Hi, I’m Sihame El Kaouakibi.
I’m a serial Social Entrepreneur, a lady on a mission.
You may know me as the founder of Let’s Go Urban. But I do lots of other things. I lead this amazing team that gets private companies to connect with talent from a new generation. We manage this by developing concepts, starting projects, recruiting, giving talks, sitting on boards of directors…. you name it, all in the name of creating maximal positive impact.
All in the name of allowing as many youngsters as possible to reach their full potential.
First things first: this name, “El Kaouakibi”. All my life and to the present day, all those vowels seem to have been causing a lot of tongue twisting.
It is pronounced: ‘El kawakibi’. Now we have got that out of the way, let’s get started.
I was born in 1986 in this town called Boom – which is hardly a boomtown, though.
I was child number 6 in a series of 7. My parents were first generation Moroccans who, 45 years ago, left behind everything they had ever known, in search of a better future for their offspring. I come from a warm nest, clearly steeped in Moroccan culture, but also very open to my country of birth, Belgium.
When I was 22, I wanted to scream it from the rooftops: “I am proud to be a Belgian, Flemish, Antwerp, Moroccan Muslim!” I had just finished my teacher training and was looking for some more in-depth education. VUB University was meant to provide me with a clearer overview of the way the system works and how we might change this. But having to sit still and not actually doing things for another 4 years didn’t appeal to me. So I decided to complement my life as a student with a project of my own…
LET’S GO URBAN. Wow, that one went with a bang!
Naive, idealistic, wearing baskets, on my own, lacking any capital and without a network, I wanted to make a difference for the new generation. I felt there was a lack of trust in youngsters, I felt there was a lack of ambition and most of all… I noticed how horribly badly we, as a society, were dealing with diversity.
My project started in 2009 as a modest afterschool program of Urban Culture. Today, Let’s Go Urban is a booming social project, with 2 successful spin-offs…
The first one is called Let’s Go Urban Academy. This spin-off accommodates more than 1000 youngsters of all creeds, colours and social backgrounds per week, after school hours. They are encouraged to let off steam by improving their grasp of a discipline they are passionate about (dance, music, sports, acting, entrepreneurship…). Our handpicked team of 50 coaches supports them in their personal development until they can say ‘I AM SOMEBODY’ and are ready to face their future with the necessary resilience.
The second spin-off is the Let’s Go Urban Network. This is a community of advanced participants, set to become active in the creative sector. All its members are role models, creative entrepreneurs who will go on to inspire many other youngsters.
Projects like this one are hugely satisfying and heart-warming, but I needed to find a way to monetise my philosophy. Without even a business plan, with my 70 kilos’ worth of body weight and a laptop as my only assets, I founded A WOMAN’S VIEW. This one-woman consultancy business has by now become an SME – with a capital S. For years now, my collaborators and I have been inspiring businesses and developing new brands in co-creation with them, to allow them to connect with the new generation.
Also, I hold a seat on a couple of boards of directors at, for instance, De Studio, De Zomerschool, De Schoolbrug and – as their youngest board member ever – at VRT, the Flemish Radio and Television Corporation.
But in 2014 my world abruptly stopped turning. When my mentor Marleen Van Ouytsel died after a valiant struggle against cancer, I wondered: ‘Where do I go next?’…
Let’s Go Urban was my baby. But did I really need to keep expanding yet another successful business? Did I really want that many people on my payroll?
I’m a real go-getter at heart. I think like an American in that respect: ‘YES WE CAN’.
But my undeniable pride is very Moroccan, and I also sport a recognisably Belgian down-to-earth mentality…
And damn it: the world is on fire, there’s a new generation screaming for attention and our economy is in dire need of some long term solutions… so let’s go for it!
My mission is to create maximal positive social impact. Not just for the benefit of 1000 Let’s Go Urban-youngsters, but preferably also for the benefit of thousands of others and for the benefit of a sound economy. Which is why I have been setting up WannaWork for the last 2 years. A new company that is a digital as well as a physical actor endeavouring to close the gap, the evident mismatch, between businesses and the new generation: a recruitment service that guides today’s potential and talent, in al its shapes and colours, toward the business community.
Maximal impact… that’s quite a challenge. This challenge is so huge it makes me vulnerable, even a bit uncertain, at times. Nevertheless, I am incredibly eager to go for it!
I mean to go on as a serial Social Entrepreneur, to keep building society.
Just not on my own.
I can’t do this on my own.
But I will manage with a great team on my side, a strong community, a group of believe-angels and… you!
