Influencer Guido Rojer
Interview January 2020
Could you share with us some information of your family life?
I have 4 half siblings: 3 sisters, 1 brother and my parents were very supportive in whom I have become right now. Both supported me in different ways, my mother taught me “structure” and my father was the “push factor”.
Could you share with us some of your educational background and past professional experiences, as you seem to be a busy person?
I have a both a Masters in Public Policy and a Master in International Business from Maastricht University after my Bachelors degree at UoC. I am currently working on my PhD thesis on “entrepreneurship” at the “UNED Madrid”. Entrepreneurship is my passion, although as I am working on my PhD, I am a scholar, an academic, but I am more into application, you will find me often doing lots of projects, gaining insights by just doing.
You seem to be very passionate about innovation, where does this come from?
I was always been interested in novelty, but couldn’t label my interest until one day in Maastricht it all made sense: “Innovation”. I was always interested in new developments and finally got it, especially the economic impact of “Intellectual Property Rights” of innovations. In Curaçao, we have a very favorable regime for Intellectual Property Rigths and as I was born here, the monopolistic competitive advantage that it offers fascinated me. I wanted to be part of this and I wish I had access to the knowledge, at a much younger age. If I had known this when I was 12 years old, I could have saved 9 years of exploring all kinds of other things that I have studied. I would have been more focused on what I really wanted to study. As Curaçao is becoming a member of the WTO, this subject matter “Intellectual Property Rights” is one of the “hot topics” that will be discussed and negotiated in WTO. I am aware of the downsides of “intellectual Property Rights”, like there are some ethical issues involved in for example the pharmaceutical industry their one-sided focus and tendency on profits only, but there are so many upsides to it. I have had a Roman Catholic upbringing and was taught their values. So I was raised to be considerate towards my fellow human beings. If they suffer, I also suffer. And this always guides my motives and actions.
I heard of you from Cherelle Maduro and Raisha Williams that you are an entrepreneur and scholar/scientist and an JCI member involved in leadership development representing an upcoming generation. What are your goals?
Yes, I am all of that. I really believe in “Innovation” If Estonia was able to invent “Skype”, we are able to also contribute if we invest in the education of our youth.
My personal goal is to inform and inspire people at the earliest possible age, so that they can make the best possible decision regarding their future.
How far are you in achieving this goal?
I am satisfied with the results up to now. I have partially achieved this goal, as I have enabled over 100 students in the best of possible ways, to become the best that they can be, preparing them for their next steps in their life. I have collaborated from the UoC, with Fundashon Negoshi Pikiña, Innovatie Centrum and with the Ministry of Economic Affairs. Nowadays I am more focused on my research for my PhD thesis, where my intention is to be able to offer future students an even more advanced level of education and preparation. During these years we prepared 50 on a Bachelors level and 70 with a Master degree.
We live on an island where the systems, structures and mindsets of people are not favorable to have lots of people involved into innovation and entrepreneurship, though. Our colonial past wasn’t very helpful in that sense. It conditioned our mindsets to be disempowered and averting risks. Lots of people are focused on finding a job, come in an comfort zone and stay there and are not focused on displaying their entrepreneurial skills. The just apply to get a job, get a mortgage, and as you level out quickly in terms of career possibilities for example if you are in the government, all of this, stifles the incentives of those who could have start their own company and/or invent something new.
Another example of how this works is those working in the layers just below the top level off the management in Curaçao have abilities and talent and I have experienced that, for example they use it to negotiate lower prices of local entrepreneurs etc..etc… So we are waisting so much potential.
But the world has changed, nowadays finding a job in the refinery sector, financial sector or government isn’t as easy as it was 40 to 30 years ago. As a graduate with a degree, you can still opt out and go and work in Holland, but I believe that we can make better use of our potentials. The circumstances as they are now on the island, increase the probability for qualified and pro-active people to start their own business, even though the incentive are not in place. I firmly believe that we need to focus on selling goods and services to foreign markets. I have sold boxes of “Alcolada Glacial” in the past to an African market 18 times the local price here.
In my mothers “era” reading the local newspaper was enough (maybe) to know what was happening in the world, but nowadays doing that means that you are living in the Jurassic “era”. Why did Singapore and Hong Kong advanced so quickly? There are not more intelligent people compared to us, but they have a different mindset. I am focused to change mindsets of the students that I teach. My colleagues and I remember having a different outlook on students from the International School. They seemed like they could do everything, and it came off as arrogant. But now I realize, that the philosophy is to have a totally different mindset. A student would learn to dream big and be confident that if you try hard enough and if you are consistent, achieving your dreams is possible. Most of our education is totally contrary to that mindset.
“Innovation is also about our mindset”.
