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Episode 8: Joris

Photo: Boris Simonse

“This summer, with COVID-19 going on, a lot of older volunteers at the food bank, who helped out handing crates with food at points throughout the city, didn’t want to volunteer anymore because they were old and it was dangerous. So I reached out to various student organizations asking if they were willing to help out and in no-time we had people helping out every week. And then I was at the food bank office 2 days a week. It felt nice for me to be sort of semi productive and not just do fun stuff for myself.

I started working at the foodbank somewhere during the first year. I was in Boston for my gap year. I was very lucky to stay there for a year. The school I went to was in the city centre, but you’d walk outside to the main park and there would be so many homeless people living and sleeping on the streets. That was very touching. But what made it worse for me, was when I came back for winter break to the Netherlands, and then after a month I went back to the US, where I sort of realized how numb I’d gotten for the homeless people out there in the meantime. So within a couple of months you don’t look at them anymore and are not as touched anymore. You even start coming with excuses, like “why’re they there?”. I don’t know, that sort of stuck with me. But then, when I got back to the Netherlands I was like “yeah, what can I do?”. First I thought “I’m going to reach out to the organizations in Boston”, but that didn’t really make sense, so then I was like “What can I do here”? And then I randomly ended up at the foodbank. I don’t even know why. I just reached out to them, had an interview, and then I guess I got accepted to the office and started working there for one day a week. It’s not the most effective organization, because we could do a lot more with the money that goes into it. But for the people here, it’s important that the food bank is there. For me, I am privileged not to need a job on the side, but I consider this my job.

Aside from that I also put in effort for PISE. We’re a student organization for people who are interested in making the world a better place, but you also want to make sure that you do that as well as you can, so they’re all interested in doing good better. We’ve had introductory events on effective altruism, and we have a fellowship coming up, sort of a crash course around doing good better from Stanford university. I don’t know, I still find it hard to pitch what I do with PISE, or my minor. 

My minor is called Frugal Innovation for Sustainable Development, and it aims to mean something for the billion poorest around the world, so innovation for the bottom of the pyramid. Right now I’m interning at INUKA, this organization that provides mental wellbeing scans and coaches globally. They’re working with a psychiatrist from Zimbabwe, one of the 15 ones in the country, where there’s like 15-17 million people, who puts in all his knowledge to scale up his help. He came up with a friendship bench, which is basically where grandmas sit down on a bench and talk to people in their community. Just talking about their mental problems is really helpful for a lot of people already, and if you think about how important it is for people to get out of a bad mental state, they can contribute to their community, find a job, all that.  So this is a super easy and capable way to make mental health accessible. I really feel that I’m putting a positive impact into practice here actually.

I think what sort of combines these three things is working with empathy. By doing this, I become aware of how lucky I am being in the situation that I’m in— being healthy, having a lot of good friends, being well off, going to university… and if you look at it on a global scale it’s insane how well off we are. I don’t understand how people who are aware of this aren’t doing more about it. But this is very rational. So I guess approaching empathy rationally really combines it. I feel like I keep getting better at what I’m putting my time and effort in, in terms of how much it’s doing for others. And I hope to take a lot of people on board and make this more normal; to be aware of how well off we are, and putting that knowledge into action.

In terms of the future, I think I should first try to make use of the status quo and all the money that’s in commercial companies, maybe start at a consultancy firm, and then switch to NGOS or IOs. I can imagine that being very hard, because I don’t know if I am comfortable both ethically and practically being in a super commercial environment. I don’t think I would flourish there. But right now, my private decisions work very well with what I’m doing on the side of uni. I don’t know, being a vegetarian or vegan as much as I can, reducing how much I travel, donating to causes and making that a habit, I think that will go well with whatever else I’m doing. 

Hopefully in 20 years, I’ll be doing a lot of good. I’m not sure what that will look like, because there are a lot of options. As long as my career is centered around that. I think that would make me happiest.”

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