Meet Hendrikje, project designer at !Drops, creative activist, traveler and talent spotter. Through the U.S. Embassy’s grants program, Hendrikje worked on Connected.Dots, a project that aims to bridge various refugee projects focused on talent development and entrepreneurship. Why? “You sometimes feel that people are scared of people with another background, which is a challenge that we try to work on,” Hendrikje explains.
The U.S. Embassy grants program helps non-profit, educational and cultural organizations to implement programs that advance our relationship with Belgium. Applicants may be individuals, groups, or organizations. One of these organizations is !Drops, a social innovation agency based in Ghent that is tackling social issues by using culture and technology as tools for positive change.
Hendrikje is a project designer at !Drops: “I’m focusing on all the projects that we do internationally, but also the projects on our team called `super diversity.` Within the team ‘super diversity,’ we work a lot with refugees. We develop projects, quite often in co-creation with refugees.”
And that is exactly what Connected.Dots was about: “It’s a project that we developed in 2015-16 based on work we did with refugees and it bridges all kinds of projects that already existed.” The ultimate purpose of Connected.Dots was to find innovative solutions to the refugee crisis through a participatory process involving citizens and refugees that centered on talent development and entrepreneurship. “It’s a project that focused on the one hand on what we could call skill building, or 21st century skills. We’ve done training on design and entrepreneurship in a refugee center in Lanaken. We’ve also done training with young refugees living in Antwerp on video production, which was really to tell their story. The other side is what we call `services.’ We developed a catering service in collaboration with Afghan women and they’re all based in the refugee center in Linkeroever.”
According to Hendrikje, the work of !Drops and Connected.Dots is very important, especially in Belgium. !Drops is helping to empower refugees, give them a voice and guide them.
As a creative activist, as she calls herself, Hendrikje was the perfect person to work on the project. “When I was young, I remember that I went to these protests for a fairer world. I think that’s what makes me tick, trying to collaborate and make this world a fair place, a place where everybody can be happy and be seen and be put into his or her talents. Because I do believe that all people have talents,” she tells us. She strives for a 100 percent humanity proof society by focusing both on an individual level as on a societal level.
Her dream is an equal and beautiful society where people are connected and there`s attention for our planet. “My dream for the world would be that every person can have his or her place in an equal way. And I think political systems can also make a change in favor of that, but also individuals can try to add their part,” Hendrikje points out.
“If you talk about identity, I can't say that I'm just Belgian.”
Hendrikje is born in Belgium and, apart from one year in Africa, she lived in Belgium her entire life. Despite that, she feels connected to the world. She travels a lot, works with lots of international people, speaks different languages and tries to connect with people from all over the world. “If you talk about identity, I can’t say that I’m just Belgian, because that’s my background. I also feel very connected to people who are living in all kinds of worlds.”
Getting to know new worlds and the people in them is an important part of Hendrikje’s life ever since she was little. “I remember I made a school project when I was 12 about how people celebrate stuff in other parts of the world. So I’ve been interested my whole life, I guess, and I am very happy to be able to implement it in my daily life.”
So this is another reason why Hendrikje matches perfectly with Connected.Dots. When she works with refugees she gets in touch with new worlds and feels like she’s traveling. “So combined with the fact that I do travel a number times a year for work, it makes me feel a citizen of the world as well.”
In the future Hendrikje wants to continue working at !Drops in Belgium and internationally. “I see myself physically in Belgium, but being able to develop our projects in other countries. Working with a lot of interesting people, inspiring them, and being inspired by people. Coaching future leaders in social innovation and in making this world humanity proof.”
“It is necessary to continue working on these projects,” she tells us. “You sometimes feel that people are scared of people from another background, which is a challenge that we try to work on.” So her advice is to be aware of your own talents and to use them in any way possible. “And don’t put people into little cages or anything like that. Everybody is more than just a word that is put on him or her.”“Everybody is more than just a word.”