Welcome to my website and huge thanks for your #BELIEVE
Global Diversity Award (Stanton Chase)
VROUW VAN HET JAAR 2015 (WOMAN OF THE YEAR 2015) – Diwan Awards 2015
‘Antwerpen Cultuurstad Award’ (Antwerp City of Culture Award)
Erebachelor (Honorary bachelor) Karel de Grote Hogeschool Antwerpen
Top 30 ‘Sterke vrouwen die de wereld veranderden) (Top 30 ‘Strong women who changed the world’ (Knack magazine) Powerful recognition, cited alongside the likes of J.K. Rowling and Oprah Winfrey
‘Straffe Madam 2013’ (Remarkable Lady 2013)(Curieus Antwerpen)
TOP 10 Powerlist most influential Belgians from an immigrant background
‘Antwerpenaar van het jaar’ (Antwerp citizen of the year)
‘De Vlaamse cultuurprijs 2012’ (Flemish prize for cultural achievement 2012) (The Flemish Community)
‘Belgium’s Outstanding Young Person’ (JCI) Award for entrepreneurship
“We can not solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” – Einstein
From dawn to dusk, all I do is reflect, come up with things and make plans. How can we develop new ideas for our social economy? Ideas for creative, sustainable solutions -preferably right now! We are, for instance, on the lookout for new ways to finance social entrepreneurship without having to resort to subsidies and sponsoring.
All of my own projects and companies originate from creative thinking and resulted in social enterprise. And yes, admittedly, we did, at times, beat our heads against a brick wall. Lots of ideas never came to fruition. Yet by failing we always managed to get that one step closer to some awesome solutions.
References: • SOCIAL IMPACT BOND • COCO CYCLO • POINT URBAIN • WANNAWORK • WANNACHANGE
“If your actions inspire others to dream more learn more do more and become more you are a leader.” — John Quincy Adams
I started by making my own projects work, and then I tried to inspire as many people as possible to join in. On the one hand I want to inspire youngsters to believe in their own capacities by sharing with them via social media my own story of striving, falling and getting up again, from disadvantaged to privileged.
On the other hand, as a public speaker I try to incite as many people as possible to take part, on various levels, in projects with #belief in the new generation.
References: • TEDx Flanders • TEDxJohnsson&Johnsson • TEDx Coolsingel • RandstadAwards • Open-VLD visiecongres • CD&V Kompas • Studiedag GROEN! • Spa- Beste Stad • STIMA • VDAB • UNIZO • KBC Start it • USA-Tour #believe • Zuid-Afrika Johannesburg Creative economy • UA • KDG • stichting P&V • Portugal-Fago StraffeMadammen • Bank Degroof A-Win • European Congress Istanbul • HR Congres Malaga • Leadersmeating in Paris 2016 • TEDxWomenFlanders 2016.
“The best way to predict the future, is to create it” — Drucker
Developing and launching new concepts for private businesses – in co-creation with the companies.
Our team and focus groups from the community join businesses and organisations on a trajectory leading from a challenge to a solution. These solutions may turn out to be new brands and spin-offs, or even new companies.
I like the idea that, in each case, social enterprise means collective enterprise.
References: • CARTE BLANCHE for VRT • VIBEZ for VOORZORG • STEEZ for PIONEER • VISITORCENTOR for COCA COLA • Urban Brand activation BEN&JERRY’S • REDBULL • PEPSI. Programma urban for ANTWERPEN EUROPESE JONGERENHOOFDSTAD and ANTWERPEN EUROPESE SPORTSTAD.
“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others” — Bill Gates
In 2009 I founded Let’s Go Urban, in 2012 the non-profit LGU Academy.
LGU Academy implemented an after school program that proposes a great number of disciplines to children and youngsters from the ages of 6 up to and including 30: Urban Dance, Urban Music, Urban Media, Urban Sports (freerunning & tricking) and Urban Dreamers (entrepreneurship).
LGU Academy makes it its business to provide youngsters in the city with more future perspectives. By providing them with opportunities in dance, sports, music, media and entrepreneurship, we are investing to empower youngsters and encourage their sense of enterprise. At the moment, we are providing afterschool activities for more than a thousand young people on diverse locations in Antwerp. These are all city kids, representing a cross-section of the Antwerp community regarding origins, culture, religion and socio-economic background. Each year, some 20% of our youngsters are invited to take on a job in the creative sector, but we also saw teachers, social workers, decorators, translators/interpreters, IT-specialists, marketers, sales managers, spokespersons, entrepreneurs step up to take up active roles in the economy.
These are some of the role models who are now contributing to society and who inspire me today:
We organise shows, happenings and productions to introduce urban art to the public and to empower youngsters to develop their skills as professional artists (dance, music, multimedia).
Business companies and public authorities regularly commission us to produce unique performances, from a 5-minute showcase to productions and happenings lasting up to an hour and a half, as well as commercials or trailers for all kinds of businesses, produced by LGU from A to Z.
