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About personal growth and sparking innovation

What makes Fundamentals special? The close-knit team is a mix of senior and junior staff, and young professionals are offered unique opportunities. Productivity is high. They work hard and celebrate successes. Fundamentals explores the boundaries of innovation, creating a new interface between design agencies and education.

Writer Mariek Hilhorst spoke with five people from the Fundamentals network about their experiences with the organisation in the past five years. In this article you can read about what Erwin, Francine, Ilya, Leonie and Ruud had to say about the way of working at Fundamentals.

Experience in the field

“At Fundamentals, we welcome people who have the training but lack the relevant work experience. We tell them to go out and just do it. We give young people the opportunity to gain experience in the field, and that’s something they don’t get with most employers. Fundamentals believes in the new generation,” according to Francine Groenewoud-Knüppe, who is a psychologist, coach, and trainer.“There is this gap between university and work, and many students struggle to cross it. They need to work on personal development, which will help them get the job that suits their abilities and ambitions. New initiatives for other educational systems are emerging, with an increased focus on personal development. And that’s what Fundamentals is offering,” Leonie Vlaar, Slow-Fashion designer and coach, says. “You feel that they put a lot of trust in you, and that’s quite something. Even if you’re unaware of your own strengths, Jens Gijbels, the founder of Fundamentals, puts you in a place that he feels is right for you. That’s where you get a chance to grow. With so much room to discover what suits you, you build self-confidence as a professional. It feels good and helps to create a lasting bond between students and coaches.”

Unique opportunities for graduates

“The opportunities created by Fundamentals for students or recent graduates without work experience are unique,” Ruud de Voijs, creative strategist and coach, agrees. “It was cool to realise how serious the clients took the input of the young graduate I was back then because Fundamentals was the intermediary.’ Leonie feels that within Fundamentals, Jens Gijbels is well-placed as “a connector, a link between students and businesses. You gain a lot of experience, give your all for each project, and learn a lot. It makes you want to go all out for Jens and Fundamentals. And you get to do incredibly cool projects because you can tag along with Jens. It’s incredibly energising, and there is a purity to it; he doesn’t muck about, and he’s sincere."

Work hard and play hard

“Inside a bubble, you can create amazing things. It’s magical to see what we can realise at the last minute,” according to Leonie. “This family feeling is the strength and success of Fundamentals.” The same goes for the students participating in the projects. “As a student, it’s great to be taken seriously, but you do have to work really hard, often over forty hours a week. That’s why Fundamentals gets a lot done. The team has access to vast supplies of energy, workforce, and creativity. They deliver and do it fast, and productivity is high. Work hard, play hard, that’s the motto,” Francine confirms. “Young people have an increasing need for flexibility, self-direction, and a proper work-life balance. The trick is to find the right balance because you don’t want people to drop out. Jens is moving with the times, as he should, and I expect that more students will feel drawn to the community as a result.”

New interface between design agencies and education

“Fundamentals tests the boundaries of innovation. “In terms of content and the way they work, they do a good job,” Ilya Zitter, senior lecturer Learning Environments in Vocational Education at HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht, says. “They aim to implement innovations, in their education and in other respects. They are always well prepared, present suitable, real-world design briefs, have lots of experience, and can mobilise a large network. This is a new interface between design agencies and education, often across several disciplines. Educational institutions are large and unwieldy. Partnering with clubs like Fundamentals can help institutions for higher education such as HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht to explore its boundaries and innovate from the outside in, as well as from the inside out. Fundamentals is versatile and creative, they welcome experiments, and they can spark innovation in universities. I do think that educational institutions should be able to do this themselves, though. When a university’s budget is spent outside the institution’s walls, we, as a society, should be wary. Fortunately, Fundamentals wants to contribute by sharing its expertise with universities and university staff. Although they offer innovative educational programmes, the intention is to have the institutions take over at a later stage.”

Text: Mariek Hilhorst

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