Influencer Jurenne Hooi: strong, accessible and humble

Interview February 2022

Jurenne Hooi – photographer Omri

Could you share with us some information about your family life?  
I was born in Curaçao, in the bario Buena Vista, out of a family of 7 children, 2 boys, and 4 girls. I was the 6th child. Both my parents, who are 93 years old and still alive, were very important to who I have become. My father was a Police officer and my mother was a very entrepreneurial woman that had a lot of humor. My father was very supportive of who I and my other siblings have become. My father never missed a parent evening of any of his children. My father taught us that “knowledge is power”, so all my siblings have studied and have come far. I am not married and I don’t have children.

Could you share something about your educational background and your experience?
I went to the Jeanne d’Arc college (primary school), Peter Stuyvesant College (secondary school), went on to the Netherlands to study at the University of Maastricht (Master’s Degree), and did a P.H.D. on heart and cardiovascular diseases. I did a lot of clinical epidemiology research and here my love for epidemiology started. My internship, I did in Curaçao and Izzy Gerstenbluth and Ben Whiteman were my mentors.
After my P.H.D., I helped to develop standards for surgeons. After that, I became the regional Health manager at GGD- Amsterdam and ended up becoming the CEO of an organization dealing with poverty reduction and debt relief in Amsterdam and the municipal Diemen.
In 2018 I wanted something new. I became an independent advisor on poverty and debt relief  and professional commissioner and also teaching governance. This, I am now combining as a keynote speaker on poverty reduction, debt relief and inclusion. I am also a member of myriad advisory councils. I am also a writer, I am now finalizing the manuscript of a new book. 

We know you to be very active in debt relief efforts for those in need. Can you expand a little on this and how are you involved in this kind of work these days?
Well, I have people asking me why I am involved with poverty reduction and debt relief after a health scientific career. These are the flipsides of the same coin, I will answer them. People that live in poverty are the biggest users of our health systems, and because of my scientific background, I could see the inter-relationships and links.
60 % of the debt that my clients had, were debts on taxes and social premiums.  And according to me, the Tax Department and Social Services Organizations are often on of the reasons why these clients have so many debt problems. As my father has seen the raw parts of poverty, working as a police officer and he has a big social heart, I stepped into his shoes. I have seen the raw parts of poverty also and the income inequalities in our societies, also in Curaçao. I am now an independent advisor on poverty reduction / debt relief and offer also keynote presentations on this theme. I am involved in projects like offering youth with an underprivileged background, chances to follow an IT course for 3 months with a job guarantee.  I don’t want to see them as victims, but by working like this in a positive matter, I give my contribution to the solutions of these challenges.

Jurenne Hooi-Photographer Anette Brolenius

As I googled you I saw that as an opinionate woman you also address racial discrimination in Holland. Can you tell us something about this topic, is there more understanding for the need to address this subject matter? And what more should be done in your opinion?
As I already mentioned, I am a professional full-time commissioner. During the time George Floyd was killed in the USA, in the Netherlands there were also a lot of social upheavals related to racism that also exists in the Netherlands. I submitted an article directed to Prime Minister Rutte in “De Parool”. This was based on a statement he made years ago, where he said: “There is no racism in the Netherlands and that one needs to fight its way up in the system to get higher up”. This triggered me to write this article.

I am a living example of someone who had fought her way up through the ranks, to get to the place I am right now. I am on the supervisory board of “Cordaan” for instance where there are 3500 employees offering home care, care for people with a handicap, offering nursing homes, to mention a few. Furthermore, I am the chairperson of the board of Amsterdam Museum.

“I am a living example of someone who had fought her way up through the ranks, to get to the place I am right now.”

I consider myself very successful. But it didn’t come easy. I had to fight my way to the top and I experienced and could see the “weave mistakes” in the system. If you are colored you start by being 3 – 0 behind in the score and as you start your life and career you will meet numerous other obstacles. That is the problem.

For myself fighting my way up as a black woman has resulted in me getting the best out of myself as I continue to get the best out of myself. I don’t take “no” for an answer if I am convinced that I can do an assignment. I don’t accept people telling me that the challenge doesn’t fit me or we don’t think you can do this assignment/job. I would work 24/7 to succeed and looking back in hindsight I have proven to myself that I can. If needed I would take some me-time and meditate on the task at hand and do it. I am all into making use of all my potentials and abilities, as long as the work I am doing, is something that I love doing. If the task at hand resonates with my inner compass, I can move mountains. There is another external goal that I want to achieve. I want to be “a role model” for all the colored girls in Curaçao and open their minds to a much broader world and mindset, that they also can achieve so much more in their lives.

” I want to be ‘a role model’ for all the colored girls in Curaçao and open their minds to a much broader world and mindset, that they also can achieve so much more in their lives.”

