Influencer Manfred van Veghel
Interview May 2023
Could you share with us some information about your family life?
I was born in Schijndel, Noord-Brabant, The Netherlands and have a younger brother. My fathers family lived close to the railroad that led to London – Berlin – St. Petersburg. During the 2nd world War, Schijndel was part of a war scene and the place was surrounded for 6 weeks as the Allied Forces wanted to capture this site and Germans wanted to prevent this from happening at all costs. So my father and some other family members went into hiding in different farms and the rest of the family didn’t know about their whereabouts, not even if everyone was still alive. They all survived and the upside was that I grew up in a warm and loving home, where we as extended family were always willing to help one another and always celebrated and attended each other’s birthdays etc. It was great growing up in such a family surrounding. My mother’s father died at a young age and my mother was forced to work at a very young age as her earnings were needed to help feed the rest of the family, so although they had enough to eat, she grew up in a family with limited resources. I was my grandparent’s oldest grandchild and this allowed me to explore and discover a lot. At school, at primary and secondary school I was an average student, but I ended up graduating from the University as the first one in my family and got my Ph.D. as the first one in the family.
Are you married and do you have children?
I met my wife Ilinka, who is from Curaçao, literally at the copy machine at Carmabi as I came to Curaçao to work on my Ph.D. thesis. She was in charge of the Christoffelpark communication and preparing an open day. We fell in love, married, and have three children of which two are twins. All were born in Curaçao. After my Ph.D. in 1994, at age 29, we stayed on Curaçao and I became a biology teacher at Radulphus College, which was inspirational because of my scientific background, but also a lot of fun. Our children are already out of the house, our first grandchild was born last year, he is the son of our oldest son who is a truckdriver living and working in Almere. We have a daughter who studied Psychology and lives and works in Rotterdam, and her twin sister is working on her PHD-thesis: “The life cycle analysis of food in Aruba”; where does the food in Aruba come from and where does it stay?
Could you tell us something about your educational background and experiences?
I needed a pedagogical certificate to be able to teach, which required me to teach 50 teaching hours and I was already giving 28 hours a week, so I asked a colleague if I could teach his classes but after 3 classes, this colleague got bored of standing at the sideline and told me that he couldn’t teach me anything else. So those in charge of the pedagogical certificate program agreed that instead of completing the remaining classes, I would write a paper based on advanced teaching strategies that I was allowed to work on at the International School Curaçao. This fitted perfectly with my innate curiosity and turned out to be an excellent alternative, as by doing that I suddenly became an ‘expert’ in a way. Half a year after I finalized this paper I gave a conference for the teachers at Radulphus on new pedagogical and didactical elements in teaching and this became my task, offering other teachers this new knowledge and skills training and this ended up in more follow-up conferences. The students also loved it as it required them to work in groups, which was a much more interesting way to learn, as students also wanted to be challenged. From here on I got involved in developing a curriculum for the subject matter science and got connected to the world of consultancy that was involved in a big project involving 1000 teachers being offered 10 days each. This lead me to consider making this type of work my job. So I left teaching at Radulphus and became a consultant, expanding my services related to my background, offering services related to “Agenda 21” on the sustainable use of goods which evolved to now the SDG. As our children grew up and arrived at the primary school level, we decided to go back to Holland.
I started to work at ABN Amro as a project leader and ended up as the program manager of ABN Amro Foundation, which was financing projects, containing corporate volunteering, and entrepreneurship and aimed at eliminating poverty as part of the millennium development goals. The portfolio we created contained 94 projects in 25 countries but stopped after the takeover of ABN Amro. At this new crossroads, I started to prepare myself to come back to Curaçao, and after weighing my options chose Oppidum to prepare for the return to Curaçao. They were involved in innovative projects and as a partner I got involved just before the banking crisis, in a big IT project at ING where I stayed for 3,5 years, basically something I had done before at ABN Amro. Afterward, I was involved in a lot of projects in Brussels and The Hague, also in Scrum and DevOps implementations project management training and became an Agile Coach. One of the last projects before coming back to Curaçao in 2017, was at the HR of ING in Holland an agile transition of 400 employees. My first project back in Curaçao was at Aqualectra and after that, Gilbert Martina asked me to help out in HNO (now CMC), which I did and this was under high time pressure. We were fortunate that this work was done before the Covid pandemic affected the world and also Curaçao. I also helped with a project in Sint Martin and I am now involved in a project related to Klein Curaçao.
