Influencer Gofrie van Lieshout: a builder, developer and educator
Interview December 2019
Gofrie, could you share with us some information of your family life?
I was born and raised in Brabant, the Netherlands together with my two older sisters. Together with my husband and two daughters we moved to Curaçao in 2007. Currently our oldest daughter is 21 years old and is in her third year of her study at Maastricht University, our youngest daughter, 17, is in her fifth and last year of highschool at Radulphus College.
Could you share with us some of your educational background and past professional experiences?
That has become quite a story after all those years. After high school, I followed a training as a management assistant. During my years as a volunteer performing different board functions for the association at a youth center, I noticed that I enjoyed organizing events and the communication surrounding these activities.
Really consciously thinking about and choosing a study that fits your talent and ambitions was not really something that was extensively discussed during my youth. Life went as it came. At the age of 18, I worked for an organization that provided adult education for the business community. Initially in an administrative position, later as coordinator with my own client portfolio. I worked there for 6 years and learned a lot. All the while I kept my weekend jobs in the hospitality industry to earn something extra. During that period, I also attended my first evening courses, first a year of middle management, then project management and later higher management. In 1994-1995 I worked for a year at an international wholesaler to support the commercial manager. That didn’t really suit me, and I wanted to do something completely different. I got a diploma as a tour guide and followed a hospitality training so that I could start something for myself. However, that never happened, I went to Spain for a year of working in the hospitality industry. Fantastic time! When I returned in 1996, I worked as a volunteer at an asylum seekers’ center and soon I was able to work at Fontys University of Applied Sciences in Eindhoven.
As an employee of the Information Management department, I experienced the merger with other Universities of Applied Sciences, which was a huge job because of the different cultures that had to go together. Internet and email developed at lightning speed, and we were also very conscious of the approaching millennium. After a few years it was time for the next step, and I came to work at the Sustainable City and Regional Development Knowledge Center.
As a “knowledge interface” I was responsible for connecting education with business and government to encourage collaboration. A kind of knowledge broker. Together with Tilburg University, theoretical models were translated into applications in the region and students were involved in the implementation. Thanks to the exchange of knowledge, a great deal has been achieved in that time. The development of new economic pillars in both urban and rural areas was necessary and was therefore a central point. Everyone was open to cooperation and learned from each other’s experience and insights. We developed practical tools for applying and monitoring subsidies, additionally we also organized seminars on these subjects. What I learned there was how you can set up public-private partnerships at multiple levels in a difficult context. During those years, I obtained my Facility Management Bachelor’s degree in addition to my work. Besides work and education, I also had two little children. But luckily, switching within many areas had become my specialty. It was a dynamic time. In 2006/2007, when I was asked to also provide lessons on sustainable area development for the Leisure Management course, I obtained my teaching qualifications for higher professional education.
At the end of 2007 we came to Curaçao, and after working as a consultant for a year, in 2008 I was given the opportunity as director to design the ‘Kenniscentrum Beroepsonderwijs Bedrijfsleven Curaçao’ (KBB).
A great challenge of course, especially as a newcomer on the island. But it worked! Partly thanks to a fantastic board that gave me direction and all the space and recourses to act according to my own insight. Enthusiastic employees were added, and we formed a very dynamic team. We realized ideas that nobody initially believed in, but we succeeded. In addition to training teachers and recognizing training companies, we introduced, for example, EVC, the Talent Competition Curaçao for young people with a talent for technology, developed a Barometer and charted the developments in the labor market with regard to employment for several sectors.
We have worked really hard and achieved a lot. In total, more than 100 projects were carried out with different partners. However, KBB had to close its doors in 2015 due to the cessation of financing. This is when I started my own project agency, Caribbean Projects. My first major assignment was the position of project leader of the “Work & Entrepreneurship” team within the integrated youth policy program (Youth Development Action Program).
We have placed several important themes on the agenda thanks to researching and publishing data on, among other things, youth unemployment, early school leaving and apprenticeship trajectories. The program stopped after 1.5 years, and the work was continued within the various ministries. I now support organizations from Caribbean Projects with setting up or adapting internal processes where improving efficiency and efficient deployment of employees are leading. Sometimes I am asked to guide someone personally as a coach in such a trajectory. Furthermore, I also provide training related to project management and the renewal of work forms. As a project manager I develop and manage large projects for clients in which training, development and employment form the context.
