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Listen before you speak, learn before you act

Gijs Koopman co-founded Wise Owl, a community center in Bayangol, Mongolia. The social enterprise aims to empower the community based on three pillars: education, daycare facilities, and social space. His program and the implementation of the social enterprise were badly affected by the pandemic. However, through a common purpose and an inspiring social entrepreneur he and his team overcame all the challenges with an entrepreneurial and resilient attitude. After the capability program, he became a mentor. This is his impact story.

Gijs, share with us three important facts that people should know about you.

  • Hi all! My name is Gijs and I'm originally from the Netherlands. I've been living in the French-speaking part of Switzerland for the last five years, working for Swisscom. I live together with my girlfriend in the heart of the Alps in a small mountain village just five minutes away from the ski lifts. Not your everyday expat setting!

  • I love to read and try to finish two to three books a month. It's a great way to get away from all the screens, calm the mind and feed my curiosity.

  • I love endurance sports. I’ve done marathons, an Iron Man, trail runs and ultra-bike races. Next up is a legendary ski-mountaineering race called 'Patrouille des Glaciers' this April. Super excited!

Why did you decide to participate in the program?

Back in 2017, BOOKBRIDGE's co-founder Carsten shared his founder's journey and the impact he had made in Mongolia during a Swisscom internal event. Carsten's message hit home. It brought together elements that strongly overlap with my own interests – learning and personal development, working in multicultural teams and delivering results in complex environments. I had already experienced working in the D.R. Congo in 2012/2013. Getting things done in these tough circumstances while collaborating with my Congolese colleagues felt particularly rewarding. The fact that BOOKBRIDGE aims to create financially-sustainable social enterprises while working with community heroes from developing communities across the globe is therefore a great fit. This combination of learning and doing good creates a powerful story that appeals strongly.

What does purpose-driven leadership mean to you?

“If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there,” said the Cat in Alice in Wonderland.

Purpose and meaning are terms that are often heard during the soul-searching endeavors many of my millennial contemporaries undertake. This makes sense. In the absence of religion to provide answers to every single question one may ask, direction needs to be distilled from other experiences. Taking the time to reflect and define your own purpose could provide this direction. Having a clearly defined purpose then functions as a guiding principle. And surely when one's direction is clear it will be easier for others to follow, purpose-driven leadership could be a requirement for being effective as a leader in any context. Whether that is at work, in your family or taking control of your personal development journey.

Gijs (5th from left to right), celebrating the end of his program in Switzerland

What impact has BOOKBRIDGE had on your private and professional life?

In general, I believe that there's great value in getting out of your comfort zone and accomplishing hard things. It allows you to find out something about yourself. You get to points you wouldn't otherwise reach. What made this BOOKBRIDGE program particularly challenging is the online-only context the collaboration took place in. It resembles a social experiment. How do you make 12 individuals work together towards a common goal over a period of six months without meeting in person, on top of their normal jobs and private lives? BOOKBRIDGE and the coaches did a great job in shaping the group dynamics. However, it remains a challenge to forge personal relationships over Zoom or Teams. It's difficult to have a laugh in between meetings or connecting on personal topics over a cup of coffee during breaks. Without these subtle social interactions, it can be harder to understand and respond to people. I learned how to improve my effectiveness working across cultural barriers. When interacting with someone from a different culture, I try to watch more, listen more, and speak less. Listen before you speak, and learn before you act. Two eyes, two ears and one mouth.

Secondly what I found truly inspiring was our community hero Tsetsgee. She showed so much resilience, grit and leadership. She made it very easy to be motivated. She was key in creating this strong common goal, reinforcing the team's purpose and leading the way. She works so hard and takes on all responsibility to create impact in the Bayangol community. In the final stage of the project, we dealt with a lot of adversity and had to make some tough decisions as a consequence. Under Tsetsgee's guidance, we kept working towards solutions without giving in to despair. I am proud to see that she empowers Mongolian children, mothers, students and aspiring entrepreneurs to learn new skills and participate in different ways in society. The impact this had on me was that if you have an idea, you just have to start, work hard, put in a lot of energy and people will follow. By doing so, you create your own story. Every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Tsetsgee, BOOKBRIDGE Community Hero in Bayangol, Mongolia

One last question, what is your commitment towards a world of purpose-driven leaders?

As I said, it starts with listening to and understanding the people you work with. Listen before speaking, consider cultural differences and give people an opportunity to develop and shine. Personally, I set high internal benchmarks on the work I do and push to consistently exceed this. My commitment is that by setting the right example, I will inspire, and lead others and we can work together to maximize our potential. The BOOKBRIDGE program inspired me to follow up on this. That's why a month ago, I volunteered to become a mentor for a former apprentice in our team. Together we discuss his goals and objectives in life and what choices fit best with his development journey. It's great to experience his curiosity and eagerness to learn.

Thank you Gijs for sharing your impact story with us. We are proud that you are part of our community of bridgebuilders! 🧡

Are you willing to step out of your comfort zone? Do you believe in leading others effectively? If you are a motivated professional, with solid spoken English and at least three years of work experience, join us for a unique learning journey .


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