In 2018 former Minister of GMN Suzy Römer, requested via Holland a so-called Ramsar wetland status for Klein Curaçao. To honor this convention, the island needs to be managed for nature conservation. To implement this a consortium was formed at the end of last year (in 2022) consisting of 7 parties that are now working together and we are working on a plan to manage, investigate and monitor Klein Curaçao.
As the director of Ecosense, you are involved now in Regenerative Leadership. What does it mean and how did you end up being involved in this as you are originally a marine biologist?
I got involved in Regenerative Leadership as I am always looking for new trends in training, as a trainer. So I have had a whole career since Radulphus in experimenting and teaching others. I offer some 15 to 25 best practices, that one can certify, including some for the educational sector and some new best practices I developed as one of the first in the world. So as I was once participating in an EU proposal related to eduScrum, someone from Portugal remarked that what I was explaining was called Regenerative Leadership. Meaning explaining how we human beings function in harmony with Nature. How we can learn from the evolution of natural systems and how we can translate this in organizations. It entails using the right and left brain as we all know that decisions are taken based on our emotions, the masculine and feminine characteristics we have, and our inner side compared to our outer appearances. I have published some articles in Antilliaans Dagblad (AD) of late and there are some more to come. This approach is contrary to the approach where we as Human Beings try to dominate Nature. In this network, you can meet famous experts on agility and leadership, and I started following a year-long course in January this year where we meet every month online offered by Laura Storm from Portugal. They also have home circles and sessions where you can meet guest speakers, and this is my way to connect with the greats of the world in this field. In AD I am explaining in 12 or more articles how this can be applied in Curaçao. The major threats for us human beings come from nature now, because human beings have changed nature causing climate change for instance. This brought us into the era that is called Anthropogenic, meaning environmental changes caused by human activity. This is contrary to the holocene era where there was almost no climate change. Our generation has become aware of this phenomenon but we are still emitting CO2 into the atmosphere. The question is how shall our children and grandchildren judge us? Didn’t we do enough to offer them a quality of life that is at least as good as we have experienced or did we do everything in our ability to correct these detrimental actions towards our Nature?
I am a grandfather now and this question is on my mind these days. What will be my legacy?
What is your BIG WHY or driving motivation to be who you are right now? And why is it that you want to find ways and means to contribute?
I have often asked myself, why are we as human beings destroying our living environments? Why not turn things around? In Curaçao, what can I do to leave nature as it is?
On a small island, it is impossible to do everything, but we can play a role in experimenting with specific elements. We have within 30 minutes walking 5 different ecosystems next to one another, which is unique. We have mangrove forests, saliñas, seagrasses, beaches, and semi-arid tropical forests close to each other. We can become a showcase to the world on how to reverse the trend.
For example on Klein Curaçao we used to have a lot of birds, over 100.000 birds were hatching their eggs. These birds when they started flying would darken the whole sky, so many birds were there. Human beings used to come to the island and throw the eggs in the sea to return the next day and pick up all the fresh eggs. They repeated this until the whole population of birds just disappeared in the end. The same is true for the Caribbean monk seal, which was last seen at Klein Curaçao in 1613 and it is now considered extinct as they are not spotted anymore. I believe that we can regenerate this by using the northern part of Klein Curaçao as a protected area and leave the rest of the island open for sustainable tourism exploitation. A combination is possible.
I am curious and I am a connector of people. This has made it possible to bring best practices in project management and NLP and also the Agility concept, rather fast to the island. I was also involved in Agenda 21 and have always been involved in the project management on sustainability. I love trying out new things and connecting different fields and areas of work. The way agility works is contrary to the more traditional form of teaching. As a former teacher I already introduced this concept to students at the secondary school level, the future leaders of the society.
What are your plans for the coming years for the coming 5 years from now?
I don’t know for sure yet. I am a manager, scientist, teacher and consultant that can work on an international level.
I am considering as an option, to start from scratch and start with Ecotourism projects in Curaçao. It is based on the fact that up to now, we don’t sell our unique nature to the tourism markets. The average tourist that visit our islands don’t come for our Nature, which I regret. We can offer them some unique deep experiences with what we have to offer to address their needs, instead of a superficial experience like the cruise tourists or compared to the average 5 to 10 days stayover tourists on the island staying in all-inclusive resorts that have tax holidays and are owned by foreign investors. Involve local people in this ecotourism and teach them to speak their languages so that they can cater to that market. We should focus on the depth of our tourism experience instead of reaching the 500.000 mark of people visiting our island.
