Esther Jacobs – Founder of Coins for Care

[quote]If you have a dream you want to realize, whether is is big or small, personal of business, for yourself or for a better world: don’t keep it to yourself. As soon as you start talking about your dream things will be set in motion. Other people want to help, it is natural to them, so please give them that opportunity![/quote]

Esther Jacobs is a Dutch author, motivational speaker and creativity expert. Her motto is: ‘If you do what you always did, you will get what you always got’. For almost two decades she has helped companies, entrepreneurs and individuals to realize their dreams.

She walks the talk; having visited over a 100 countries, speaking 7+ languages, having raised $25 million for charity without a budget and as a participant in the European ‘Survivor’ TV series. She only works a few months a year and lives alternately in Amsterdam, Curacao and Miami.

Did you know that Esther:

  • got knighted by the Dutch Queen for my charity initiative ‘Coins for Care’?
  • lived in a cave in Malaysia for 3 weeks during ‘Survivor’?
  • had many exciting travel stories, among which visiting a ‘non-existing’ country?
  • frequently is asked to be a guest in Dutch and Belgian TV & radio shows?
  • has been interviewed over 500 times by magazines and newspapers in The Netherlands, Belgium, UK, Spain, South Africa and Netherlands Antilles?
  • has topped off my Business study with a Masters in Anthropology and Latin American Studies?
  • has lived with the Maya Indians in Guatemala and Belize for three months to study their use of tobacco and other medicinal plants?
  • is a freelance writer for international newspapers, business and women’s magazines?
  • speaks at least four other languages next to English and Dutch? (Spanish, French, Portuguese, German and some Italian, Afrikaans and Papiamentu)
  • travels the world, looking for inspiration and loves to share it with you!

What are you working on right now?

I have just finished my third book called ‘Did you find your Mr. Wrong yet?’ and was planning to take it easy for a while. However, I needed a place to live while in the Netherlands after years of traveling and staying with friends, so made a barter deal with my former university Nyenrode to give guest lectures to their MBA students in exchange for a student room. So I am actually moving in there right now. Weird to be living among students again after 20 years. It must be even weirder for them! 🙂

Where did the idea for Coins for Care come from?

I have traveled to over a 100 countries and just wanted to do ‘something good’ for once. I decided to collect all left over foreign coins for charities when the Euro was introduced in 2002. I started Coins for Care, but at first nobody wanted to join in, since they did not know me, I had no experience and no budget. I worked my butt off (without pay!) for 3 years before it became a success and suddenly everybody wanted to join in: charities, retail chains, sponsors, volunteers and the media. To manage all these contacts plus logistics plus communications plus various crises while at the same time running the collection was another challenge. Especially because the old boys network in the Dutch charity world resented me for doing everything differently, faster and cheaper than they had ever done. Moreover I did not get paid and achieved great results; they feared for their own positions and tried to tackle me in various ways, making my life even more difficult. In the end I collected €16 million in ‘worthless’ coins! All that money went to the charities, but unfortunately there were some who did not want to give insight in how they spent the money, so I started The Netherlands first donor organization to promote transparency. After 7 years of charity work – still no pay – I retired from the charity world. However I got to know lots of great people who really care about others and I learned more than I could have ever imagined.

What does your typical day look like?

When I am in the Netherlands for about 4-5 months a year, I give motivational speeches and strategic workshops all over the country. I meet lots of inspiring people and feel like I am always in a hurry. However, when I get on a plane to the tropical island of Curaçao where I also spend part of my time, my pace slows down. Only then I realize that the lives we live here in the west are just running-running which hardly leaves any space for relaxation, fun or inspiration. You don’t want to know what my days in Curaçao look like… Reading in the hammock, swimming in the warm sea among colorful fish, sailing, kite surfing, BBQ’s with friends and lots of… nothing! By the time I am fully charged again, I usually get a group of bookings and get on a plane to The Netherlands to run the rat race for a few weeks…

How do you bring ideas to life?

By DOING! First I talk to lots of people about an idea until everybody gets so excited that the energy sets things in motion. If everybody takes a little step towards the common goal, this is so motivating, that you keep on moving until you are there. In the process lots of people want to join and be part of that special energy.

I used to do everything by myself. That also works, but is a lot less motivating and requires a relentless work ethic: Cut your big audacious goals into bite-sized pieces and take little bites EVERY SINGLE DAY, every hour. Don’t be discouraged if something doesn’t work: try something else. If something seems to big, just cut it in smaller pieces that seem ‘doable’.

3 trends that excite you?

1) Social media: A few years ago it was unthinkable that you could be in touch with so many people at the same time. It has effect on your social life (lots of people I meet nowadays seem to know everything I do, because they follow me on Twitter…) but also on work and other projects. It has never been easier to find help, knowledge or join like-minded people with common goals. I wish I could have used ‘crowdsourcing’  during Coins for Care! This is only the start. Every week somebody invents a new application or links existing networks.