I recently organized a masterclass in Strategic Talent Management (Folder 2019) which was received very well. This is something I might want to start doing more often. Besides this, I also write articles about management and leadership for Coaching Magazine and as of recently I teach a few hours a week.
We became interested in interviewing you, as you are very involved in upgrading and changing education to meet the needs of the labour market and seem to have a positive mindset. Where did this interest come from?
On the one hand because education and development have always been part of my work in various positions, but also because I know from my own experience that you can always continue to develop. By daring to take new steps and not giving up too quickly if things turn out differently than you expected. I came by many detours to where I am now and not through the more usual “high school – study – career” trajectory. And that’s fine. I have always continued to learn, and I have gained a lot of experience thanks to the opportunities I received at different times. I also want to give others these opportunities.
There are so many shortcomings when it comes to the challenges of the labor market, while the solutions do not always have to be complicated. Young people bursting with talent need to be properly supervised and motivated. But if that’s not in place they are often labeled stupid, lazy or as not interested. But that is of course also due to the way in which we offer our education and guidance. We must not forget that attitude is undoubtedly also determined by knowledge and self-confidence.
But I also realize very well that employees must create value for their employer or client. So, it is important for both sides (employer and employee) to give each other a chance and not be afraid of feedback that you can learn from.
You have been involved in KBB and the Action Program Youth Development, what are your most important take-aways from those two projects?
That you must keep your focus. If you allow it, political issues, egos, or ignorance can easily frustrate the success of a project. It is about the results and impact of your project and if you want to fit in the agendas of others too fast you get stuck. Especially with promising and/or successful projects because everyone wants to participate and before you know it, projects will become so large that nobody knows what the original goal was. You get the situation that milestones that are important to a lot of people are “celebrated” while ultimately, they do not contribute to the set goals. What you need is vision, translated into a clear program line and a small, expert implementation team with the right powers and resources.
You have a lot of experience with vocational education and in-company training programs, what has been the most successful project that you have done and why?
Together with others I have initiated and carried out many training courses and coaching programs. The most successful training programs are those where management is willing to change themselves. A major mistake that is often made is that training employees is enough to implement improvements in the organization. That is not true. In fact, it is very demotivating if people are challenged and motivated to develop further during a training and then find out that they are not given the space in the workplace to use that new knowledge and insights. The processes where the framework is open for reflection and change are the most successful!.
What vocational education or in-company training program serves as an example for you and why?
Quality and communication. Throughout my career I have taken courses and attended seminars. Quality training provided insight into the role and responsibility that you have in every larger entity. I once experienced a trainer who only asked questions and then went on to help formulate the answers. Why are you doing this? Why that way? Why is it important? Etc. By forcing people to step out of their routine thinking, you can gain completely new insights. I now also use that knowledge in my own training courses. And talking to experienced professionals who are good for you and who are willing to share their knowledge with you.
What is your BIG WHY or what are your driving motivations to be who you are right now?
My BIG WHY? I love to share, knowledge, power, responsibility, credits … I really like to make others successful because I believe we all end up better if you do.
What are the challenges you are facing? And how are you dealing with these challenges?
Realizing collaboration. It’s all about collaboration and accepting and utilizing each other’s knowledge and talent. It is madness what we see happening everywhere, including on Curaçao. Properly running programs or organizations are thwarted or even stopped and then restarted after a while without using the built knowledge and experiences. Sometimes even without planning implementation capacity. That might be an even bigger challenge; making sure that the work gets done instead of getting stuck on planning and talking. I am very practical and want to move quickly from abstract plans to a realistic implementation plan. It’s a challenge to get everyone involved quickly. But sometimes some processes take more time, so I need to have patience and make sure participants feel okay about the steps that we take. I try to look at myself also through the glasses of the other party to find out where the resistance lies.
Do you use your inner voice to evaluate when dilemma’s show up? If so, how does that work for you?
When dilemmas come across my path, I take initiative and look at the situation from different perspectives. Sometimes I need time to think carefully about what’s going on, but I always come back to it and then make a choice. I don’t mind sharing my doubts with others and I am also able to adjust if that would ultimately be better.
How are you trying to keep up your knowledge and skills levels?
I am not afraid to step out form my ‘comfort zone’ and I continue try new things. Thanks to the different type of my activities I come across different organizations. I learn a lot from clients and the colleagues in projects. I regularly attend lectures and discussion meetings, follow politics and like to read opinion magazines. I have a large network through my work, volunteer work and friends and I am a member of the Dutch Caribbean Economics of which I like to attend lectures. Participants in training courses also quickly share knowledge if they have faith in you. That can be also very inspiring. Thanks to writing for Coaching Magazine and as an editor, I also get contact with local managers who make a difference. For that matter the term Lifelong Learning really applies to me.
