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 Associate Expert in Population Education at UNESCO’s Regional Office for Africa in Dakar. I was a member of a team responsible for implementing a UNFPA-funded program to educate young people about how to raise healthy families. One aspect of that was the promotion of ‘birth spacing’ - helping couples to space their pregnancies in a way that was good for the health of the women, their newborns and their older children. This led me into the world of family planning programs.
My husband and I moved to New York City. There I found work for the Association of Voluntary Surgical Contraception (previously called AVS and later called EngenderHealth). Eight months later, we moved to Massachusetts where my husband joined Abt Associates and I was hired as a consultant to conduct research and write reports and papers on family planning for the Pathfinder Fund (now Pathfinder International) while raising our two daughters.
In 1986, I joined a US government funded global health project led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH). This project would be rebid and re-won by MSH for the next 30 years. It is during this long run of projects that I discovered my true calling. I learned everything I could get my hands on about organizational behavior, development and culture. MSH offered me countless opportunities to put it practice what I was learning, creating more learning as I accumulated experience all over the world. Eventually, over a period of some 30+ years I trained, coached, designed and facilitated events, reaching thousands of health managers on how to strengthen their management, 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.