Influencer Gonneke van den Kieboom
Interview November 2020
Could you share with us some information of your family life?
I was born and raised in Curaçao some 55 years ago and after High School, I left to Holland to study in 1985. I came back in the beginning of the 90-ties for three to four years and I worked here in Curaçao. After those years, I decided to go back to Holland as I wanted to further grow and upgrade my knowledge and skills level in communications, as I knew that I could grow and learn more working in the Netherlands compared to staying in Curaçao. I have lived and worked from 1994 till 2008 in Amsterdam. At first, I was a creative copywriter for about 7 years, and then I evolved towards a brand and communication strategist with a great passion for innovation. My most important selling point is that I can help organizations from a marketing perspective to look at the future that they are able to create. The future from this perspective is then created, based on the type of relationships the organization wants to create with its clients, compared with a perspective based on the business processes of the organization.
I come from a large family of 5 children and I am the fourth child. I have only one brother, the youngest of the children, and he has to deal with 4 older sisters. Between the younger children and older children there is an age gap, my oldest sister and I differ 14 years from each other. So when I was 3 years old, my oldest sister went to Holland for her studies, while in that same year my brother was born. My parents raised children with a big age differential.
How important our your parents for who you are at this moment?
Well, both my parents are not alive anymore. When I was young, I wanted to become a medical doctor. To me that was the thing I would love to do, and my parents didn’t approve of this. When I was 14 years old, I got acquainted with Advertising & Marketing and took notice that it is was a real profession. So I wanted to study creativity. But my father told me to go and study a real profession, while I wanted to prepare for the advertising industry by going to an art academy. I was found of painting, I had done it since I was very young. But this, my father also disapproved and he thought it would be great if I would study Economy, because they also have Marketing in their curriculum. So when I was 19 years old, I started studying Economy in Rotterdam. That didn’t work out, so I started after 1 year I finally found a fit in HBO Communication. And that was my own choice. You know, my parents never really understood exactly what my work entailed. Yes, I was a copywriter as I wrote texts…but exactly what it is all about, they never really understood.
We have met in the past – over 6 years ago – as you were facilitating in a creative way change in the government, as it was a totally out of the box approach. Have you always been a creative person, and can you tell us more about Creative Lab and WOW, what is the difference?
I have always been a creative mind. For most people, being creative means that a child is a good drawer of paintings or a good painter. But being a “creative thinker” and creating new things out of thought processes and ideas, is something different and I have trained myself a lot in this area over the years. In my earlier years, I have been very fortunate to work with some great teachers in the advertising world in the Netherlands. They were some of the greatest names, and I had the distinct honor to be able to work with them, and that was a great and awesome learning environment.
When I came back to Curaçao in 2008, I took notice that the advertising and communication services were not at a high level, when you compared this with the rest of the world. We were running 10 years behind compared with the rest of the world in the offering of creative communication services. This triggered me to start the Creative Lab. I was thinking that with my experience and the many stages in my career, I could easily coach some new start-ups and entrepreneurs in the creative industry. But it would be even better if you could bring them together, enabling cross pollination among each other.
In those days in Curaçao, we didn’t have a co-sharing or flex office, so I just invested in a beautiful monumental building and we started in Scharloo Abou, and not before long, we were sitting there with about 15 entrepreneurs, all in some way or the other involved and creatives, there were graphic designers, illustrators, web designers, app-designers, copywriters, people full time busy with the design of showcases. This initiative that I started very quickly attracted and brought a lot of people together. And because working together and stimulating one another, we started under the label of Creative Lab initiated creative projects, like a campaign to get attention for the social function of Innercity of Punda, with our project “Revive Gomezplein” and started a crowdfunding effort to collect funds to renovate Gomezplein. We didn’t collect enough money, but we did generate a lot of attention for Gomezplein with its central role in the Inner City of Willemstad and its central social function for the whole island. Because every society needs a central square having these functions. This also generated all sorts of activities in Punda for example Punda Vibes on every Thursday night. In these Covid times this has stopped of course, but we did create a lot of ripple effects with our initiative.
WOW! is my own company Marketing and Communication consultancy. Creative Lab was more like an “incubator” to bring people together and I facilitated this and WOW! is my company were I earn my living.
What is your BIG WHY or driving motivation to be whom you are right now?
Somebody once labeled me this, and by the way this word doesn’t exist in Dutch. He said: Gonneke, you are “verbeter-belust” (freely translated it means “Eager to improve”.
