“I want to have a positive effect on my environment, above all”

In September, Deniz Dibooglu (22) won the ECHO Award 2018, a national prize for excellent talent with a non-Western background in higher education. He graduated from the HRM degree programme in February. As a schoolboy he wanted to become a lawyer and earn a lot of money, now Deniz wants to have a positive effect on the world around him, above all.

Is a prize to encourage talented students with a non-Western background really necessary?

“That’s a question I am often asked. Such an award shouldn’t be needed in 2018 surely? Yet, the reality is different. It’s good to share success stories and show the strength of diversity. It may sound superficial, but when I watched TV as a child hardly anyone looked like me. That affects you, because you look for people you can relate to, especially when you are a child.”

At the end of September, you and all the winners visited the Minister of Education. What did you discuss with her?

“We were warmly welcomed by Ingrid van Engelshoven and her staff. The minister took the time to hear our stories and was particularly interested in what had helped us during our studies. I emphasised the importance of role models: it was good for me as a first year student to have contact with older students who were doing well. Later, as mentor, I tried to be an example for my fellow students.”

Why did you take part in the ECHO Award?

“There is still systematic exclusion. It isn’t always intentional, but it does result in an unequal starting position. I feel that the ECHO Award acknowledges that reality – which many students are faced with. That is the main reason I took part.”

You grew up in Leidschendam and The Hague. Who were your greatest examples?

“My parents, without a doubt. They were born in Antakya, in Southern Turkey. They didn’t have the opportunity to study. My father worked in various countries from a young age, in garages and car paint shops. Still now, his alarm clock goes off at 4.30 am every morning and he often doesn’t get home until 7 pm. And I’ve never heard him complain in all these years. My mother is also a hard worker. She has a warm personality and is people-oriented as well as being result-oriented. They always encouraged me and my older sister – who is a children’s holistic coach – to seize all the opportunities that exist. They showed us that you can make something from nothing. And that small steps together make a big one.”

The jury members were particular taken by your authentic and artistic presentation. What was the secret of your final pitch?

“My co-finalists all had good study results, strong cover and recommendation letters and impressive CVs. I realised I had to stand out with my presentation. I like spoken word poems, they use a type of rapping without a beat, and I set my story to rhyme. From when my granddad landed in the Netherlands in 1972 until here and now: my ambitions and the way I view the world.”

How have your ambitions changed over the years?

“I did well at school from a young age. My grades were good. I was happy and my parents were proud. People often said: ‘You’ll get there.’ That felt good, but when I started studying I started to question what people meant by that. Where was ‘there’? I soon realised that many equated success with status or money. I notice this in my own generation: how we are constantly encouraged to show off with money or expensive things, especially online. If we were all to share as much food, the world would be a nicer place. I was prone to it for a while too, as a schoolboy I wanted to become a successful lawyer. And above all, earn a lot of money. Along the way, I realised that wasn’t what I really wanted. I gradually went off that idea. Right now, I have a clear goal: I want to have a positive effect on the world around me. And I work on that every day!”

Is that why you are active on Instagram and YouTube with your CareVlogs?

“Yes, those films began as an initiative to spread positivity, charity and awareness online. With many influencers it’s all about the number of views or likes. A dangerous trend, because then they don’t think about the effect their images have on others. Consider the negative impact of the ‘bully vloggers’. I want to debunk that image and set a positive example. I don’t have tons of followers, but those I do have come from various backgrounds. For whoever is interested, I warmly invite them to follow my Instagram account: @carevlogs.”

Your thesis examiner, and also mentor in your first year, Marianne Walhout-Diependaal, wrote that you barely stood out in the foundation year. Do you see yourself in that?

“Yes, I was very modest and preferred to stay in the background. I was like that at secondary school too, the Lyceum Ypenburg. Along the way, I shed that humility. When I was studying I became fully aware that false modesty gets you nowhere. It took me a few years to work through it. Everything went into fast forward when I did my internship at the province. As a young HR intern, I arrived in an organisation with lots of experienced professionals, many of whom had a whole career behind them. All of a sudden I was forced to have an opinion. My internship supervisor, Joop Zweistra, also encouraged me a lot and challenged me to work on myself.

As a student at THUAS, you were not only concerned with your own study results, as a mentor you grew to become an inspiration for others.

“That’s right. I noticed for instance that some of my fellow students with a migration background had trouble finding a good internship or graduation placement. I wanted to do something about that. I taught them to present themselves better, without losing sight of themselves. I like writing, whether poetic texts, cover letters or CVs. And if I can help others profile themselves better, then I am very happy to do so.”

How do you hit the right chord with your fellow students?

“By showing my vulnerabilities and talking about my own background and experiences. I can’t expect others to be open if I don’t do it myself. False modesty usually stems from insecurity: you are not sure where your qualities lie or you don’t want to advertise them. But when you really get to know yourself and where your strengths are you automatically convey that. Your only limit is you. One way we taught that new mindset was using a card game with personal questions.”

You graduated six months early and your graduation thesis about organisational change was honoured with a 10!

“Yeah, who would have thought? I was really interested in the topic. I could have completed my thesis in November 2017, but I postponed my presentation because I wasn’t happy with it. I wanted to better align my research to the transition that the province was going through. We took the step from a hierarchical to a task-focused organisation with a flat structure. The tasks in society are now the prominent issue and the internal lines and processes less so. I also wanted my research to reach staff who were finding the transition difficult. But of course, I couldn’t expect everyone to read the hundred pages of my thesis! So I made an animation in which I shared the results and most important recommendations in a few minutes. We then entered a discussion.”

The province has recruited you as Employer Branding officer. What do you do in that position?

“I am now designing a new strategy for employment market communications. Few people know what the province does and how enjoyable our work is. We are working on a more appealing image, whereby we will also reach a diverse target group. It is also important that we connect to new networks. A significant trend in employer branding is using internal staff as ambassadors. A concrete example: I recently met an old acquaintance at a Meet & Greet for a traineeship at the province. He stated he was prompted to apply because of the many updates about my job that I had shared on LinkedIn. He thought it was great to see that I had so many opportunities at my employer. That encouraged him to take a look too.”

Alongside your full-time job you are doing a part-time Philosophy pre-master programme in Tilburg. Why that course?

“I am hoping to go to the business and organisation ethics master’s programme next academic year. A course that suits me down to a tee. On the one hand I am result-oriented but I can also ponder ethical issues for hours on end: such as, how as an organisation can you balance your objectives with the impact they have on society? It is a particularly interesting source of tension in these times of robotisation and artificial intelligence. As an HRM person in body and soul, I of course hope that people can continue to make a difference!”

What does it mean to you to win the ECHO Award?

“Hard work pays off! The award is of course not a goal in itself, but it is a fine token of appreciation. Although, to be honest all the personal attention is a bit embarrassing. My telephone exploded and I was congratulated from all corners. All really great of course, but I’d rather talk about the content.”

Is the former modest Deniz back again?

“Ha ha, indeed! Winning the award was the end of an intensive period and it is very satisfying. But now I’d like to continue with systematically working towards my next goal!”

Talking about new goals, as a winner you can go to the UCLA Summer School in Los Angeles for six weeks next summer. What course are you going to pick?

“The courses will be announced in January. I am thinking of a summer course in Linguistics because I’d like to improve my English writing skills. At the same time, I want to work on my creative communication skills so that I can continue to encourage various youngsters online in a creative way.