2) Apple: After my Dell laptop got stolen 3 years ago, I switched to the new MacBook Air with a big smile on my face. I now have all devices: iMac, MacBookPro, iPhone and iPad. Not only is the design superb, the possibilities are endless and I just love the way that company thinks, innovates and makes life/work easier (and even pleasurable) for entrepreneurs. When I am at an airport wherever in the world I look at other Apple users and you just kind of understand each other: same lifestyle, same preferences. It’s become a lifestyle. Ever wondered why so many people switch from PC to Apple and nobody ever seems to switch back? An Apple a day keeps the doctor away! 🙂

3) Reality show auditions: I know this sounds stupid, but I just LOVE these shows. I watch auditions from all over the world via the internet. Not the ‘bloopers’, but the rare discoveries and raw emotions. The best ones I collect on my Youtube account:

What is the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I have never worked for a boss in my life! But even during my freelance work I quickly discovered that sitting in an office from 9-5 (or whatever working hours) kills all my creativity. What if I could find a solution to a problem in 5 minutes: would I still have to stay the whole day? What if I got a great idea in the evening? If I ‘work’ in my spare time, can I go do something fun during the day? Most companies are process oriented and I am a result oriented person. Being an entrepreneur gives me the possibility to choose my own productive hours and the flexibility and freedom to work when I feel like it as long as I get the best results.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Not much. I became the person I am by going through all these experiences. If I changed anything I might not be who I am now. That being said: If I had known what I know now I would have smuggled more food into the European Survivor program I participated in 2005… 🙂

What is the one thing you did/do as an entrepreneur that you would do over and over again and recommend everybody else do?

If you have a dream you want to realize, whether it is big or small, personal of business, for yourself or for a better world: don’t keep it to yourself. As soon as you start talking about your dream things will be set in motion. Other people want to help, it is natural to them, so please give them that opportunity!

Tell us a secret…

Whatever you want to achieve, whatever your dream is, it IS possible! You don’t have to wait until the perfect moment or for the perfect circumstances, money or others. YOU are in charge, do it NOW! Take a look at Matt ( He was following his passion: doing a crazy dance all over the world and making a compilation video of that. Over 40 million people watched the video and enjoyed his craziness and fun for 4 minutes. Then a sponsor came along and now Matt is getting paid for doing what he loves best!

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Whether you are a company, private person or charity: Don’t ask for money!

When you need something: go directly to the source and try to deal with them. (For example if you need business cards, go directly to a printer in stead of first collecting money and then spending that on printing.)
Try to look for win-win-win situations and structural partnerships rather than donor-charity or seller-buyer relationships

Collect something that is of no use/value to others: for example frequent flyer miles or deposit slips (statiegeld in Dutch)

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read, and why?

‘The four hour workweek’ by Timothy Ferriss. It shows that you CAN live a different life, even if you are in a boring job. To entrepreneurs it shows among other things that you can outsource a lot more than you think. It can be a life changing book!

If you weren’t working on Coins for Care, what would you be doing?

I am doing exactly what I want to be doing!

Three people we should follow on Twitter, and why?

1) @MartijnBaarda Great video’s, ads and insights. Not very well-known yet, so kind of a hidden gem.
2) @Koningin_NL (Sorry, only in Dutch) A fake Dutch queen with hilarious remarks on actuality.
3) ME! 🙂 @estherjacobs I post pictures, video’s, quotes and observations that many people find inspiring or triggering.

When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it.

Must have been during Stand Up Inspiration (SUI) in Amsterdam. Every month they invite various speakers, most of them not well-known at all, tot talk about their passions. Sometimes these people (or their stories) are touching, other times they are so funny that my muscles ache from laughing the day after…

Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?

Joseph Oubelkas, a young Dutch IT engineer who was innocently imprisoned in a Moroccan jail for 4,5 years and came out with an incredible story and a very positive attitude!

Why are you being called ‘The no excuses lady?’

Because I show that there are no problems, only challenges and that there is always a solution. By thinking creatively and asking others for help you can solve any ‘problem’ and achieve anything. Excuses are a sign that you don’t fully take responsibility for your own life and thus your success. If I make a mistake, I have only myself to blame. I learn from every experience, even if it seems to lead nowhere at that time. In retrospect there was always a purpose for it. If you stand still, do nothing or blame or wait for others, you miss precious opportunities. No more excuses!

Not everybody can live the dream life you live. We have families, jobs and mortgages. Does your philosophy also work for ‘normal’ people?

Yes it does! Indeed my life is a dream to some (tropical island life), but a nightmare to others (no financial security). I have found my own strengths, added value, weaknesses and preferences and have created the life that I love best. Within your own context you can also create your dream life. Even if you have physical limitations, you still have a choice: pity yourself or make the most out of it. Watch this young armless guy play the piano on China’s got talent and listen to what he has to say about his life. He later even won the show! Now look at your own excuses. Are you going to make the best of your life and the life of those around you? What are you waiting for?

@estherjacobs on Twitter

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