What are the challenges that you are dealing with? And how are you dealing with these different challenges you confront?
How to involve local people. If you look at the area entailing Rif Sint Marie and Boca for example, we have beautiful nature and a rich history, perfect for a UNESCO Biopshere Reserve. For this initiative I have held community sessions in Willibrordus and Boca Sami for youth between 15 – 30 years old. I want to take them along in a dream. For example, I have submitted to the “Fonds voor Cultuurparticipatie” a project related to salt. We want to build a small salt pan. Salt is the reason why the WIC came to these islands and has made us still part of the Dutch Kingdom. We can teach people to prepare food with salt that they have collected and make them have a unique experience. Coincidence does not exist, while doing my reseach on salt, I have found a recent book by Boy Antoine, where he describes the history of Bonaire and 1870 when the salt pans were sold to Mr. Hellmund because after the abolition of slavery, there weren’t people willing to work in the salt pans.
Ernst Barend Hellmund was the great grandfather of my wife. See how this link to Salt is coming back mysteriously.
Do you use your inner voice to evaluate when dilemmas show up? How does that work for you?
I have dealt very often with dilemmas. Through NLP I walk myself to the two extremes or polarities and try to sense where the balance is. Like science and application dilemmas. I trained myself in this as I didn’t learn this from my family background, but went to courses and I am an NLP practitioner, which I learned during the Phoenix courses that I followed.
How are you trying also to keep up with your knowledge and skill levels?
I have always been a curious person. When we came back to Curaçao I started doing a lot of e-learning. What teachers used to do, is now online available. Covid has also made the world smaller in that respect. I follow courses on Planetary Boundaries, studying about landscape management or biomimicry. I still teach a lot, like l have organized over 40 sessions in the Caribbean Basin and I am connected to a Caribbean Agile network. I am also very much involved in Regenerative Leadership. I am also preparing to offer a masterclass program in Aruba soon, aimed at making the costs and benefits for an organization and a stakeholder engagement based on systemic work via organisational constellations. This results in me keeping up.
What are your strengths?
To connect people in networks. Like I have brought together a group of 7 organizations for the project I am doing now related to Klein Curaçao, making them also work together.
Do you have hobbies or interests that you are also passionate about?
Diving which I have been doing for over 40 years and I also love Biology. I love hiking and biking in Nature. Being in Nature is always something recurrent in my life. My passion is to bring other people back into Nature, I call myself an alternative ecosystem facilitator, that wants to enable the ecosystem to grow and evolve more.
If you Manfred would meet a stranger on the bus (let’s say in New York or Kingston Jamaica) and they would ask you to introduce yourself, what would you answer?
I introduced myself when I was a keynote speaker in Jamaica some years ago as someone coming from Curaçao and dedicated to how we can learn from coral reefs in the Caribbean. A coral is a 24-hour living organism. Contrary to the corals the way we use our buildings is that we only partially use them. A school or an office, they are not used 24 hours a day. So I advocate that there is room for improvement and by increasing the functionality of the use of buildings we can optimize the use of buildings. So we must think of more examples where nature can inspire us to apply these ideas more in our local circumstances.
How would you describe Manfred in one word or one sentence?
A curious, innovative, and collaborative entrepreneur.
Who are the persons that have inspired you the most in your career?
My promotor Prof. Dr. Rolf Bak is a role model on how you can mentor and coach a recently graduated academic. I still have a lot of contact with him.
Max Boeckhorst, Project Manager of one of the biggest projects at ABN Amro. When I once asked him what I need to improve in my knowledge and skill sets, he suggested human skills. Via him, I learned how to feel, understand and communicate with other people.
I attended Phoenix professional communication courses.
1. In the first year: Who are you, what is your family background and what did your parents teach you? I had to write a paper on this;
2. The second year is focused on the relation with other people. What do you see in this other person and what do they see in you? It requires one-on-one meetings.
3. The third year was focused on me as a leader and as part of a group.
This was so helpful in my further career.
What is a trait that is still a work in progress?
To focus, as I am aware that I can’t do everything I want to do. I am a creative person that never lacks new creative ideas. But I still have to detach from some of these ideas and focus on the ones I have chosen as a priority.
What was a defining moment in your life?
When I was doing my research during my Ph.D. at Carmabi in 1991/1992. More than 100 volunteers would go diving to time our dives to be able to see how corals reproduce. We saw this as one of the first and this gave me so much inspiration. It proved to me that people are willing to do voluntary work for “Science”.
