Influencer Cleo de Brabander

In this week’s blog (7th of August till the 13th of August 2023) we had an interview with Cleo de Brabander. We will invite you to our next MYM Book presentation on Tuesday, the 22nd of August. We will share some short videos on “How Design influences our behavior ”. We will upload one of these videos every day on our page.

Could you share with us some information about your family life?
I was born and raised on Curaçao. My dad has 8 brothers and sisters so I grew up in a large family. Every Sunday throughout my entire childhood we gathered at my grandmothers house with all my uncles, aunts and cousins. I’d say we are a tight-knit family. My dad met my Dutch mom when he moved to Holland for his studies in the 70s and brought her back to the island when they finished their education. They had me and my younger brother. My upbringing always had a high level of support, stability, love & fun. I recently married my husband, who was also raised on Curaçao and is also an entrepreneur. We have been together for over ten years, no kids.

Could you share something about your educational background and your experience?
After graduating from Peter Stuyvesant College I decided to stay on Curaçao for another year, so that I could turn 18 and get my drivers license on the island. In this extra year I took math and physic classes to expand my VWO diploma as I was thinking of going to TU Delft. The other half of the day I went to Instituto Buena Bista, a preparatory art school. In 2008 I moved to The Netherlands to attend the Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE). In 2012 I graduated with a series of kitchen products that use old preservation techniques. My work was scouted at the graduation show which is visited by thousands of design enthusiasts, brands, headhunters and curators every year. It landed me a show in Moskou, Russia, and a job at Droog; a world renowned design studio.

Droog in Moskou (2013)

Although this job offered me very cool projects and clients to work on/for, like the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and C&A, it was a very stressful and disappointing time. I soon left the company and started a design collective with three of my Droog colleagues.

We were a multicultural and multidisciplinary team: two architects, a fashion- and a product designer from Curaçao, Holland and Greece. Our focus was on designing for the public space. Example clients were the ‘gemeente’ and The Amsterdam Light Festival. In that same time I launched two product lines (the coffee series for ceramic brand Cor Unum, and the Kumos for German luxury design brand Pulpo Products) with Linde Tangelder, my friend and colleague from the DAE, who is now very successful with her studio Destroyers/Builders.

Around that same time I became increasingly interested in circular design as one of my projects was nominated for the Dutch Circular Design Awards. This was a very new movement at the time and I took all kinds of Circular Economy trainings and then joined CIRCO as a freelance external designer and Circular Economy trainer. 

I was referred to you by Eric de Brabander as he shared that you used to work in Brazil and were involved in convincing the business sector in Brazil of the need to be circular in their designs. This caught my attention, as I believe that the business sector needs to play an important role or even the most important role, to address the climate change challenges our world is facing. Can you share with us how you got involved and if you are still involved one in way or the other in these efforts?
Ever since I did my internship in São Paulo, Brazil, at the architecture company Rosenbaum, I wanted to move to that country. That dream only realized years later when I moved there together with my boyfriend and continued my work for CIRCO as the local CIRCO representative in Rio de Janeiro. CIRCO is a Dutch company that activates – with support from the Dutch government – entrepreneurs and creative professionals to (re)design products, services and business models in order to subsequently do circular business. Our slogan is ‘Creating business through circular design’. A very smart one I think, as It reflects that you need to innovate to do better business. This is also what we focus on in the trainings; identifying business opportunities that also bring opportunity for improved environmental impact. Around 2016 CIRCO started expanding internationally with its first hubs in Istanbul, Sri Lanka and Rio de Janeiro. My work was to transfer the CIRCO methodology to our local partner Casa Firjan and train a team of 18 trainers to become Brazilian CIRCO trainers. When I got stuck in Curaçao in 2020 it was actually not the worst time because the Brazilian team had started to run tracks independently and continued to do so up to now. CIRCO then asked me to support the set-up of a hub in Portugal, as I spoke Portuguese. We did this online as lockdowns were still going on. Since then, I have not been very active for CIRCO. At the time I tried to convince CIRCO for me to set up a hub in Curaçao but they were not enthusiastic: we focus on locations that have a large industrial manufacturing industry.