And I think this makes sense, because I always think that things can be better and be improved. Things don’t necessarily have to be bad or not right, but I have this tendency to ask: “How can we make things even better? Whom else can we make happy with this? Whom can benefit from this? Who’s lives can be improved by this?” I love this word ‘ verbeter-belust’ as it really describes who I am indeed and so I have to own up to it.
So this is your contribution to humanity?
Yes, I believe it is and it really feels great to be like this.
When do you consider that you have been successful in your personal and business/professional life, let us say 5 years from now?
At this moment, upon invitation from the Ministry of Economic Development, we are developing a national export strategy for the Creative Industry. The key assignment is to design a strategy to generate foreign exchange with our creative industry. This sector consists of a wide spectrum of goods and services, from the wooden painted artisans sold to tourists visiting our island, to technological web-designs and app-design, to mention two extremes on this spectrum. We need to develop a vision for the coming ten years. I would consider it to be amazing if within 5 years from now, Curaçao has become the creative industry hotspot in the whole Caribbean. It would be awesome to look back and see how we started small in Scharloo Abou with the Creative Lab and developed to become a mature Creative Industry. It would be awesome and I would love to have this put on my tombstone.
Some time ago, with the help of a European Fund, I have worked on the idea to export the Creative Lab concept to the rest of the Caribbean. We would have some sort of umbrella called Creative Lab Caribbean, enabling exchange of creative expertise between the Caribbean islands. In that vision, Curaçao would become the creative capitol of the Caribbean, where everything comes together. I have this idea that the Caribbean should be seen as the 8th continent of the world. Because we have so much shared history and have so many commonalities, we are all small islands economies, we also have the same type of challenges. If we could define ourselves as one area, that just has a lot of water between the islands, we could think totally different about this whole Caribbean area. I have been thinking about this for some time.
What are the challenges that you are dealing with? And how are you dealing with these different challenges you confront?
Access to finance is the biggest challenge for Curaçao’s progress. I firmly believe that innovation needs to be promoted not only from the government sector but also for the business sector. The whole business sector needs to support creativity and innovation wholeheartedly. Access to finance is so incredibly important. As long as our local banks keep thinking in boxes, we will not be able to solve the challenges we confront. In the boxes we will not find the solutions for our investment needs. If the local banks don’t change their way of working and don’t change their offering of funding, cryptocurrencies will prove to be the only solutions for our ambitious entrepreneurs.
How do you handle your challenges?
It is challenging, but we all ride the same boat. I have invested a lot of private capital, while business wise I should have had a more balanced financial structure in certain endeavors. But on the other hand, we can’t afford to be laggards with all these ambitions that we have for our island. We should have a ambitious long term business plan for Curaçao with a vision for 2050, that should be based on the principles of the Doughnut Economy. Based on that plan we should do what we really need to do to free ourselves from our dependency mindset and we should become a magnet for innovation, creativity and investments. I see this magnet as a irresistible pull for young, bright professional YdK and others, towards Curaçao.
Do you use your inner voice to evaluate when dilemma’s and creativity show up? How does that work for you?
Creativity has become my first nature. In the more than 24 years I have been working and playing in the creative sector and creative spectrum, my ambitions have always been very high. I simply can’t find the off-switch for creative thinking anymore. I meditate since the year 2000 to create some peace of mind in my head. My head is always very turned on. If I need a bright new idea for a client, I will do anything possible to figure it out. Usually it is simply a question of having enough me-time or alone-time to be able to fully concentrate myself. As time goes by I get an idea. With some I have this distinct feeling that I am 100 % sure that this is it, this is what I should do.
How do you tap into your creative source, do you have some kind of process that you follow? And can that process be thought to others?
I believe that creativity can be thought to others. Creativity is basically working. It is exactly what Einstein said: “Genius is 1 % creativity and 99 % hard work”. A former colleague of mine used to say that you need to train your creative muscles, it is something happening on an abstract level in your head, but to be creative you need a bundle of developed creative muscles. Creativity is always innovation, whether it is a new peace of music or a new advertisement campaign, I prefer talking about innovation instead of creativity.
How are you trying also to keep up with your personal knowledge and skills levels?
I read a lot. I read almost everything that comes my way. On my side of the dormitory I have books, magazines, folders, I read summaries from Blende like 12 titles a day. I can’t live without information. It the most fun thing to do according to me and it helps creating new things.
What are your strengths?
I am “verbeter-belust”;
I have an unlimited and uninhibited curiosity;
I have the ability to inspire other people;
I never say “no” to someone and will always look how to make the best out of the situation or the experiment at hand. This is so much more fun to me then walking on the roads most travelled.
Do you have hobbies or interests that you are also passionate about?
I love writing, I am writing a fictional book at this moment. I paint, but not often enough, and I love working in the garden.