So we started Reef Care Curaçao and used volunteers to study coral spawning. This is a perfect example of an activity that falls under the category of eco-tourism. This was very popular among local divers for a couple of years. Recently we had a get-together related to 30 years Reef Care Curacao and we also honored Paul Hoetjes, co-founder of Reef Care.
What would you want your Loved Ones, family, friends, and others to say about you let’s say 20 years from now on your birthday?
My children will laugh and joke: “My father was one of the founders of Reef Care”. I would hope people would say that: “I have helped change our paradigm whereas we intervene in Nature, we create a balance between our living and Nature. Up to now, we don’t design development holistically enough. Just like some other cities in the world, when we intervene in Nature we should leave it at least as good as or even better than before we intervened in Nature. If I would have contributed to that paradigm shift, that would be awesome.
What makes you stay optimistic about the future?
I believe that we as human beings can come to the mindset, that we need to take care now so that future generations could have a better life here on earth. For example here in Curaçao, are we aware that we shouldn’t allow people to build constructions close to our coastal lines, without taking into consideration that the sea level will rise gradually within the coming 100 years or so? Or that we should stop eating red meat asap and instead eat organic chicken, fish or only vegetables, because of its effects on our climate. Despite this lack of awareness, I am optimistic. Our children can influence us to make better choices as adults like my daughter is teaching me how to eat sustainable foods to lower my ecological footprint. Like, is the fish we eat in a restaurant or buy in a supermarket, caught sustainably? This paradigm shift where importers of food don’t only look at the costs but also at the sustainability of what they buy, this will in the end affect our choices for the better.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
I would suggest following my series of articles in AD, and I will share a link to an interview I will have with Extra Journal via my Facebook
One of the 250 Influencers
Manfred van Veghel is a knowledgeable, dedicated, innovative, creative, collaborative trainer and entrepreneur. Growing up in a warm and loving home Manfred was the first of the family to finalize with a University degree as a Marine Biologist and later earned a PH.D. As connector of people and networks, his curiosity and seemly limitless creativity made him roll into the training and project management early on and still has a very successful career now as a business owner, that is based on sustainability. He was the co-founder of Reef Care 30 years ago and saw early on how volunteerism can contribute to maintaining our Nature and even expanding their roles. Living in Curaçao has not limited him in following and developing best practices in the services he offers and of late focusing more on Regenerative Leadership in a never-ending drive to learn new things, create and starting new “sustainable” projects. His curiosity, his eagerness to learn more, and his willingness to collaborate and create impact, has made him a stand out. For all these multi-facetted involvements, we consider Manfred one of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao, representing the Educational and Sustainable Sector. Look at the list of the Influencers we have interviewed or reported on, up to now.
The goal of the core group of Share2Uplift for 2023
The goal of the Share2Uplift movement is to: “Identify 250 leaders from all walks of life to connect, align and create impactful changes in all walks of life, which includes intergenerational collaboration by the end of 2023.” We will use interviewing Influencers, meet-and-greet events, “train-the-trainers”-programs on “Emotional Mastery” and “Intentionality “as national intervention strategies, to reach this goal on top of our goal to scale up the possibilities to connect, align and create impact via a virtual platform. We believe that by collaborating with Miguel Goede on the virtual Vision 2030 platform, we will accelerate the possibilities to connect the diaspora and others elsewhere in the world and on the island willing to constructively create impactful changes in Curaçao, to join.
As Share2Uplift, we are fully trying to align with this thinking of Center for Curriculum Redesign to promote this agenda in our educational systems and workplace. So, in that sense, we fully support any initiative to make our educational system 21st-century proof.
Share2Uplift aligners are those that:
– Create an inspiring vision of the future;
– Motivate and inspire people to engage with that vision;
– Manage the delivery of the vision;
– Coach and build a team, so that it is more effective at achieving the vision. These criteria are now being polished.
We also consider these 5 values the most important ones for Share2Uplift aligners. They are:
• Peace from within;
As we will progress towards this goal, we will update you on the progress.
Personal Coaching Tips
This week we will share some short videos on ‘Agile, scrum, Regenerative Leadership, Reef restoration, Klein Curaçao and Planetary boundaries’. We will upload one of these videos every day on our facebook.com/share2uplift page.
What is Agile Methodology? – YouTube
Introduction to Scrum – 7 Minutes – YouTube
Welcome to the Regenerative Leadership Course – YouTube
Klein Curaçao | Curaçao Island – YouTube
What are the planetary boundaries? | Mongabay Explains – YouTube