I was also told that you are involved in together with Joeri Oltheten. I have heard that you presented this project in Columbia and they were very enthusiastic about this approach. Can you tell us something about this project and tell us how you got involved in this?
I actually approached Joeri Oltheten when I heard he was kick starting the Curaçao Donut Economy initiative. At the time, I was officially still living in Rio but was looking for opportunities in Curaçao, preferably in the circular design/sustainability scene. However, we hit it off, not over the Donut Economy, but on his idea for 100Opheto. I helped him to secure funding for the project, develop the concept and design direction, along with David van Delden and Martijn Brugman, and bring the exhibition to the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, reaching over 200,000 visitors.

100 Opheto expo

100 Opheto’s sweet spot for me is how it reflects the relationship between people and objects. This relationship is what we talk about during the CIRCO trainings as well: How do you design a product in a way that the owners attach to it, thus taking care of it and make it last. This year the exhibition is traveling through four cities in Colombia. This is all organized by a Colombian 100 Opheto team, supervised by us. We are also invited by the Dutch consulate in Venezuela and are planning to go to Surinam next year. At the same time we are expanding the collection with objects from Aruba and Bonaire, in collaboration with local teams on the other islands. 

We have taken notice that you are a very multifaceted person, a designer of products and public spaces, is that a correct description of whom you are?
I consider myself a cultural entrepreneur; I identify and seize opportunities to create, develop, and promote cultural products, services, or initiatives. In Curaçao I continued my company Cleo Maxime; focussing on design services for cultural institutions, governments and businesses.

Recent examples are indeed my design for the Euro and guilder coins, commemorating 25 years of Willemstad as UNESCO city, commissioned by the Dutch central bank. And creating the concept and design for the exhibition at The Curaçao Museum celebrating 75 years of its existence

For these projects I work with a great pool of local and international freelancers.

I also initiated the Designing Perspectives Foundation which has the purpose of using design thinking and creative problem-solving techniques to drive positive social and cultural change. Farm to Crafts is the first project that we launched. We are working on Farm to Crafts with a team of six creatives and researches, looking into the possibilities of using and cultivating local resources for (re)introducing crafts on Curaçao.

Our ultimate goal is that this leads to a better (financial) position for farmers and a more resilient creative infrastructure and makers community on Curaçao. Just like 100 Opheto this project has a lot of affinities with ‘circular economy’ and ‘circular design’. I think these projects are very important to show what Circular Economies could look like in practice… to all the talking.

Please check our website for more information, keep an eye out and join the presentations and workshops that we are organizing this year to inspire and activate the Curaçao community!

Concept and design for exhibition Harmonies of Art commissioned by Museo Kòrsou

What is your BIG WHY or driving motivation to be who you are right now? And why is it that you want to find ways and means to contribute?
I am Driven by a love for people, curiosity and creative innovation. I try to contribute by devoting my energy to making people re-value the things we do, use and consume in daily life. I do this by using design as a powerful tool for positive change.

What are your plans for the coming 5 years from now?  
Alongside commercial projects, my focus will be on the Designing Perspectives Foundation. I hope that on the long term I can show and prove to Curaçao government and businesses the added value of design thinking. This is something that is being picked up in the Netherlands and around the world in recent years. My Dutch studio for example was hired by Dutch government to think of ways to motivate citizens in the public space to live more sustainable. CIRCO is also a project by the Dutch government, embracing design methodologies. Curaçao is lagging but will catch up I hope. With the foundation, we will carry on the Farm to Crafts project as long as we can make this financially feasible. I am aiming for a few years at least. We recently became part of ‘a bigger whole’ initiated by a Danish organization: a group of six similar initiatives spread around the world, collaborating to be more successful together. We are also anticipating more collaborations with regional and international designers and craftsman. Within 5 year we will probably also start up a new project.