If you as Gonneke would meet a stranger in the bus (let say in Columbia or the US) and they would ask you to introduce yourself what would you answer?
I am Gonneke and I am very curious about what you can tell me about the places in town that you would recommend me or bring me to visit.
How would you describe Gonneke in one word or one sentence?
“Verbeterbelust”, I am eternally grateful for the person that told me this as a way to describe whom I am.
Who are the persons that have inspired you the most in your career?
There are so many people, there is almost no one that I can mention that in the past 20 years, that didn’t inspire me.
One person I would also like to mention is Jeanett Visser. She is a remarkable person, because of the way she lives her live as an adult still being that small child that is so open to everything new and willing to experiment.
What is a trait that is still work in progress?
Maybe some structure. But then again, it is not per se something that I would like to have. Because being creative requires just letting go and being surprised where you end up, as you didn’t see it coming.
What was a defining moment in your life?
The day I was born, I was shocked to be reborn for the 11th time.
Where do you want to be 15 to 20 years from now with your career?
Oh my God, I should be retired by then, if I do my math on how old I would be then. That is, according to the existing norms. But you know, since I turned 28 years old, I have stayed 27 years old. That by the way was also a defining moment in my life.
In my head I still have this unlimited curiosity and ambition that I became aware of when I was 27 years old. I am still there, until this moment and to think other then this for me, it is too abstract. So, I just turned 27 for the 28th time!
I can’t imagine myself doing anything other than what I am doing right now.
What would you want your Loved Ones, family, friends and others to say about you let’s say 20 years from now?
Whootwhoot, finally she turned 28 years old, haha.
I hope my family feels that they are deeply loved by me and that they would express this. I am very found of my loved ones, and I count my best friends to be in that same category. I am blessed that I have a lot of friends living all over the world and it really touches me that they are willing to receive my love and receive so much love from them. This is the most precious thing there is in my life.
We have always known you to be optimistic about the future of Curaçao. Why is that? Or 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?
As long as I have lived on Curaçao and known Curaçao, we are in some kind of crisis, be it politically, socially, financially, oil crises, our the world Covid crises, you name it. There is no other nation in the world that is so resilient, what ever happens, we just seem to keep going. This makes me optimistic for Curaçao. If we could manage to have this one clear direction or vision where we all want to go, where everybody walks in that same direction, we would generate so much energy that from that energy, our weak spots in our society would lose their breeding ground. We would be free from corruption, social injustice and we would align with the principles of the doughnut economy. This is, based on the premise, that if your inner world is good and in order, to create a fair new society on the island.
Well I have been thinking on what you are doing, that is interviewing lots of influencers and in that process satisfying your curiosity to find an answer to the question of what makes other people thick. I was wondering how that we can stretch this initiative and make it more broader and step it up.
Well the intention is to keep doing what we are doing now and as we move on, the right structure and the resources to make it easier for people to connect, align and collaborate to create impactful changes in all walks of life in Curaçao, will become clearer.
We have a Ripple effect in mind and the metaphor of the Chinese bamboo. This bamboo tree takes 4 years to build and expand their roots to be able to carry the giant bamboos, as in the 5th year they grow in 7 weeks and become as high as a three-story building. The roots should be strong enough to carry the weight of those giant bamboos. So we believe that by being consistent in our efforts, we will be able to scale up and streamline this platform within soon.
One of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao
Gonneke van den Kieboom is a visionary, ambitious, energetic, entrepreneur in advertising, marketing and communication, that is always looking to make things better (she is “verbeter-belust”;). Having worked with the best advertising and marketing experts in the Netherlands for years, made her evolve from copywriter to an experienced brand and communication strategist in the Netherlands. Helping organizations from a marketing perspective to look at their future that they are able to create, based on the type of relationships the organization wants to create with its clients, has become her unique selling point.
As the founder of the Creative Lab in 2010 she created the first co-sharing and flex office space in Curaçao, using her vast experience to coach and enable collaborations among different creatives. Her active involvement in the creative economy goes further than that, as she is helping the Ministry of Economic Development to formulate a vision for the creative industry for the coming 5-10 years, transforming this into a foreign exchange generating sector. In Gonneke’s vision, Curaçao should evolve and become a magnet for the Caribbean in terms of innovation, creativity and investment. But in the end all these ambitions go hand in hand with the important role her loved ones play in her life, which include her family of friends, as she considers them to be the most precious thing in her life. For all these reasons we dearly love and deeply respect Gonneke van den Kieboom and we consider her one of the 250 Influencers of the island representing the business sector (Creative Sector).