Op.Recht.Mechelen 2017-Turning Point, ESPRIT, VKW Limburg, ING, KBC, Koning Boudewijn Stichting, Prins Filip fonds, DIWAN-awards, Europees parlement, Randstad, Johnson & Johnson, European Youth Week, Laundryday, tomorrowland, CD&V, Open-VLD, Vlaamse Opera, Cultuurmarkt, Antwerp Giants, Night Of the Proms, Zomer Van Antwerpen, Special Olympics, BoPro Flagey, Bank Vanbreda, Vanbreda Verzekeringen, opening Rock Werchter, Mourik Waagnatie....
uth Week, Laundryday, tomorrowland, CD&V, Open-VLD, Vlaamse Opera, Cultuurmarkt, Antwerp Giants, Night Of the Proms, Zomer Van Antwerpen, Special Olympics, BoPro Flagey, Bank Vanbreda, Vanbreda Verzekeringen, opening Rock Werchter, Mourik Waagnatie....Read More
Let's Go Urban represents the child in me. A Woman's View is my transition to womanhood. In short: we respond to any and all requests from both private companies and organisations to consider a challenge they are faced with. Starting from a blank page we work in co-creation with them to find a solution.
For years now, we have been helping businesses to bring their Corporate Social Responsibility into practice and inspiring them by co-developing new brands that allowed them to connect with the new generation.Read More
Wannawork is a new digital platform. It’s a job site proposing tools for job searching and applying. It helps candidates provide employers with the best possible survey of his or her talents, passions and values. So many businesses are looking for efficient, enthusiastic employees and so many young people are talented, passionate people… Yet it seems they are often unable to connect.
I would like to close this gap. WannaWork wants to create as many jobs and fill as many vacancies as possible. We are tomorrow’s recruiters, who start from each youngster’s potential. We recruit with a mindset focused on values, soft skills, resilience and agility.
Our USP? Our target group! We have the whole world at our disposal and we’re going to allow these young people, to advance and make their way to all levels of the economy, in proportion to their talents.
It also proposes tools to employers to describe and position their vacancies in such a way that they will actually reach the new generation. When a company would like us to search for a suitable candidate, just say the word.
Besides a digital platform, we also have a physical platform: WannaTaste, managed by Erika Xuan Nguyen, that allows the target group to get to know us even before they need us. Wannataste runs a number of community-driven meeting hubs, where a passion for food and drink are key. There’s no better way to get to know a person than to meet him or her in familiar surroundings where you can be yourself - even when there’s a CEO sitting opposite you.
Our first hub was not the least: it is the student restaurant and coffee bar at the new KDG-Campus in Antwerpen Zuid, that provides a 6000-strong campus with fresh and varied menus, sourced, prepared an served daily by a very young and diverse team… time for some serious disruption in the catering sector!
Meanwhile Doi Doi was also born in the heart of Antwerp. Doi Doi is best described as an all day asian foodbar. Believe me when you walk through the nationalestraat in Antwerp you'll definitely notice number 80 because of the unique design.The interior was designed by the agency Ace and Spaces. The inspiration for the non-everyday design derives from hip business in Hong Kong and Bangkok.
#Believe, the book I published in 2013 is, on the one hand, a call on people from the new generation to go for it and surround themselves with believers.
On the other hand, it is a call on society to take off its blinders and see the enormous potential & talent of the new generation and to make use of it. We should, as a society, encourage youngsters to develop their own talents. The best way for youngsters to do so is by building on their strengths. The book highlights these strengths and makes a convincing case (at least I hope so) for all concerned – that means all of us – to take action.
'Let’s do something slightly mad' my business partner Erika and I said one day, about a year ago. We bought ourselves KOGA racing bicycles.
The logical next step was, of course, to go out looking for cycling gear. That’s when our fashion-consciousness manifested itself: to our mind, outer beauty goes together inextricably with inner beauty. Even on a bike, a woman likes to feel good and look good. So we decided then and there to start a clothing line, Coco Cyclo, cycling apparel for women. In its initial phase exclusively available from a web shop
This company is just a hobby. Nevertheless, we maintain our usual high standards. It is our mission to get as many women as possible to hop on their bikes and to empower them to believe in themselves. Coco Cyclo is the perfect incentive to get started.Read More
In the past 10 years I have had to pitch ideas hundreds of times in order to raise funds, either for my non-profit organisation or when I was getting believe-angels to invest in Point Urbain.
My mission is to acquire maximal impact. Well, to me that means I have to see to it that not just my own, but also other people’s initiatives that focus on children’s and youngsters’ development, get adequate funding.
Which is why part of the profits from Coco Cyclo goes to the New Generation Foundation, which is dedicated to providing support for other initiatives.
Whoever feels so inclined can contribute to the New Generation Foundation, either financially or by devoting their expertise to the cause.Read More
De Franse schrijver Marcel Proust beantwoordde ze ooit in een vriendenboekje, nu geeft
De Morgen er een eigenzinnige draai aan. Dertig directe vragen, evenzoveel openhartige antwoorden.
Vandaag: jongerenactiviste Sihame El Kaouakibi (31). Wie is zij in het diepst van haar gedachten?
Geschreven door Ann Jooris & Fernand Van Damme Foto’s door Stefaan Temmerman