What are the challenges that you are dealing with? And how are you dealing with these different challenges you confront?
I have always been a generalist, curious about a wide range of topics. And, over the years as a creative professional, I have developed a diverse skill set and a broad range of expertise across multiple design disciplines. It has always been a huge challenge for me to keep my focus. But living on Curaçao now and intending to stay, it feels like opportunities are more limited which is actually good for me I think! What I also thought challenging when arriving on Curaçao as a product designer was that there are few makers on the island to collaborate with. For example the glass of the kumo’s is hand blown in Murano and if I wanted to make some samples in Amsterdam it is possible to do that in a glass blowing facility. But, in Curaçao we don’t have a wide range of these kinds of providers. This is also where my personal drive for Farm to Crafts came from.

Do you use your inner voice to evaluate when dilemmas show up? How does that work for you as we have noticed that you are also a spiritual person?
I just googled the qualities of a spiritual person and could relate (positive thinking, inner peace, harmony, humility, responsibility, compassion, justice, simplicity, and reciprocity). But I would never call myself a spiritual person. I do meditate sometimes to get peace of mind when needed, but other than that I am very down to earth and try to not think too much about anything that is not immediately relevant in todays world and/or not in my circle of influence.

How are you trying also to keep up with your knowledge and skill levels?
I keep in touch with my colleagues around the world, sharing and reflecting on our work together. I read and view work of other designers and design platforms/ companies online. I invite designers that I admire to the island, for example like Fernando Laposse and Nienke Hoogvliet who are coming to Curaçao this year to give presentations and workshops about their work, as part of the Farm to Crafts project. I also participated in quite some courses and trainings over the years, like the ‘What Design Can Do accelerator programme’ and the ‘Global Nudge programme’.

What are your strengths?
I am Empathic, resilient, adaptable and accountable. Which are all traits that come in very useful as both a creative and as an entrepreneur.

You seem to be a person that enjoys living a good life and being a lot outdoors. Where does this come from?
Who doesn’t enjoy living a good life?! I do like spending time outdoors a lot. I grew up in a house in the middle of a big mondi and spent most of my time building tree houses and roaming around the mondi bear feet. This is still what I do when I feel tense. We also used to have a lot of animals like dogs, cats, fishes, donkeys and pigs.

Do you have hobbies or interests that you are also passionate about?
There are lots of things that I enjoy. The hobbies that have been most consistent over the years are reading, swimming and boxing.

If you Cleo would meet a stranger on the bus (let’s say in New York or Sao Paulo Brazil) and they would ask you to introduce yourself, what would you answer?
My name is Cleo. I was born and raised on a Dutch-Caribbean island in front of the coast of Venezuela. I have a background in product design but I have been self employed since 2014. My business focusses on concept and spatial design and my foundation on social design. 

How would you describe Cleo in one word or one sentence?
I am a humble, curious, and empathic individual who approaches life with an open heart and mind, seeking to understand others, form deep connections and continuously learn from diverse experiences.

Who are the persons that have inspired you the most in your career?
Instead of inspired I would like to use the word ‘influenced’:

  • Mattieu Meijers – The teacher at Design Academy Eindhoven who taught me the most about what it means to create a vision, be a maker and how to find your authenticity.
  • Paola Antonelli – Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. She has had a huge contribution to changing the misperception of “design as decoration or as an embellishment”. She has always brought attention to unpaved roads or cross-sections between for example ‘design and violence’ or ‘design and emergency response’. Just like so many others I am inspired by her view on design.
  • Renny Ramakers and the team at Droog – Although only a short period in my career this time was very impactful, both in positive and negative sense.
  • My mom – As my mom is a creative/ ceramic artist I grew up amongst her artist friends, going to exhibitions and in her ceramic studio which off course influenced me a lot. 

What is a trait that is still a work in progress?
Leadership:  I know I have the ability to set a clear direction and compelling vision for the future. But, I am a horrible decision maker and need to work on confidence and the ability to instill confidence in others.

What was a defining moment in your life?
2020: Stranding in Curaçao, the sudden change of life and environment, not being able to say goodbye to my home, friends and family in Brazil and learning how I deal with extreme uncertainty (not well :)) was definitely the most defining time in my life up to now.

What would you want your Loved Ones, family, friends, and others to say about you let’s say 20 years from now?
Loving, balanced

What makes you stay optimistic about the future of the island?

  1. The people. That’s the first thing that came to my mind. But the funny (or not so funny) thing is that this is also what makes me the least optimistic at times. I believe cultural richness, which we certainly have, is very important for a country or island to progress. We should value this more and use it to foster community cohesion and attract cultural tourism. This is partly what our project 100 Opheto is about. Education, storytelling and collaboration are key to harness this strength of ours.
  2. It’s location. What makes me very positive as well is our strategic location as a gateway between Europe, the Americas, and other Caribbean countries. I believe we need to embrace our connectedness to the region as well as to the Netherlands. Balancing local autonomy with the benefits of being part of a larger political entity has proven to be a delicate task. But I think it is crucial for both the Netherlands and Curaçao to foster constructive dialogue to ensure that this connectedness serves the best interests of Curaçao and its people.
  3. Sustainability efforts. I hope the recent developments and sustainable initiatives continue, as well as a focus on sustainable tourism. I expect these initiatives to become progressively more fruitful in the coming, say…20 years.
  4. Entrepreneurial Spirit. Since coming back to the island in 2020 I have seen so many of my peers/ my generation also moving back to the island. These people have such a strong entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to innovate. I am positive that this will bring a lot of impact over the coming years and also drive other young innovative minds to come back to the island and strengthen and improve our workforce.

More info or connect

One of the 250 Influencers

Cleo de Brabander is a young, creative, humble, curious, eager-to-learn, multi-faceted, empathic individual who optimistically approaches life with an open heart and mind, seeking to understand others, form deep connections and continuously learn from diverse experiences. With a background in product design, she is a self-employed entrepreneur that loves to collaborate to add value. What makes her stand out is her resilience, adaptability, pro-active collaborative mindset, organizational skills to manage her multiple projects that require a multi-disciplinary approach, and her unique ability to set a clear direction and compelling vision for the future. Her focus nowadays is on “concept and spatial design” with a foundation in “social design”. Her work in the past for CIRCO (Creating business through circular design’) a Dutch company that activates – with support from the Dutch government – entrepreneurs and creative professionals to (re)design products, services, and business models, in order to subsequently do circular business, made her gain international experience in this area. In 2020 because the Covid-pandemic brought her back to Curacao, which tested her resilience to the max.

Being a generalist but curious about a wide range of topics has helped her over the years as a creative professional developed a diverse skill set and a broad range of expertise across multiple design disciplines. With this skill set and vision, she combines alongside commercial projects, her focus on the Designing Perspectives Foundation, showing and proving to the Curaçao government and local businesses community, the added value of design thinking. But also, she initiated the recently started “Farm to Crafts”- project. They are a group of six creatives and researchers, looking into the possibilities of using and cultivating local resources for (re)introducing crafts on Curaçao. It is also part of a bigger whole’ initiated by a Danish organization: a group of six similar initiatives spread around the world, collaborating to be more successful together.

For her multiple initiatives, we consider Cleo de Brabander one of the 250 Influencers, representing the Arts and Cultural Sector. Look at the list of the Influencers we have interviewed or reported on, up to now.

The goal of the core group of Share2Uplift for 2023

The goal of the Share2Uplift movement is to: “Identify 250 leaders from all walks of life to connect, align and create impactful changes in all walks of life, which includes intergenerational collaboration by the end of 2022.” We will use interviewing Influencers, meet-and-greet events, “train-the-trainers”-programs on “Emotional Mastery” and “Intentionality “as national intervention strategies, to reach this goal on top of our goal to scale up the possibilities to connect, align and create impact via a virtual platform. We believe that by collaborating with Miguel Goede on the virtual Vision 2030 platform, we will accelerate the possibilities to connect the diaspora and others elsewhere in the world and on the island willing to constructively create impactful changes in Curaçao, to join.

