment I graduated with my Social Science/Welfare on the secondary level, I decided to leave and continue my studies in Holland in Groningen in General Social Work at the HBO level. After that, I went to Utrecht to study Occupational Social work at a Post Graduate level and after graduation, I returned to Curaçao to work.

After some years, still eager to improve myself in the field of occupational wellbeing of workers,  I returned to Holland and studied and graduated in Amsterdam at the University of Amsterdam as an Occupational Health Specialist. After that, I also studied to become a Labor Mediator. I worked for 24 years at Arbo Consult. After that, I started with my own company, Optima BV.

This drive to continuously develop yourself where does that come from? You exemplify the adage
”Lifelong learning”.
I have been constantly upgrading myself, this intrinsic drive to upgrade myself hasn’t stopped until this moment as I am now working on a PhD-thesis: “The methodology of social work being used in Curaçao and the Caribbean”. This is probably something that my parents instilled in me, but it has become my internal, intrinsic drive to further develop myself.  As a child, I felt very insecure as results of many aspects of my life. Because of this there was the need to constantly improve myself as if to show myself I could be better notwithstanding my insecurities. I wasn’t the fastest learner at school, my studying career wasn’t the smoothest, I wasn’t a HAVO candidate right on. But I had a goal: study hard to show myself I could be someone and so overcome my insecurities.

We know you to be very active as an entrepreneur in the labor condition services area. Can you expand a little on how it started and developed over the years?

It all started , as I stated earlier, when it was noticed by Dr. Rob Rojer, that I had an affinity towards Social Work. I worked at GGD in the Medical Dispatch Department for some years. I needed more, so I continued my education and started working at the Occupational Health Department of GGD, which later became Arbo Consult. Even working I never stopped upgrading myself. I became the Head of the Social workers at Arbo Consult and it triggered me that dealing with clients certain issues were the exclusive domain of Medical Doctors. But the issues seemed more than only medical.  So I asked for for a scholarship from the government to specialize myself further, but this request was dismissed. This was the second time in my life that I followed my heart and my passion and despite the refusal, I left for Holland to study for Occupational Health Specialist, without a scholarship and little money to finance this effort. But I succeeded ultimately with the help of some friends.

Back to Curaçao as an Occupational Health Specialist, soon I had reached a point in my career where I wasn’t developing myself further, doing the same as before. I need triggers, things that drive me to function professionally and grow. Without that I would expire instead of being inspired. I reached a point where I started asking myself the question, why stay at Arbo Consult if they were not innovating further after I finished my study as Occupational Health Specialist. I wasn’t allowed to apply my newly gained knowledge and skills levels. So I decided to resign well aware of the risks that I was taking. I went from job security with a good salary, zero income. And that after buying a house just months before. But I still felt it to be the right thing to do. I needed to follow my heart and passion. Notwithstanding the insecurity of a stable income, the opposition and even attempts to bring me in disgrace, I stayed focused. Failure was not an option.

You seem to be a person that follows his heart always, right?
Yes, that is who I am.

I left to study in Holland whilst my parents still preferred me to stay in Curaçao;
I went to specialize at the University of Amsterdam doing a study to become Occupational Health Specialist,  against the negative advice of authorities and with no scholarship;
I decided to leave a good-paying job at Arbo Consult to start Optima from scratch.
I know that without challenges and triggers that drive me, I can’t function. In all these instances, I decided on what I felt was the best thing to do for myself. Yes, I follow my heart.

“I am constantly challenging myself, and there are no obstacles that I can’t surpass.”

What is your BIG WHY or driving motivation to be who you are right now?
On the one hand, I am proud and happy to have decided to start Optima BV and see how it has grown, but on the other hand, I am unhappy with the importance that is given to Corporate Social work/ Occupational Medicine in Curaçao. Our labor laws need revision. We, as a community, are not there yet. The labor conditions and circumstances still need to be improved.

I can also see a lot of people are having a lot of problems with their finances, that is why I am looking for investors to start a Credit Bank. By doing this I am aiming to alleviate their problems.

Thirdly, I want Optima to become accredited as a Corporate Social work/ Occupational Medicine organization, sending a message to the outside world of the quality standards by which we work. 

These three goals keep me going and sharp. I am constantly challenging myself and there are no obstacles that I can’t surpass. If I need to talk to the parliament to create awareness of Corporate Social work/Occupational Medicine for the wellbeing of workers, I will approach the parliament. The same goes for the Credit Bank and the accreditation of Optima. None of them are easy to do, but these goals drive me. And I am not doing this for myself, I am doing this for the community at large. If there is no law on Corporate Social and Occupational Medicine, I consider this unworthy for Curaçao. Curaçao needs to become more aware of the need for such a law. It is not about the sanctioning of sickness leave only, but the notion that the overall health and wellbeing of workers is the most important factor contributing to higher productivity among workers. If there is a law and I will not be there anymore, we would still have the law that contributes to the wellbeing of workers. We are not there yet, but this is my BIG WHY, it is to contribute to the greater good, specifically Corporate Social Work and Occupational Medicine.

What are your plans for the coming years and when do you consider that you have been successful in your personal and business/professional life, let us say 5 years from now?
I am going to take a few steps back and appoint 5 experts in important functions that will continue to work towards the mission of Optima, a mission that we need to anchor so that it becomes sustainable, as I sincerely believe that Curaçao needs these types of services we offer. Up to now (Optima started 10 years ago) I have been working 24/7 365 days a year to come where we have come up until this moment. 5 years from now I will have slowed down a little, done some more advice work and I will not be 100 % available anymore for Optima. In my private life, I will be enjoying life more.

