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Work on what matters: the start of my social sabbatical

It’s time for a reset. To start over and reconnect with the things that really matter to me and to the people around me.

It’s been ten years since I graduated. First six years of working in communication agencies as a designer and creative, followed by four years of building software for these agencies. After this decade in communication jobs I feel like I have lost touch with the big challenges in life. I feel like my skills can be used better.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for all the friends I made and all the skills I picked up along the way. It’s time to move on though to work on new problems out of my comfort zone. Two weeks ago I quit my job as co-founder and creative director of communication software company Prezly and now I’m ready for a new adventure.

A social sabbatical

In the next twelve months I’m broadening my horizon to become aware of the problems in my community that need solving.

Each month I’ll do a different job in areas with a social purpose. Education, healthcare, agriculture, integration,.. The jobs that impact everyone around us.

I’m looking for a vocation. A mission. An activity where I can make a real contribution with my skills in entrepreneurship, design and marketing communication.

The below visual explains how I plan to do this social sabbatical.

Social sabbatical overview


A reason for being

The Japanese concept of ikigai visualizes my challenge well. Ikigai means “a reason for being”. It’s why people get up in the morning. A reason to enjoy life.
You have it when you do work you’re good at, that you love, that you also get paid for, and that the world needs.

Apparently, finding your ikigai requires a deep and often lengthy search of self.

Ikigai image to inspire a social sabbatical

I know what I’m good at and passionate about. Design, facilitation and communication. And luckily I never had any trouble getting paid well for it.

What I do need is a lengthy search of the world to look for problems that matter to me and to my community.

Inspire others to solve problems that matter

It doesn’t stop there though. In just one month I won’t be able to make an impact in these organizations. It will barely be enough time to understand their problems and to conceive possible solutions. I won’t be able to build much just by myself. That’s why I’ll document my learnings, in the hope that it will inspire other builders to help out.

There are tons of talented people around that want to make an impact. Unfortunately many are stuck in their safe jobs. I used to be one of them. A good salary. A fun office environment. Working on intellectually challenging problems. Check, check, and check. Yet not contributing much to society. That’s a big shame.

Shared value

It is possible though to create solutions that help the community and that are financially sound. In management theory they call this concept shared value.

Shared value social sabbatical

In each project I’ll look for solutions that have shared value, because being profitable and self-sustainable is the only way for the projects to be feasible over the long run. It’s also essential to inspire other people to join forces.


Local: benefiting my local community in Brussels.

Important: helping in areas that improve people’s lives.

Hands-on: coming up with solutions by embedding myself for a whole month.

Valuable: making solutions that people need, by testing early and often.

Transparent: sharing the problems, insights, and solutions publicly so others can learn from it too, and hopefully contribute.

Structured: using techniques from service design to approach the challenges in a structured way.

Viable: looking for solutions that have a solid business case.

Networked: Leveraging existing initiatives and infrastructure in Brussels like Growfunding, the Brussels Together Open collective, or Make Sense Belgium.

Next up: back to school

The last week of November I’m starting at a primary school in Brussels called Sint-Joost-Aan-Zee. It’s a multicultural school in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Brussels.

I’ll help the team with practical IT issues, and investigate ways to better connect the parents with the school.

At the end of the month I’m hoping to be able to present prototypes and a business case for solutions that can help Sint-Joost-Aan-Zee and other schools.

How can you help?

Share organizations that can use my help. Are there teams in Brussels that are trying to make a difference and that could use a free service designer for a month? Let me know.

Are you a designer with similar ideas? I’m making this up as I go, so I’d love feedback on the approach. Or even better: if you’d also like to do a social sabbatical in the Brussels area, let me know so we can collaborate.

Now, off to school again.