Many of us have skills that we’d like to contribute to meaningful projects. At the same time, countless social initiatives could use extra support to accelerate their impact. We talk to Marnix Geus of The Present Movement on joining the dots for a more equal and inclusive society, helping the marginalised to build a better future.
What inspired you to start The Present Movement?
When the refugee crisis hit in 2015, with people from Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea fleeing to Western Europe, I didn’t want to just sit and watch. I started wondering if I could be of any help on the ground. So I went to the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.
I saw so many great people doing fantastic things, but without an infrastructure to support them, they weren’t cooperating effectively. At the same time, back home I knew a lot of entrepreneurs who would have liked to help but didn’t know how. So, I started thinking about how to connect these two groups.
About The Present
The Present is a Dutch social foundation that connects professionals with social initiatives working with refugees and the homeless. A digital bulletin platform and local physical meetups help to facilitate an effective match. In this way, people can share their time, skills, and network in a meaningful way to support small social initiatives and NGOs. Are you an IT expert, a lawyer, a graphic designer or a copywriter? Or do you have other skills to offer? Check out the website to see how you can donate your skills.
At the time I was still very busy running my PR agency in Amsterdam. Donating money and helping NGOs free of charge was just a ‘side thing’, but when you’re doing something ‘on the side’, it’s less effective. I realised that I didn’t want to wait until my retirement to do something helpful, so I decided to sell my shares in the company and start my own foundation. That’s how The Present Movement was born.
“I am amazed by what we can do when we work together”
What’s the impact you hope to achieve?
Our future plan is to scale up the movement to cover the whole Sustainable Development Goal #10: Reducing Inequality – and beyond.
I’ve always been fascinated by how we can create more equal systems where we don’t let polarising narratives take over. This can happen in work, gender, age, or race. When the media were talking about the refugee crisis, refugees were always seen as one indefinite group: it was ‘them’ and ‘us’. The media would describe the crisis as if a tsunami of people was invading ‘our’ countries, and people started getting scared.
These kinds of narratives are very dangerous, and to counteract them we need to humanise people again. We need to show that within a group there are individuals just like you and me, each with their own story.
What makes you most proud about your work?
I am amazed by what we can do when we work together – when we have a great cause that we all feel in our heart. That’s when the magic can happen.
“As long as you have a shared purpose, people will join you, help you improve, and succeed”
Like in our recent project, GiveMe5, which connects a Dutch NGO working with the homeless, to hotels in Amsterdam. We challenge the hotels to give five rooms to homeless people for 90 days. This is called ‘critical time intervention’, the period of time someone needs to get out of the survival mode. When people are homeless for more than six months, problems such as addiction tend to arise. That’s why it’s important to get people off the streets as soon as possible, so they are more likely to recover from life in the streets and find work.
I’m also proud when I hear how someone joining one of our meetups was inspired to hire someone from a refugee background. Things like that really touch me. It’s a sort of ripple effect of all the things that we’re trying to do.
What advice would you give to others who want to make a positive impact?
Make a start. I really believe there are so many people out there who would like to make a positive change. They need to stop thinking, and start doing. Don’t make it too big or complex, just start. As long as you have a shared purpose, people will join you and help you improve, and eventually succeed.
Who do you want to pass a High 5 on to and why?
I’d like to give a High 5 to Alaeddin Janid. Originally from Syria, Alaeddin is the founder of Happy Caravan, an NGO that establishes non-formal schools next to refugee camps in Greece. He’s an amazing person. He also started a new initiative in Northern Syria called Child Houses. It’s a different perspective on a traditional children’s home.