What are the challenges that you are dealing with? And how are you dealing with these different challenges you confront?
One of the biggest challenges I have is the lack of priority the government has towards Corporate Social work/ Occupational Medicine. They believe that the island doesn’t need a second Arbo Consult. As I have explained a couple of times, what I am advocating is, that it is not about the money, we believe there is a need for an organization like Optima as the island needs this. It is about giving priority to the well-being of workers. This is my biggest challenge, but this doesn’t ’t stop me to continue to plea for this subject matter, it isn’t always pleasant to do it, but I am a go-getter.

Do you use your inner voice to evaluate when dilemmas show up? How does that work for you?
I use my inner voice 300 % and always follow it. If I have to make a decision I will take my time. Like the time I started Optima and left Arbo Consult, I talked to 5 different persons and asked for their advice on my pending decision to start Optima. All 5 were telling me not to take this step for all sorts of reasons like the economy is bad etc..etc. Only one friend, mr. Sherwin Fernandez, told to go ahead and start Optima. I followed my Inner Voice overcoming my loyalty issues towards Arbo Consult and against the advice of colleagues and friends leaped in Faith, as it felt for me like the right thing to do, and I was happy with the decision I made. It is my journey after all and my life’s journey shouldn’t be dependent on what other people think of it. If it didn’t work out, it would still have been my decision after all. What happened surprised even me, the decision made my self-confidence grow.

How are you trying also to keep up with your knowledge and skills levels?
I have this mindset that I need to learn lifelong. Just this morning, I subscribed to attend a conference in Columbia. I am always attending conferences and by doing this I keep my accreditation. I am working at this moment on a Ph.D. in Occupational Medicine/ Corporate Social work in Curaçao and the Caribbean and there are so many goals that I want to achieve yet, be it personally or professionally. This requires me to study. I have enough by sleeping 4 to 5 hours every night and the rest of my time, I am productive and in any case, I will not die empty.

What are your strengths?
I am a go-getter, I follow my inner voice and I am open to other people’s advice. I don’t like doing monotonous work. I love being stimulated and triggered and with a clear focus, even though the road can be a long one, I am convinced that in the end, I will succeed, when the moment is there. 

Do you have hobbies or interests that you are also passionate about?
The interior design of my house and the design of my garden. Furthermore, I love human beings in general.

If you as Arthur would meet a stranger on the bus (let’s say in New York or Bogota Columbia) and they would ask you to introduce yourself, what would you answer?
My name is Arthur Nivillac, from Curaçao and I am visiting your city for this or that reason and I will combine business with pleasure. Meeting each other is not a coincidence so let’s explore what is the reason we have met, as there always is a reason.

How would you describe Arthur in one word or one sentence?
Arthur is a person with a clear focus, passioned and not easily influenced.

Who are the persons that have inspired you the most in your career?
Glenn Helberg and Roland Kok, have been my friends for a long in good times and bad times.  

What is a trait that is still a work in progress?
I have to still learn to invest more in myself instead of others. At times, it didn’t matter how tired I was, I choose to help others. So learning to put myself as a priority, is still a work in progress.

What was a defining moment in your life?
My decision to study a Post Graduate study at the University of Amsterdam as an Occupational Health Specialist, was a tough decision as there was no support from the government or my employer. So I had to live on a bare minimum to survive. There were only two people that supported me all the way.

Another defining moment was to leave Arbo Consult without any clarity regarding lots of issues like my pension. I weighed and considered my self-worth to be more important than what others thought, and taking this decision made my self-confidence rise to the top.

Where do you want to be 10 years from now with your career?
Enjoying life to the fullest, and I would still be an advisor to Optima.

What would you want your Loved Ones, family, friends, and others to say about you let’s say 20 years from now on your birthday?
They will say: “Arthur has enjoyed life to the fullest, doing what his heart desired. Everything he wanted to do, he did and he will continue living like that”.

What makes you stay optimistic about the future of Curaçao as we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, recession, and in the middle of growing environmental challenges because of the global warming consequences?
We have to break with a dependency mentality and start to look at what can be done within our possibilities for Curaçao. If you want a better Curaçao, start with yourself.

“If you want a better Curaçao, start with yourself.”

Is there anything else that you would like to add?
We have to work to enable people to believe in themselves first and foremost and have a mindset where they are less dependent on other people. The moment people start doing this,their job satisfaction spikes and becomes 200 %.

One of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao

Arthur Nivillac is driven, focused, and on a personal level fun-loving person. He is also an energetic entrepreneur, that is not easily influenced to change his mind once he has taken a decision on what he really wants to do. Following his heart always, even if those close to him don’t necessarily agree with his intentions, has always worked out for him.  As a go-getter, he follows his inner voice and loves being triggered. It is this drive that made him and upgrade his knowledge and skills levels over the years and made him build from scratch Optima BV into a vibrant independent organization over the past 10 years. Based on the notion that the overall health and well-being of workers is the most important factor contributing to higher productivity among workers, his ambitions to achieve yet another level in the Health and Safety regulations of work in Curaçao in the very near future is still challenging him.

Advocating the need for a law that contributes to the well-being of workers specifically on Corporate Social Work and Occupational Medicin; secondly, the need for a Creditbank to ease the financial stresses of those more in need of help and thirdly certifying Optima BV to guarantee the quality of the services Optima offers, combined with his clear focus, makes him stand out tall. That is why we deeply love and respect Arthur Nivillac, and we consider him one of the 250 influencers of the islands representing the NGO sector focusing on the “Health & Safety sector”.  Look at the list of the Influencers we have interviewed or reported on, up to now.

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