The kick-off phase of UP and how I have experienced it

Finishing my degree in Business Administration here in Leeuwarden (the Netherlands) has propelled me into the field of work and I could not have landed in a better place. For a couple of weeks now, I have been part of NOW and working on UP

UP is a 9 weeks program that gives refugee status holders an opportunity to dive deep into the local business culture by solving a challenge of a local company in a small team. In my mind the program provides a unique opportunity to accompany immigrants in my region (Friesland) towards study and or work. The starting phase of this new NOW Program is definitely in full swing, but what has been done so far to actually get things going? My name is Kevin de Groot – I’m a NOW trainee –and I hope to provide you with an answer to this question.

Frisian companies

The first challenge on my to-do list is to find companies interested in joining the program. We would like to create a diversity in companies so that our participants can get to know the different sectors that are present in Friesland. Our aim is to get five companies so that the approximately  20 participants can work in groups of 4 on working with each company.

How do we get these companies on board? Together with Wouter from the NOW team and Henk from our local partner Present Promotions, we started visiting companies that showed interest in the program. Three of these companies are in the hospitality branch and the other is in the social domain.

A coffee machine at ZuivelRijck

The first talks we had with the companies were promising and I experienced a great entrepreneurial mind set from the people we spoke to. Their energy is sky high and the way these people think is more open-minded and optimistic than the general Frisian population.  They seem to see a learning opportunity in working with refugees that can benefit their business and the province of Friesland. Rene (CEO) from ZuivelRijck  gave us a fine cup of coffee as we chatted about the potential assignment for the refugee status holders. Rene was excited and came up with a bunch of ideas. He also said “I believe in not wanting something back immediately, but that it will pay of itself in the long run.’’ The difficult part of this aspect is to set up challenges. We have to provide the same learning possibilities for all participants even though they will not be working on different challenges. We have to align the learning with the framework of competences, we have created, and the online part of the program.


The other important ingredient for this learning program are of course the participants. The status holders in Friesland that are looking for an opportunity to find their economic and professional future in the Netherlands. As a first step in reaching our target group, we have given a presentation of the program to around 40 potential participants together with our partners. After the presentation, we took the opportunity to speak to the potential participants individually. These personal talks have  given me even more fuel to take on this challenge! The ambition and drive of the status holders I spoke to is so inspiring. For example, I have spoken to Zacharia, a highly educated professor from Syria. His degrees cannot be used here in the Netherlands due to a language barrier. Even though this language barrier and having the municipality pushing him to do voluntary work (cleaning and sweeping the streets), he keeps a smile on his face and is eagerly learning Dutch. He is committed to work hard here and proof himself in our Dutch society. Not only Zacharia, but the other attendees find themselves with similar challenges. They are constantly busy with the municipality pushing them towards unwanted avenues, that do not contribute to their learning or desired future in the Netherlands. They were super excited to hear about the UP! Challenge and the possibility to get more familiar in Friesland and go towards studies or work in line with their interests. They were really interested in learning about Frisian companies and how they operate. It seemed they were eager to grab this opportunity to find their future in Friesland.  

The challenge for us lies in reaching those status holders which are not yet connected to any integration initiatives. We believe that they are the ones who could benefit the most from the program. I’m taking on this challenge because my motto is: ‘’If it does not challenge you, it does not change you.’’

What now?

Besides the recruitment of participants, our focus in the next weeks will be to define the challenges together with the companies and creating the details and content of the program in line with the feedback we are receiving. The pilot edition of the UP Challenge will start in mid September.  

Written by Kevin de Groot, NOW trainee in Leeuwarden, Netherlands.