I was born in a small town in the Netherlands, grew up as number 4 of a family of five, daughter of a medical doctor (mom) and a business lawyer (dad). In 1970, I entered the University of Leiden to study psychology. At that time I wanted to learn to become a play therapist, a new approach pioneered by Virginia Axline in the 1960s based on Rogerian principles, which I had seen the mother of one of my schoolmates practice while I was in elementary school. 

Still aiming to be a children’s therapist, I graduated with a degree in Developmental Psychology, more specifically using the structural family (or systems) therapy approach pioneered by Salvador Minuchkin. That was the beginning of a circuitous route to my organizational practice and my fascination with dynamics in systems, which function similarly whether in families or organizations.

I traveled through most of Europe in my 20s, and then ventured further into the Middle East and Asia. I lived in Geneva (1975), spent a couple of weeks in North Yemen, and a couple of years in Lebanon (1976–1978).

By 1979, I was working as an Associated Expert in Population Education at UNESCO’s Regional Office for Africa in Dakar, responsible, with a small team, for implementing a UNFPA-funded program to educate young people about how to raise healthy families. Learning that one could (somewhat) control when to get pregnant (with the purpose of spacing, not limiting pregnancies) got me into the world of family planning programs. 

I moved to New York City to work in a specialized organization that advocated for voluntary surgical contraception (some would have called that sterilization but the word carried historical baggage). Eight months later, I moved to Massachusetts where I worked on research and writing assignments for the Pathfinder Fund while raising my two daughters. 

In 1986, Pathfinder introduced me to Management Sciences for Health (MSH), where I discovered my true calling and got involved first in improving management skills of family planning managers, then of health managers in general, and eventually of leadership and governance skills. 

On June 15, after 31 years, I said farewell to MSH and embarked on my own to practice what I most care about: helping people to have productive conversations with the people that matter, including themselves.