Bojana Duovski, Stichting Studiezalen: "If doors are ajar, I kick them in"
She is a nice mix: modest, pragmatic, helpful, sensitive and yet very decisive, someone who calls things by their name and a doer with big dreams. Bojana Duovski is a mover & shaker at Stichting Studiezalen (Study Rooms Foundation). In the past year and a half, partly thanks to her, they have gone from two to no less than twenty-three friendships with companies. What is her secret to achieving this? How does she shape her project? And what does it mean for both parties? Her big brown expressive eyes shine almost continuously. She talks with such enthusiasm that she effortlessly takes you along into her world.
Why would a company want to work with them? It doesn’t take her long to give an answer: “It would be a loss for them if they didn't. I really mean that. We build lasting friendships and we are really building a bridge to connect them with the neighborhood. For example, they can visit or even participate in one of the 47 study rooms, where children are offered supervision for a few hours a week. That makes this project very tangible. There are even people from Deloitte who occasionally want to work at our office. If you have such a very cool and luxurious office on the Zuidas, where you have everything you need, and then you choose to come and work here, on 50 m2 in New-West. Why? Because here they feel more connected to others. I find that very interesting. And for me it is actually a confirmation of the poverty of the rich.”
It was early 2021. Bojana ended her enterprise in the event industry, partly due to corona and asked herself a question: what makes me happy and how can I contribute with impact? “I then saw Abdelhamid Idrissi, founder of the Stichting Studiezalen, speaking online. He spoke to me as a person, because I saw that he carried a heavy workload. That is why I offered my help as a sparring partner. In the most vulnerable neighborhoods of Amsterdam and Zaandam, where problems such as poverty, language arrears and school drop-out occur, the foundation is committed to letting the talents of these children and young people flourish. By means of, among other things, homework supervision, study rooms on various themes, coaching and workshops. I concluded that the foundation failed financially every year and then looked into how we could make it financially healthier. Therefore, I chose to involve the business world because inequality of opportunity is a social problem for all of us and companies are often concerned with sustainable development goals.”
“Where do you start then? I chose my own network. I put together a group of people from different companies and said: guys, I'm going to do this, what can you do to contribute? They joined me instantly because we have a good relationship. Then I also approached other companies. The relationships with them, of course, didn't all go smoothly, sometimes a lot of discussions are needed before we find common ground between us. However, when doors are ajar I like to kick them in hard. We think from the children's point of view; what do they need? This can be resources, people, masses, media or currencies. And, I always emphasize what I bring. We also always offer a return. Often that is the contact with the young people; a target group that companies often fail to reach. In addition, we can also provide a lot of advice and content when it comes to integrating social aspects into a company's values, culture and strategy.”
Menno de Kuijer, Orange Capital Partners
“We like to be socially involved in neighborhoods in which we are also active with our residential portfolios. By supporting Study Rooms for several years, we hope to contribute to a higher level of education for young people in a safe and peaceful environment.
How do you get a CEO to think along?
Bojana: “In the meantime, many great collaborations have arisen, with no less than 23 different companies. One of them is Deloitte. Employees dedicate an x number of hours per year to Study Rooms. For the duration of three years. They can choose what they want to do, for example: developing a case for the organization, supervising a creative workshop or telling their personal story to the children about the route they have taken to a good job. Our goal is: a good night's sleep for every child. If a child sleeps well, we have done our job well. Employment agency Olympia, for example, helps parents on their way to paid work. This indirectly affects the children, but it is also necessary. A third example is ABN AMRO. People working at this company are committed as buddies at a distance. They read together with a child, one on one. To promote language development. Both in Dutch and English. We even know the CEO of ABN AMRO, who indicates in his title on LinkedIn that he is a buddy from a distance, because he finds it so important. How beautiful is that? If both the employees and the top layer in a company embrace a goal and actively commit themselves, it will motivate others as well.”
Johan Stuiver, program director WorldClass program Deloitte
“Our ambitions are aimed at pupils and students, to help them further develop their talent, future prospects and position on the labor market. Our colleagues are therefore very enthusiastic to contribute their knowledge and expertise to Stichting Studiezalen. This connects seamlessly.”
My own story
“Inequality of opportunity has been a theme that has stuck with me all my life. I come from just such a family. My parents are guest workers from the former Yugoslavia, they did not speak the Dutch language sufficiently and because of the war and the associated problems I was not able to study. I had to take a route that was not my first choice. I finally got there by working very hard, but if only I had had a Study Rooms before, that would have made a big difference for me. My past makes me feel very strongly about the mission of Studiezalen. My message is pure. At the same time, I have worked in the profit world for many years, so I also speak the language of the companies. Being able to resonate on both levels allows me to really connect. I feel blessed to be able to do this. I think the best thing is that I really see the talent grow through the collaboration with companies; both here internally with us, and with the children in the study rooms. You can really see the benefits of this project, extra opportunities are created; that's a great gift. And the knife really cuts both ways. Both parties can learn from each other; as long as we dare to look, dare to listen.”
“I think that in about five to ten years it will be a standard practice for a company to get socially involved. It may even become a requirement. You can see it already happening, that 'social return' obligation, that an x percentage of a tender must be returned to society. That often involves really large amounts, just go for it. So I think there will be no escaping it soon. So companies better get on board now ha ha! With us or with one of the other 2000 social organizations in the city.”
Bojana's tips for civil society organisations:
- Make sure you have a fantastic and honest story. Even if it's small, keep it as it is.
- Be clear about your needs and who could help you.
- Find that one person within a company, a firestarter, who relates to your story. Don't go by the name of a company, but by a person.
- Dare to ask. A 'no' is also completely fine, but then ask what is possible.
- Be transparent and make concrete agreements.
- Collaborate with other community organizations. Sometimes it seems like everyone is fighting for that little piece of pie, but what if we share…
- Muster up the courage and just do it!
Are you a company or a social organization and are you also curious about the possibilities of establishing a connection? Volunteer Central Amsterdam is happy to help you. Please contact Rachida el Alami: [email protected] / 06-81431044. Or come to the meetup event on December 7.