I was in the board of a local Credit Union and I stepped down after two terms still unable to convince the “sosio’s” to focus on the future instead of the end of the year dividends of Ang 300,-. With a vision aimed at the long term, we have it within our reach with such a corporation, to be a big dominant party in our economy and offer members ultimately much higher returns on their investment. Cooperatives are major players in Costa Rica, Mexico even in Holland. Basically, we need to learn to collaborate more in Curaçao. In fact the only well-organized organizations are labor unions and the association of Medical Specialists, to what use? I leave that up to you to decide. I’m often times asked why I do not join Politics. I always decline citing that my impact would be 100 times bigger if I would be able to educate our future generations with what it takes to be pro-active, entrepreneurial and innovative, compared to being a member of parliament or a Minister.
We have interviewed CEO’s of IBIS and Profound Projects. Both mainly focus on foreign markets. Are they part of your studies? We have also interviewed Raisha Wiliams.
Well, I started studying companies in the Caribbean region because of the accessibility of their numbers via their financial accounts. Whom they were, what their educational background was and why they were growing. I once visited an incubator abroad, a few days later news broke out that Mark Zuckerberg was there. This was evidence for me that I am in the right mindset, proof that I was on to something. My analyses all of a sudden started to make so much sense. I then could see in my mind’s eye “Intellectual Property Rigths” as an instrument for people from Curaçao to create wealth, meaning inventing something, having 20 years of legal protection making it possible to create surpluses and savings, yes I became very enthusiastic about this.
I commend IBIS for being so open for “Innovation” as a locally based company, as they are starting a new company offering “Blockchain”. I also commend Raisha Williams “RW Rental” who is an artist playing music in a band, does acting, plays sports and is an owner of different companies at the age of only 24. We have immense talent on this island. So they’re positive exceptions as an entrepreneur, and my goal is to contribute in enabling more of these entrepreneurs and companies.
What is your business goal?
Not so long ago I wanted to become a millionaire. Nowadays, I want to be happy. I want to be engaged with the world. My goal before I turned 30 years old was:”To have visited at least 50 countries”. I visited 55 before I turned 30 and I have visited 67 countries up to now and I am 32 years old. I want to learn and maybe some day get engaged in one of those markets. And every company in Curaçao has the ability to emulate IBIS as long as they can figure out where and what. Our ambition levels need to be much higher. Hopefully the mission of our Ministry of Economic Development to Guyana opens the door for more business, and I hope they continue with this forward-thinking. Holland is not the world.
Are you a curious person?
Yes, I am very curious. Every night I have a problem falling a sleep, as I engage in reading and end up watching clips like “Why do giraffes have a black tongue”. Before you know it its 2am, but I have to satisfy my curiosity.
You are the local liaison of Caraf (Caribbean Research Acquisition Fund) could you tell us more about Caraf?
Yes I am and I see this connection with Caraf as an opportunity. It was received at first with some skepticism, but I have learned from my previous experiences and was able to turn the opinion 180 degrees. This an opportunity to do research in all of the Dutch Caribbean islands, with funds that will be sought after. Furthermore, if you have a scientist from local descent he or she will probably be more deeply involved in the mission than we as scientists that live on the island, want to accomplish. I will probably not ever win a Nobel prize, but through our connections I will increase the probability that some scientist from local descent will one day win a Nobel price in whatever area. The island of Saint Lucia has 2!
So I have to politely disagree with a former prime-minister to ask our professionals to come back and work and live in Curaçao on a visit New York. In this modern world, Islands such as ours can benefit immensely from our diaspora.
So for example if the NWO (Nederlands Wetenschappelijk Onderzoeks-Instituut) sets out a “Research Call for bidding”, those researchers from Curaçao descent can apply. I have understood that three ex-alumini of UoC, all with their PhD, are going to do just that, as NWO has over 7.0 million Euro available for subjects in the social sciences related to this region. They don’t have to live on the island and if they succeed this would be great. It is an example of living in two worlds.
Another example of how this works, Suzy Delvalle that lives in New York, is the director of a renowned Art focused financial institute. One day some friends of hers wanted to visit Curaçao and they asked her what they could do in Curaçao during their vacation. Well she has created a now very popular list, that a number of people visiting the island continue to request, as they are planning to visit the island.
Another example, this one is just an idea, why not create a development fund funded by those successful professional baseball players from Curaçaoan descent investing in projects in Curaçao. These projects should of course offer them a good return of Investment. Lionel Messi is selling wine from Argentina with his label. There are already music bands that enjoy of investments from one of our Baseball players: Lets do more!
I hear you talking and your mindset is about “we” and not so much “me”. Where did that come from?
My grandmother, she taught me to take care of my own. And Father Amado Romer, taught me to take care of other people.
