At the beginning of May, Olaf Koster took up his prepared office at Evers + Manders Grant Advisors in Hoevelaken. Quite a change when you consider that shortly before he was still living and working in Ghana. For starters, conversing all day in Dutch instead of English is the norm. We are going to ask him how he is doing as a colleague at Evers + Manders, but of course that is not all.
Olaf, who are you, what were you doing in Ghana, tell us?
Olaf smiles and speaks, adding new locations as he explains. All in all, it turns out that Olaf was born in Amsterdam, and lived there for a short time during his youth. Not long after the birth of his younger brother, he and his family moved back abroad as expats, growing up in Southeast Asia for a large part of his youth.
Olaf returned to the Netherlands for his Bachelor’s degree and studied international water management in Wageningen. After a gap year working and living in the Philippines and Cambodia, he continued his studies in Melbourne, Australia. Completing his Master “Integrated Water Management” with a focus on climate adaptation and mitigation, Olaf worked for a year in Melbourne. Until COVID-19 broke out and he was ready for something new again. He then left for Ghana on behalf of the Young Experts Program, a grant program for young experts who want to work in developing countries via Dutch companies. There, he mainly focused on water management and circular economy for a company that converts organic waste streams into products, including electricity via biogas, compost, and nutrient-rich irrigation water.
Why did you choose water management and what is involved?
“My interest in water management came from my father’s work. He is an irrigation specialist, and uses his knowledge and skills in Cambodia mainly in the context of development aid. In addition, I wanted to choose a field that offers many opportunities, both now and in the future. It is inextricably linked to climate change, and there is a lot to do there. A career in water management is a future-proof direction.”
The unavoidable question: do you have any hobbies?
He answered fairly standard at first by naming hobbies such as traveling, crossfit and his recently picked up hobby of kite surfing. But then he says, “Actually, I only have one real hobby: trying new things!”
How did you end up at Evers+Manders?
“Through a recruiter. My contract in Ghana was coming to an end and I wanted to return to the Netherlands. My first round of the job interview with Paul (Manders) and Johan (Evers) was a video call through Teams. The internet connection at my place was bad, I had grainy picture, and remember wondering what they would think about that. A person who works in Ghana and then applies for a job in Hoevelaken, of all places. It was also nice to see the links in my network with Evers + Manders. My career coach at YEP knew E+M and YEP was also a member of NWP and so is E+M.”
What kind of feeling did you have after the interview?
“That they were very nice people, very personal, with sincere attention. With other organisations, I sometimes got the feeling that it was a forced or a “must”. As if they just had to do the interview. With Paul and Johan it felt sincere. And I still have that feeling now.”
And now, after the recent news that E+M has been sold to Hezelburcht? Does that do anything to that feeling?
“No, it suits me as a person. New and change, nice, bring it on!”
That strikes me as a common thread in our conversation: you enjoy learning new things, innovation is very important to you.
“That’s right, I want to learn fast and a lot. That is why this profession suits me so well. As a grant advisor, you are constantly working on innovation in various sectors, and you quickly get to know new companies at home and abroad. In addition, the Netherlands is a country that is at the top of the world in terms of being active in the field of innovation. That suits me well as an inquisitive person.”
“Actually, I only have one real hobby: trying new things!”
Do you have a goal in mind at E+M?
“Yes, I want to build knowledge, learn a lot, especially about innovations. And I enjoy working for the water sector in the Netherlands.”
As an expert, what are the differences between working in the Netherlands and abroad?
“In the Netherlands you have relatively high amounts of freedom in the choices of what you want to do or where you want to work. That is also encouraged which is great, because people work with intrinsic motivation. Not all countries I have worked in have those possibilities and opportunities. That is one reason why it is enjoyable to work at Evers + Manders. There I really have the feeling that we are a team and that everyone is there because they have chosen to be.
In addition, the Netherlands is of course a fantastically well-regulated and organised country. Things run more smoothly and work efficiency is higher. I remember well that I once asked my foreign colleagues during my time as part of the YEP program what their first impression was of the Netherlands. Many noticed that in the Netherlands everything is very clean, well organized, smooth and efficient.
Does your experience abroad benefit E+M’s clients?
“Yes, I definitely think so. Among other things, the out of the box thinking by looking at things at a different angle. My experience abroad also allows me to think about things differently. How do other countries deal with the same problem that one encounters in the Netherlands? I can compare similar situations and problems, because there are plenty of them, and that is something extra that not everyone can offer.”
After brief thought, he comes up with an example. “In the Netherlands it was unthinkable that it could get so dry here in summer. Historically, in the Netherlands it was always too wet and not dry. Water was drained into the sea as quickly as possible. In Australia, it is exactly the other way around. Now, of course, people in the Netherlands also think very differently about that, now that we’re dealing with climate change. I can bring my personal experiences to the table on how dry Australia deals with water management and how Netherlands can learn from that.”
How do you find it so far with E+M? For example, the procedures? After all, we work with the ISO quality system.
“Compared to the previous job absolutely a blessing. It is well organized, there is structure. The quality of communication as well as the way of communicating with customers is clear. I missed that at my previous job.”
Where do you think the strength of E+M lies?
“It is a small team that is close with each other. People know each other well, so they also know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. This allows them to complement each other well. Another strength is the personal leadership, sincere and with warmth, you matter as an individual.”
What would you like to do in the future?
“To travel, especially to North America where I have never been. My whole family has been there except me, and I also have many friends living there from my high school days in Bangkok. But not only that, I’d also like to go to South America for similar reasons. And to practice my Spanish a little bit, of course.”
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