Esther Hofstede- Founder, Consultant & Trainer Employee Volunteer at Together For, an NGO network that brings together the capacity, time and talents of corporate volunteers.
Young Esther was just 17 when she went on an exchange program for a year to California, USA and stayed with a family there. Her brilliant talent in playing tennis blessed her with this opportunity and she still feels grateful for it; it turned out to be a life-changing event for her that made her understand the value of different people and their cultures- something that built the foundation of her career in the coming years.
For the next 10 years after finishing college, she worked for management roles, where she worked for renowned enterprises such as Vodafone as well as the Randstad temp agency. She possessed a lucrative car and salary but always felt that something was amiss- her purpose in life hadn’t been fulfilled yet. With this realisation and a lot of contemplation, she decided to quit her job to start a new journey. She says:
“I quit my job and went to Guatemala to learn Spanish and to volunteer for NGOs. After going there, I constantly about my career change too. Even after 10 years of working in the corporate world, I lacked purpose. I asked myself: How can I use my talent for a better society? So I quit my job and went to Guatemala for a sabbatical. The volunteer work I did there, the poverty I saw and the hospitality and warmth of the Guatemalans I met while volunteering, made me look at the world from a different perspective. My drive for my current work started there; connecting people from “two worlds”- corporate and ideologically- because they have so much to offer to each other. I belive it creates empathy and understanding for the social challenges we face in society and that’s how I experienced it myself.”
Today, Esther has been working as a consultant and trainer for almost 18 years and organises collaborations between companies and non-profit organizations. Her expertise lies in the design and implementation of employee volunteer programs. With this, she strives to make the Netherlands even more beautiful and livable all for the community, the companies and the employees. In her spare time, she fulfls her passion for sports, especially tennis, ashtanga-power yoga and sailing.
Following her vision, she started the NGO network ‘Together for… (city name)’. It is a non-profit organisation that brings together the capacity, time, talent of corporate volunteers and non-profits. To date, she has managed over 10.000 of corporate volunteers across different places in the Netherlands.
She says, “In all these years, the way these corporate volunteers look at the world has truly changed after they signed up for volunteering. In one of my surveys in 2020, almost 84% of the employees indicated that they gain more understanding of the beneficiaries and the social challenges they face after associating with us. While volunteering, employees come into contact with people they may not have to deal with in their day-to-day lives. This leads to a broader understanding of ‘people who are having a hard time’ and/or social problems (N = 1,162 respondents from various companies).”
According to Esther, 18 years ago, not many people believed her idea could be executed in then Holland. A CEO even said to her: “Who is waiting for your idea?” However, once he got involved with the NGO, he ended up becoming their best ambassador! Even as the pandemic of Covid-19 hit the world, her organisation has been growing immensely with over 30% increase year by year. Also, almost every year she is nominated in the top 10 local and top 50 most influential women of the city of Eindhoven in the Netherlands.
She started with just an idea without money and had to find a new business model to make it sustainable and to pay her employees. Today, her network has broadened immensely and has become much more diverse with people who she finds interesting and different from the people she used to meet in her corporate office. Her present job for her is an adventure and travel into the world of homelessness, refugees, elderly etc. and it brings her the meaning/satisfaction she was seeking. As she gets to meet a lot of people who are passionate about changing the world for the better, she shares this belief by Mahatma Gandhi with them: ‘Every action matters, no matter how small. Be the change you want to see in the world yourself.’