What are your strengths?
From a professional point of view, I am good at analyzing problems and translating policy into what needs to be done and I present that into a work form for other people. Thanks to the various environments in which I have worked and still work, I developed a good sense of relationships and sensitivities which, in combination with my organizational capacity, I think is a quite strong side of myself. And I am loyal to my clients and act accordingly. It’s not me to say yes and do no. Some confuse that with naive, but nothing is as destructive as distrust if you ask me.
Do you have hobbies or interests that you are also passionate about?
I like to read a lot. But I also like to be with my family, relatives and friends. Going out like we did in younger days has become less, but I can still enjoy socializing with friends. And I never skip a party like carnival in Curaçao. I like to cycle (MTB), swim regularly, love to read (historical) novels and biographies and follow social debates.
If you would meet a stranger in the bus (let’s say in the Netherlands or the US) and they would ask you to introduce yourself, what would be you answer?
My name, that I am from Curaçao and what the reason is for being there at that time.
How would you describe yourself in one word or one sentence?
I am a builder and I enjoy working with enthusiastic and creative people, sometimes I take myself a little too seriously, but I also love to laugh together.
Who have inspired you the most in your life and career?
A lot of people inspire me. Sometimes through a passage from a book or an interview, but often during a consultation, discussion or lecture. Often because people make statements that are accompanied by arguments and examples from their own experiences.
Did you always have positive role models, or have you also had people who influenced you because you did not want to identify yourself with them?
Certainly both. I knew at a young age with whom I especially did not want to identify. On the other hand, there are numerous people who opened doors for me, helped me and believed in me. That is very important. Ultimately, you learn something from everyone, whether you want it or not. Every step and every contact with other people contribute to your personality. I am grateful for that.
What are some of the challenges or lessons learned you have encountered in your life when you discovered your talents and strengths? What was a defining moment in your life?
In the time that KBB was forced to shrink and later had to close without proper arguments, I had to force myself to continue to reflect and, above all, to put things into perspective in order to deal with certain things. That was partly successful at the time. I have experienced things that were personally very intense. Fraud, people who function at a high level who lie right to your face or let you down. People who say they support you but behind your back or in company if the cards are different, don’t support you. That “shine sympathy” first surprised me and then caused me a lot of grief. Not long afterwards, due to a little sports accident, I had to physically put my teeth together, it was difficult to get back to myself. But I noticed that I could go on again and did not get stuck in that negative atmosphere. Both your body and your mind are stronger than you think.
Where do you want to be 15 to 20 years from now with your career?
In 20 years, I hope that I still mean something within my professional field, but the role that I often fulfill now will probably be replaced by that of coach or supervisor. It would be nice if I could still share my experiences with the new generations.
What would you want your loved ones, family, friends, and others have to say about you in let’s say 25 years from now?
That we have shared and passed on many loving and beautiful moments together.
What makes you stay optimistic about the future of Curaçao?
The young generation and the enormous resilience of the people on the island. I hope that real work is now being done on plans to give more young people with talent the space and influence in managing our island. For them to look at economic and social themes with a fresh perspective, but above all to adapt education to the needs and possibilities of today.
If you want to contact Gofrie go to:
Recent projects: caribbean-projects.com/projecten/
Account Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/feed/
KBB projects: docplayer.nl/15045542-Projecten-kenniscentrum-beroepsonderwijs-bedrijfsleven-Curaçao.html
CHATA project: klapaturismo.com/
One of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao
Gofrie van Lieshout is a dynamic multi-facetted person representing the business and educational sector as business owner of “Caribbean Projects”. She is a project manager, coach, writer of articles and editor of Coaching Magazine, a developer and manager of projects for clients in which training, development and employment form the context. As an advocate of life-long learning, being one herself, some of our economic and social themes where are dealing with right now, could be dealt with from a fresh perspective, according to Gofrie, if young people with talent were given the space and influence in managing our island. This should ultimately lead to the adaption of education to the needs and possibilities in a 21st century world. She has the unique ability to analyze problems and translating policy into what needs to be done into a work form for other people. This, thanks to the various environments in which she has worked and still works. We love and respect Gofrie for the work she is doing and consider her one of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao.