Influencer Elly Hellings
Interview March 2020
Could you share with us some information of your family life?
I am married and we have a son of 11 years old. Both my parents have passed away, but they have played a significant role in who I am now. I was born and raised in a traditional roman Catholic farmer’s family in Brabant, the Netherlands. My mother was a very caring and helpful person. My father taught me honesty and taught me to always look people right into their eyes. Those influences always stayed with me. I have a twin sister, she is totally different from me, although we are very close to each other. I was the only one in my family who went to university, broke the traditional circle and went to live outside the Netherlands.
Could you share with us some of your educational background and past professional experiences, as we know that you are an entrepreneur?
I have studied Sociology, Cultural Sciences at Tilburg University and Information Sciences at the Wageningen University, between 1986 and 1992 In those days the Third World country their challenges were high on the international agenda. My plan was to either do work to support those in need in developing countries, or work in the Netherlands for an organization involved in developing aid or education about the situation in developing countries To write my thesis I stayed for 7 months in Zimbabwe studying income generating projects for women. I’ve always had a deeply rooted sense of justice and solidarity, in the sense that I would help to alleviate those whom don’t have it easy. When I had finalized my studies in 1992, the economy was in a recession. So it wasn’t easy to find a job in the Netherlands I gave myself 1 year to find a job related to what I had studied for, in the meantime I was involved different kind of voluntary work. In my first paid job, I ended up to be a policy advisor dealing with “emancipation matters of minorities from non-western cultural background and Women emancipation” at the Municipality of Venlo. In 1999 I came to Curaçao and started working at the Antillean Federation for Youth Care (FAJ) I have worked there for almost 15 years and gradually started working for myself as an entrepreneur, doing what I do best.
How did you start as an entrepreneur?
Well, I was approached one day to write a project plan for the Roman Catholic School board. I started my own company, Indigo Blue and as the years went by. I started lowering my hours for FAJ from 40 hours a week to eventually 20 hours a week, and the rest of my working hours I was working on assignments I got as an entrepreneur. About seven years ago I became a full time entrepreneur. I’m more like a generalist, and work on different types of assignments.I do a lot of applied social scientific research, for instance measuring the impact of social projects, answering questions like “what is the real value added” of these projects. I was doing Project- and Program Management on social projects, have taught Research Skills at the University of Curaçao, write policy reports, research reports and project proposals. I’m happy with the diversity, basically, in a certain way, these projects just crossed my path and it was great to do those kinds of projects, because it is what I actually love to do.
We know you to be a very pro-active, business like person and one of the experts on writing project documents to leverage social changes on the island. Where does your business and pro-active mindset come from?
I believe that just by doing and through being asked to do this kind of work, I discovered that I had the ability to do so. The projects I helped preparing had a high success rate in being financed by donors from government or non-government organizations. It inspires me to function as an intermediary matching the need of an organization to the requirements of donors, therefore helping to finance worthwhile programs and/or projects., I am good in the Dutch language, know what is happening in the field, in the NGO’s and the society at large.
How are you trying also to keep up with your personal knowledge and skills levels? You have told us a couple of years before that you have been attending courses in Canada aimed at increasing your impact in Curaçao. Are you still following these courses and are you still member of this collective network?
I am a member of different collective networks and I follow them via internet on-line. Very often they have a newsletter, I focus on what is new in terms of research tools and youth development. From time to time I attend courses. The last couple of years I ended up in Canada in a collective impact network that teaches people and organizations in the field how to actually lead change in the society, for instance on poverty or youth development. I’m not intentionally looking for courses and conferences, it’s more organic in a way to have your eyes and ears open for new developments and jump on the really interesting ones.
You are also a correspondent of entrepreneur as I have read an interview you had with Marie-Louise Schoop in Entrepreneur, what do you try to achieve with this involvement?
Well I have written articles in Coach for years in the past, but due to lack of time now I only write articles for Entrepreneur. I interview those entrepreneurs whom had received a financial loan from Qredits. I hope it inspires others to do likewise.
What is your BIG WHY or driving motivation to be whom you are right now?
Well, as I said before, I have this big sense of justice and solidarity. I feel privileged in life how I was able to developed myself and reach certain goals. I want to be meaningful and feel an urge to positively influence developments in the society.
I do this by deliberately choosing to support the underdog in our society. There are all kinds of groups or individuals, who are vulnerable and do not get equal possibilities, like some youth or those with a mental or physical handicap, that can use a push to help them move forward. This urge has always been there. I can still remember that when I was 10 years old, I went to the monastery of the “Zusters van Schijndel” to write letters for Amnesty International expressing my opinion on injustices happening in the world on human rights. So this is my “WHY”?