Based on your big social heart and drive to eliminate inequality in society, how do you use the positions that you have acquired in the Netherlands to eliminate in-equalities in society?
I am coaching and mentoring young colored women and men that are interested in a board room career. I consider it my duty to help these next generations to get to positions so that they in their turn, can help create systemic changes.
There are three things I use to ultimately decide to get involved in a certain venture or not.

  1. Do I get paid?
  2. Does the subject matter interest me?
  3. Is there an interesting team to work with? If two of the three criteria met, I will get involved.

Like I coach completely for free promising colored women and men.
I firmly believe that diversity in the board room of organizations is better for the organization as you can look at issues from multiple diverse perspectives as this benefits the vision, mission, and goals of the organization.

Is there a positive change underway in the Netherlands regarding racial and social inequalities?
Yes, I believe it to be true. I have noticed that there is a positive change underway in the Netherlands in dealing with racial and social inequality compared with some years ago. The discussions on the “Gouden Koets” with racial paintings on the side of the “Koets” has contributed to the decision of King Willem Alexander, not to use it for the moment.

The Golden Coach-De Gouden Koets Amsterdam Museum | Picture: Jan-Kees Steenman
King Willem Alexander at the opening of the exhibition The Golden Coach-De Gouden Koets – Picture: Amsterdam Museum | Jan-Kees Steenman

The apologies for the slavery past from Holland, offered by the mayor of the municipality of Amsterdam and Rotterdam are signs of a willingness to look at a very delicate chapter in the history of the Netherlands, that hopefully will lead to more equality and tolerance in the society overall. I believe that the Netherlands is moving forward, maybe quicker than Curaçao itself in terms of collective consciousness. I believe that we have to work on educating the people of Curaçao via nation-building on questions like where do we come from? Where do you want to go next? I have experienced in my development that if you know where you come from, you know why you “tics” like your heart “tics” now, it becomes a solid foundation for the answer to where do you want to go next.

What is your BIG WHY or driving motivation to be who you are right now?
My Big Why is to keep doing that what makes my heart beat more passionately. I am not doing my work only for the money, that is not the most important thing, I strive for. If you follow your heart, your Inner Compass, the money will follow automatically.

“As you travel on your path, you will experience that things go more smoothly and you encounter valuable lessons to learn about yourself.”

What are your plans for the coming years personally and professional life, let us say 5 years from now? 
To stay on my path and to keep getting the best out of myself. To become even closer to what I came on this earth to do is my path. As you travel on your path you will experience that things go more smoothly and you encounter valuable lessons to learn about yourself.

What are the challenges that you are dealing with? And how are you dealing with these different challenges you confront?
To stay on top of my game in the context of a black woman at the top. This requires a lot of energy and at times it can be a challenge. But then the moment I feel the challenge, I take a time out and go into meditation, to get back at my core self. I know now that challenges are here to make you grow and after you have learned the lesson you gain a new sense of inner peace and balance.

If I get into some kind of turbulence, I will do my utmost to be my best self and get the most out of myself. By handling with integrity and being intentional, I have come to learn that as long as my intentions are pure, I know even when I bump into obstacles, what I need manifests itself.

Most of us are unclear on what our intentions are, like doing something only for the status, not because we want offer something valuable and meaningful, it is more for the outside world. Why do I do it? Every time I need to make a decision, I ask myself: What is my intention? What do I want to achieve?
That is how I work. 

Do you use your inner voice to evaluate when dilemmas show up? How does that work for you?
I use my inner voice all the time. It is important to discern what is your Inner Voice and what is not. It implies also being critical towards oneself. For example, some general practitioners can sense when they meet a patient for consultation that there is something not quite right. Like sensing that some women can have heart issues, which sometimes with women is difficult to diagnose. I believe that these general practitioners have a good developed sense when something does not feel right with their patients and the use this intuitive power. For myself, my inner voice is my pure Inner Self, that is my Inner Wealth.

How are you trying also to keep up with your knowledge and skills levels?
As a supervisory board member in different organizations and also a teacher in governance, I have to stay up to date and follow the developments by reading, attending seminars and conventions. If I go to a meeting I read all the documents including the financial reports made by accountants and their recommendations, just to have a sense of things even if it isn’t necessary my core area of expertise in that board. I always make sure that I keep myself up to date on all the developments in the fields I work in. This is also the case for the other area’s that I work in.

What are your strengths?
I am:

  • a conceptually strong thinker
  • analytically sharp;
  • authentic, that is what I hear other people saying when they talk about me;
  • humoristic, just like my mother, this is needed to keep things in pespective and not take oneself seriously all the time;
  • a servant leader;
  • sharing my knowledge and skills especially with colored people;
  • flamboyant and enthusiastic, not to be confused as an emotional woman, as some would like to frame women often. I am passionate about everything I do.

