Today, November 1st, 2020, Adriana Esmeijer officially says goodbye as director of the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, the largest private culture fund in the Netherlands. Under her inspiring leadership, the fund experienced significant growth and was able to connect more and more culture devotees and creators.
With extraordinary respect and admiration for this ‘leading lady’, ‘matchmaker’, inspirer of stature and highly valued relation, it is our pleasure to spotlight her below, as she deserves!
In the busy weeks leading up to her farewell, Adriana fortunately managed to find thime for this interview. In this interview she shares her secret of success.
Please find the entire interview below.
“Looking back on my past 20 years as director of the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, I learned that being yourself is your greatest strength,” says Adriana Esmeijer. “Staying yourself and being authentic brings you more than just wanting to play a role.”
We are eager to hear the secret of her success. After all, at the age of 35, she entered the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds as a rookie – as she likes to put it. She is now widely appreciated as a natural connector who is able to quickly gain the trust of others, thanks to her humor and analytical and empathetic skills. In 20 years time, she and her team have been able to realize an extensive growth in donations and thus in the support of activities. The fund now spends € 40 million annually on culture, nature and science. In addition to the head office in Amsterdam, there are twelve provincial departments.
What is the secret of her success?
“You are lucky with the talents you receive in life.”
Adriana is characterized by attributing her success primarily to a mix of luck and hard work. “You are lucky with the talents you receive in life, such as being able to study well,” she says. “But with this luck comes the responsibility to further develop these natural talents, and that is only possible by putting in significant effort. Just like a successful top athlete or musician, I have worked many hours in this role. When I do something, I want to do it right. I have been ambitious since a young age and I wanted to make a difference. In high school I taught recorder as a side job. I got 40 children to play the recorder and many of them continued at a music school with another instrument. The seed was planted after all. I enjoyed it even then and I did it with full dedication. My driving force has reached a level where I must sometimes tell myself to take a few steps back.”
“I was uninhibited, which was actually a plus point at the time.”
Adriana also sees it as fortunate that the position of director of the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds came along at the right time in her life. “At that time, I was head of the Internal and External Relations department of the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, and as a PhD student in science communication, several large communication consultancies approached me. I thought the fund would be fun, as it is about more than just communication, which captured my curiosity. I did not really apply for a purpose and had no idea that the Royal Family was so actively involved in the fund. In my understanding, Prince Bernhard was only the namesake and I certainly did not expect to ever meet him. I ended up in a challenging position and met many top executives and people of high regard from the cultural world, who were often much older than me. I was uninhibited, which was actually a plus point at the time.”
“I am very careful in keeping my promises.”
Her uninhibited curiosity led to a fast learning curve and thus success. Adriana: “We have been very successful with the “designated funds”, of which there are now 500. Designated funds are earmarked donations whereby donors themselves can determine the name and purpose of the fund. This has turned out to be a very pleasant form of donating for benefactors.
People often ask how we have achieved our growth, but there is no secret formula. It is a matter of listening carefully to what motivates benefactors in support of culture and then providing a service for it. Consistently delivering what you promise. However, it takes significant patience to gain trust. It requires more than promises and actions, it’s the details that matter. Always make sure your actions match your promises. This level of care and courtesy are now woven into the core of the organization. This does not happen overnight. I tried to propagate that internally every day.
I am very careful in keeping my promises. Before I speak to anyone, I make sure I know all the details. Care, service and patience. You don’t often find these characteristics in a director’s profile, but they are essential here.”
The working method of the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds fits the keywords of SMEENK’S: attention, focus and quality. It is not without reason that Adriana says: “Maartje Smeenk could very well have been working here too, since, as a ‘matchmaker’, she is ‘impeccable’ and extremely diligent. This struck me, because I am not always used to this from the service sector. Maartje is super attentive. Congratulating someone or wishing them strength, it’s a small effort, but it makes such a difference. Maartje can do that like no other and with her attention to detail and personal interest, her service fits our organization like a glove.”
“Dealing with a mix of different people makes the work so much fun.”
“Everyone who works here understands that we cannot live on air,” says Adriana. “On the one hand, we have benefactors who give us their money and trust, and on the other hand we have institutions that rely on us. Both customer groups deserve our full and sincere attention. In the media, I am regularly found standing next to the King or Queen and one is quickly viewed as the “Culture Pope of the Canal Belt”. But those are just a few photo opportunities. As a fund, we are active throughout the Netherlands in all areas of culture and nature, not only for professionals, but also for amateurs. We talk to everyone throughout the Netherlands, including people who wish to bequeath money to the local harmony.
It is precisely dealing with that mix of different people that makes the work so much fun.”
“We make dreams come true.”
Adriana is fortunate to have ended up with the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds and to be able to do meaningful work. “We make dreams come true. Our work is always the beginning of something beautiful, everyone who works with us feels the same. Someone once called us the “Ministry of Happiness,” I thought that was a nice one. Who wouldn’t want to commit to that? But, this is not work that you just do on the side. I’ve seen it as an honor and life fulfillment for the past 20 years to contribute to this. You can definitely make a difference in this work.
Empowering others, making dreams come true, growing talents, planting seeds. I already did that with my recorder lessons, so apparently that’s a part of me.”
“Being yourself is your greatest strength.”
“Looking back over the past 20 years, I have learned that being true to yourself is your greatest strength,” says Adriana. “Staying true to yourself and being authentic brings you more than just wanting to play a role. Dare to show yourself. Also be honest if you are not very good at something and surround yourself with people who complement that. They often appreciate that you use their expertise, so give them that.
Your own, honest style is not featured in any management book, but it is the best.”
“I know that we were there when the cultural sector needed us.”
Adriana leaves the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds in a bizarre period. “We had already decided last year that I would leave, after the festive celebration of our 80th anniversary in October 2020. Of course, this all went differently. Who could have foreseen corona? In these past few months, we have pulled out all the stops with very successful donation campaigns. Lance in hand, we fought for culture.
I’m not leaving the fund at an easy time, but I know that we were there when the cultural sector needed us. ”
“The beginning of something beautiful.”
Are you also sympathetic towards culture, nature and science? And are you just as impressed by Adriana Esmeijer and the beautiful Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds as we are? Please leave a donation here. Any amount is welcome. Especially now!
“Bringing people, dreams and worlds together, brings culture to life.
Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds. The beginning of something beautiful.”
Brief CV Adriana Esmeijer 1966 born in Rotterdam 1978-1984 pre-university education at Philips van Horne School community, Weert | 1984-1987: journalism at the Academy for Journalism & Information, Tilburg | 1987-1992 Study Linguistics and Literary Studies Tilburg University (cum laude) | 1984-1992 freelance copywriter, editor and program maker | 1992-1997 science information officer VU University Amsterdam | 1997-2001: Head of Internal and External Relations Erasmus University Rotterdam | 1994-1999: PhD in science communication VU | 2001 Director of the Prince Bernhard Cultuurfonds | 2015 Officer in the Order of Oranje-Nassau | 2016, 2015, 2011 and 2009 listed in “Top 10 Most Influential Women in the Charity sector” according to Opzij, the first two times as No. 1. Additional positions include: Member of the Supervisory Board of NOS and NWO; vice-chairman of the Supervisory Board of ArtEZ University of the Arts. Adriana Esmeijer received high marks in all six editions of the Dikke Blauwe 100, the ranking of the most influential in Dutch philanthropy: 18th, 10th, 8th, 19th, 10th and 1st place.
Interview: Silvia Kooij | Photograph: Sanja Marušiċ.