What are the challenges that you are dealing with?
I am of the opinion that I see too many people still working from their ego and doing things to personally benefit from this. I consider solidarity and public interest in society has to come first.
And how are you dealing with this challenge?
I always try to be my authentic self and if it really doesn’t work to be able to do this, I will walk away. Like in the Netherlands,my career started as a civil servant and after I had worked for 6 years as a civil servant I decided to quit my job after several solidarity dilemmas. At that time, I realized working as a civil servant in a political environment did not suit me very well.
Do you use your inner voice to evaluate when dilemma’s show up? How does that work for you?
I use my gut and feeling. If I don’t take my gut or feeling serious, when things go wrong, it is like it tells me: “I told you so”. This has taught me, to trust my gut and feelings and accepting that I don’t need to explain this rationally.
What are your strengths?
I am honest, good at listening and very empathically to other people. I like to do things from the other person’s perspective and not in first instance from my own perspective. Furthermore, I’ve strong analytical abilities. In my Reiss- personality test that I have done, I came out to be extremely structured, but also being extremely flexible.
Do you have hobbies or interests that you are also passionate about?
My work of course as I have explained and when you love your work there aren’t any limitations in terms of working hours and weekends. But I would say I also love to cook. I work a lot from home and use cooking as an enjoyable breakpoint. Furthermore I like traveling.
If you as Elly would meet a stranger in the bus ( the US) and they would ask you to introduce yourself what would you answer?
I would say: “Hello, I am Elly”. I remember my last holiday when my family and I were in New York in a bus and I was asked by a man to sit beside him. I accepted that invitation. I listened to his stories and responded in a friendly and open manner. He was mentally instable and my son asked me why did I do that. I answered that I believe that you should be open, genuinely interested and friendly towards any other human being you meet.
How would you describe Elly in one word or one sentence?
A creative person, very engaged in the challenges in our society. I can really dig deep into myself and go some extra miles if I consider something to be unjust.
Whom are the persons that have inspired you the most in your career?
It might sound very cliche, but Nelson Mandela is such person for me. I have personally met him as I was chairperson of the South-Africa platform fighting “Apartheid” which I joined after having lived in Zimbabwe. He is a very special person that although he had gone through so many personal hardships, kept his eye on this higher goal, and used these hardships to transform them into something positive for his country.
What is a trait that is still work in progress?
What was a defining moment in your life?
The birth of my son, becoming a mother, wasn’t something that I expected to happen anymore. And you know, children are like a mirror to you. My son has so many traits that my husband and I also have. He is very strong minded. But on the other hand I also appreciate and love this trait in my son.
Where do you want to be 15 years from now with your career?
I would hope that I won’t be needing to work as hard as I work now. I would almost be 70 years old by then and hope to be healthy and still active.
What would you want your Loved Ones, family, friends and others to say about you let’s say 20 years from now?
I hope that they would have good memories about me, it doesn’t have to be something big nor beautiful, it could be something small.
What makes you stay optimistic about the future of Curaçao?
First of all I am an optimistic person by nature. I always see the glass as being half full and always see opportunities. I always believe that things can be undertaken and steps can be taken to change things in a more positive direction. I am relentless in this otherwise, if I didn’t have the ability to see what is possible, I would become a frustrated and sour person quickly. That is true according to me on a personal level and on the country level, “that is life”.
More info on Elly Hellings:
One of the 250 Influencers
Elly Hellings can best be described as someone that is making use of her unique talent and gift, to be an intermediary between donors and organizations applying for funds. This unique talent and gift, she uses to leverage developments in the society, by deliberately and consistently choosing for the underdog in our society. Her innate sense for justice and solidarity has driven her to understand the requirements of donors at the one hand and at the other side the needs of the organizations trying to help those in our society that need help the most. She has been exceptionally successful in terms of approval rates for projects that were funded by donors. For Elly it is also about real change. As a consultant and scholar she also helps clients by offering project management services and help to measure the impact of policies, program and projects implemented. Her sense of justice and solidarity makes her a beacon of integrity in a world and society with lots of injustices, inequality and special interests, contrary to what she stands for namely: justice, equality and solidarity towards the whole. We deeply love and respect Elly and as a member of the business sector, we definitely consider Elly one of the 250 Influencers in Curaçao.