Do you have hobbies or interests that you are also passionate about?

  • I read a lot and I can be razor-sharp in discussions, with the sole goal to be able to form myself a balanced opinion on subject matters, that is why I decided to do my Ph.D. in the first place;
  • I am passionate about my spiritual path;
  • I love playing the saxophone, although I have to confess, I am not spending sufficient time practicing on it, I have decided to, within short, focus on practicing more on it again;
  • I am an advocate of a society where everybody has equal changes, be it in the Netherlands and Curaçao and the other islands in the Dutch Caribbean. It shouldn’t be like that that if you are born from parents in Soto, you don’t have the same changes compared to being born from parents that have a good social-economic position. I am very passionate about equal opportunities for every child, no matter where you were born.

If you as Jurenne would meet a stranger on the bus (let’s say in New York or Bogota Columbia) and they would ask you to introduce yourself, what would you answer? How would you describeJurenne in one word or one sentence?
A very strong, empowered, and outspoken woman, but still very accessible and humble.

Jurenne Hooi and Stedman Graham. Photographer: Sabrina Vivian Beuning

Who are the persons that have inspired you the most in your life/career?
My parents there is where it all started. Ien Dales, a former Minister, I listened to a keynote presentation she once gave. Serena Williams as to make it and stay at the top for such a long time in the tennis world you need to have exceptional resilience and in Curaçao two of my former female teachers. Furthermore, the usual suspects like Martin Luther King, Angela Davies, the Obama’s, I have read their books, and Sister Jayanti from Brahma Kumaris. And all those who selflessly gave back to their societies in hope for a better future for their people.

Sister Jayanti of Brahma Kumaris. Photographer: Sabrina Vivian Beuning

What is a trait that is still a work in progress?
Patience. Also being satisfied and settled for a 7,5 as my grade. It doesn’t need to be a 10. I am very a conscientious person, kind of a perfectionist. So this is a challenge for me.

What was a defining moment in your life?

  • A pivotal moment was when I met Sister Jayanti of Brahma Kumaris, which was pivotal in my spiritual development;
  • The moment I came to the Netherlands and started living on my own while starting my studies;
  • After finalizing my Ph.D. in Maastricht I decided to break up with my husband at that time and decided to leave Maastricht following my heart. During my Ph.D. I was all into that, but when I finalized it, it suddenly hit me. I realized that I needed to do something different. I needed to be strong, I was longing for a new path, to walk on a road I never traveled. It wasn’t easy at all but it has helped me become the person I am today. I was highly educated, we were living in a nice house, we had status, I had a very good income, but my soul couldn’t bear to continue to live like I was living. I needed to take another step in my life, it was almost like a calling I could not ignore. I knew that following my Inner Compass, it might have material consequences initially, but ultimately it would work out fine materially, and that is exactly had happened.
  • The moment I decided to leave my last job as the CEO of a big institution. My gut, the Inner Voice in me told me that it was time for a new change. My heart after 12 years wasn’t as enthusiastically beating as it used to, so I decided to take a leap of faith and I became an independent consultant and a full-time supervisory board member.

What would you want your Loved Ones, family, friends, and others to say about you let’s say 20 years from now?
She could be fierce but always wholeheartedly involved with the tasks and work at hand and she had a good heart.

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?
The creative intelligence that lots of people living in Curaçao have, the resilience of the people and the island, like for example the way Curaçao has dealt with the Covid pandemic gained my deep respect and appreciation when compared with the way it was handled in the Netherlands and other countries.
I believe that Curaçao needs to unleash its potential. The economy is like a computer and the people are the software. If you don’t have software installed on the computer or the software is dysfunctional the computer will not function well. We need more nation-building so that ultimately we can have a mindset of what can I do for the island instead of what can the island do for me.  

More info or connect
Jurenne Hooi on LinkedIn

One of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao

Jurenne Hooi is a strong, opinionated, empowered, accessible, humble, multi-faceted, spiritually driven, passionate, professional commissioner, key-note speaker, independent advisor, with a big social heart and who is passionate about erasing racial and social equality. Making use of all her vast talents, abilities, and her spirituality, she is constantly working to become the best version of herself, living her purpose, while enabling others to do the same. Two things stand out of Jurenne: her willingness to share her vast knowledge, skills, and networks to advise organizations and people in Curaçao who are willingly accepting this; secondly coaching completely for free, the next generation of colored women and men that want a board room career. When this happens, they in their turn can bring about much-needed systemic changes to enable more equality in our societies. All this makes her an exceptional person, who shares wholeheartedly. For all this, we deeply love and respect Jurenne, and we consider her one of the 250 influencers of the islands representing the business and “coaching” – sector. Look at the list of the Influencers we have interviewed or reported on, up to now.

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