You are a co-author of the book Contemporary Curaçao, could you expand on this?
This started when we hosted a conference of the Caribbean Studies Association in 2011 and this was the first time we had a conference predominantly in English in Curaçao. It became totally clear how shortsighted we were in publishing only in Dutch. I became part of a group that wanted to work on the collection and publishing of articles in English to ultimately be able to share these articles with the rest of the world. For example, if someone living in Vietnam wants to take notice of what I have published on Curaçao, it should be possible. They should take notice that we are an island in the Caribbean with Dutch links, however that Dutch is not our limit.
What does success means to you personally?
Coincidentally, I have been questioning this a lot lately. A lot of your success you are not even aware of. It is only when someone casually reminds me of what I have said before in the past, and how it has influenced them, that I think: Wow! And I have been saying those things so effortless and this, yes this is so much better than 100 million USD. That is success to me.
What is your BIG WHY or driving motivation to be whom you are right now?
To the young people around me, like my younger cousins about 10 of them, the oldest is btw 19 years, consciously or unconsciously I am a role model for them and by extension my students. They must see my good sides and my slippages, which are definitely more than the triumphant moments.
What are the challenges that you are dealing with? And how are you dealing with these different challenges you confront?
I want to be a Professor in Innovation before I am 40 years old. To become a Professor, I need to invest a lot of time in studying “Behavorial Change” in the coming 5 to 7 years and publish lots of articles and books. That is the challenge. As I want to become a professor, I will just have to do it.
Do you use your inner voice to evaluate when dilemma’s show up?
Yes totally, I would call it my gut feeling.
How does it work for you?
Somethings just feel right, even if it means certain disadvantages for myself or something I am part of.
And if you don’t follow it, what happens then?
Well at least you tried. I feel better knowing that something didn’t work than be left wondering what if.
How are you trying also to keep up with your personal knowledge and skills levels?
I read as much as I can, leading at times to an information overload I would say. I know a lot of people don’t see me as a reader, but thats literally what keeps me up at night.
What are your strengths?
I can be very convincing and explain things very well;
I have been told that I seem trustworthy, I transmit this apparently;
Above all I trust myself, maybe this is the biggest strengths I have.
I like to add something? You are very passionate in what you believe in and you create big ways.
Yes, I agree with you. I have given up a job at an internationally renowned company, to come to live in Curaçao. Why? I wanted to be around my grandfather and grandmother during the last years of their life.
I could have been a millionaire by now, but I decided differently and I am happy as I am now. Life in Curaçao is wonderful.
What is a trait that is “work in progress” for you and that you really want to improve?
“Information overload”, I am trying to see the red line in the things I read, so this can guide me, instead of getting carried away in all the information that is available.
Do you have hobbies or interests that you are also passionate about?
Traveling, as this is also a method I use for my work as a scientist. I believe that to see is to believe. I have found a group of friends that have the same interest and the experience has been very rewarding.
If you as Guido would meet a stranger in the bus (let say in Holland or the US) and they would ask you to introduce yourself what would you answer?
I am an Islander, and that island is CURAÇAO.
How would you describe Guido in one word or one sentence?
A tough act to follow.
Whom are the persons that have inspired you the most in your career?
Father Amado Romer. Because of his vision to see every human as being equal, without any ranks and hierarchy; Maria Liberia Peters. Because she was the longest serving prime minister, holding the fort I would say; Celia Cruz is one of them. She used to in her era go completely against the grain, she was different.
What was a defining moment in your life?
It happened in Maastricht on February 2010. Choosing to return to the island was one of the best choices I made in my life.
Where do you want to be 20 years from now with your career?
Professor in Innovation especially regarding Small Island Development States.
What would you want your Loved Ones, family, friends and others to say about you let’s say 20 years from now?
We can count on him. He is dependable
What makes you stay optimistic about the future of Curaçao?
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
This was quite a revealing interview for myself, because of the tough questions you asked, they made me self-reflect a lot.
One of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao
Guido Rojer is a scientist and educator with a passion for innovation and entrepreneurship, whom deliberately decided to come to live and work in Curaçao. A limitless curiosity drives him to read a lot, connect with other scientists for example via CARAF (Caribbean Research Acquisition Fund) and to travel and see as much countries as he can, all to experience and learn new things. With his knowledge as an educator, he focuses on enabling as much youth and entrepreneurs as he can, because educated Youth and innovative and creative entrepreneurs drive the changes that we need in our country and in the world. In that sense we appreciate Guido for the work he is doing and definitely consider him to be one of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao. Being the local representative of CARAF he is also a liaison for connecting with scientists in Holland from Dutch Caribbean descent and in that sense fits 100 % with the goal of the Share2Uplift movement to connect, align and create impactful changes in all walks of life in Curaçao.