As Share2Uplift, we are fully trying to align with this thinking of Center for Curriculum Redesign to promote this agenda in our educational systems and workplace. So, in that sense, we fully support any initiative to make our educational system 21st-century proof.

Share2Uplift aligners are those that:
– Create an inspiring vision of the future;
– Motivate and inspire people to engage with that vision;
– Manage the delivery of the vision;
– Coach and build a team, so that it is more effective at achieving the vision. These criteria are now being polished.

We also consider these 5 values the most important ones for Share2Uplift aligners. They are:

• Peace from within;
• Compassion;
• Respectfulness;
• Integrity;
• Responsibility.

As we will progress towards this goal, we will update you on the progress.

MYM-platform session

Our next MYM-platform session will be on Tuesday the 22nd of August via Zoom from 7 to 9 pm, where we will present two books on High performances: High Performance Habits, by Brendon Bruchard and The Compound effect, by Darren Hardy.

High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way
These six habits will make you extraordinary
After extensive original research and a decade as the world’s highest-paid performance coach, Brendon Burchard finally reveals the most effective habits for reaching long-term success. Based on one of the largest surveys ever conducted on high performers, it turns out that just six habits move the needle the most in helping you succeed. Adopt these six habits, and you win. Neglect them, and life is a never-ending struggle. 
We all want to be high performing in every area of our lives. But how? Which habits can help you achieve long-term success and vibrant well-being no matter your age, career, strengths, or personality? To become a high performer, you must seek clarity, generate energy, raise necessity, increase productivity, develop influence, and demonstrate courage. This book is about the art and science of how to practice these proven habits.
If you do adopt any new habits to succeed faster, choose the habits in this book. Anyone can practice these habits and, when they do, extraordinary things happen in their lives, relationships, and careers.
Whether you want to get more done, lead others better, develop skill faster, or dramatically increase your sense of joy and confidence, the habits in this book will help you achieve it. Each of the six habits is illustrated by powerful vignettes, cutting-edge science, thought-provoking exercises, and real-world daily practices you can implement right now. High Performance Habits is a science-backed, heart-centered plan to living a better quality of life. Best of all, you can measure your progress. A link to a professional assessment is included in the book for free. This book will be presented by Ivan Kuster.

The Compound effect
No gimmicks. No Hyperbole. No Magic Bullet. The Compound Effect is based on the principle that decisions shape your destiny. Little, everyday decisions will either take you to the life you desire or to disaster by default. Darren Hardy, publisher of Success Magazine, presents The Compound Effect, a distillation of the fundamental principles that have guided the most phenomenal achievements in business, relationships, and beyond. This easy-to-use, step-by-step operating system allows you to multiply your success, chart your progress, and achieve any desire. If you’re serious about living an extraordinary life, use the power of The Compound Effect to create the success you want.

This book will be presented by Ivan Kuster.

Date: Tuesday the 22nd of August
Time: 7.00 – 9.00 PM
Entrance fee: Free

Subscribe by emailing us: at and we will send you the Zoom link so that you can participate in our presentation of this book.

Personal Coaching Tips

This week we will share some short videos on “How Design influences our behavior”.  We will upload one of these videos every day on our page.

How Architecture Affects The Way You Feel || Environmental Psychology and Architecture – YouTube

How Architecture Impacts Our Mental Health – YouTube

How Architecture Affects Human Behavior – YouTube

Design to nudge and change behaviour: Sille Krukow at TEDxCopenhagen – YouTube

Shaping Behavior Through Intentional Design: Jeff Sharpe at TEDxAustin – YouTube

Can Architecture Help You Heal? – YouTube

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