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How Elsevier supports refugees through mentoring

October 1, 2021

By Catherine Adenle

Refugee Program collage

Elsevier colleagues are mentoring refugees in the Netherlands as part of a partnership with UAF. Majd Mshaty, who left Syria when he was 19, was mentored by Elsevier’s Anouck Sijmons as part of a new refugee mentoring program.

Majd Mshatyopens in new tab/window was 19 when he left his hometown of Aleppo, in Syria, to come to the Netherlands. He’d dreamed of studying in Europe as a teenager his plan had been to study dentistry there and then return to Syria. As it was, he swapped dentistry for studying cultural anthropology and business administration in Amsterdam, and his plan to return to Syria was thwarted by the country’s war.

Majd doesn’t embrace the term refugee, saying in a previous interview in Mediumopens in new tab/window that “I don’t want that anymore. I don’t want someone to pay for me or to help me because I am a refugee.” Keen to establish himself in the Netherlands on his own terms, he began a manager trainee course, which put him into contact with Elsevier’s own program for helping refugees establish themselves in a new country.

Around the world, people are displaced daily through no fault of their own. Many are displaced inside their countries; others have to cross turbulent seas and terrifying borders to find safety and resettle in a new country. Often, it takes years for these refugees to find work or complete their studies, even if they were highly educated professionals in their home countries.

At Elsevier, two of our people were determined to find a way they and their colleagues here could help refugees re-establish themselves.

Sjoerd Cooijmansopens in new tab/window and Dr Charon Duermeijeropens in new tab/window reached out to UAFopens in new tab/window a Dutch foundation dedicated to the personal development of refugee students and professionals and colleagues in our parent company, RELXopens in new tab/window. Their conversations would lead them to start a mentoring program for refugees in the Netherlands.

Sjoerd Cooijmans, HR Director for Continental Europe & Research Markets at Elsevier

“My parents always instilled in me to help less fortunate people if I am in a position to do so,” said Sjoerd, HR Director for Continental Europe & Research Markets at Elsevier. “Both my parents have always done volunteer work in some shape or form. Recently my mother has been teaching the Dutch language to refugees from Syria as a volunteer, which for me triggered the discussion on what we can do as at Elsevier to help.”

Charon, Global Director for Customer Success and Engagement at Elsevier, knew about UAF from her own volunteer work:

I know them from my personal network, where we discuss how we can support and advise the less fortunate in the local community. The fact that the UAF focuses on refugee academics and students made this a perfect fit for Elsevier.

Charon Duermeijer, PhD, Global Director for Customer Success and Engagement at Elsevier

Coincidentally, Charon and Sjoerd connected while both were working on the idea to start a collaboration between UAF and Elsevier separately. UAF has been providing support to refugee students and professionals in their studies and in finding suitable employment in the Dutch labor market since 1948. Therefore, Charon and Sjoerd knew that collaborating with UAF would be the most effective way to start the program.

So in December 2020, Elsevier started its collaboration with UAF. Sjoerd and Charon co-organized the program with HR Business Partner Helga Bergfeldopens in new tab/window and Global Inclusion & Diversity Analyst Julia Cseloteiopens in new tab/window of Elsevier, working closely with Teuta Curriopens in new tab/window of UAF. A total of 16 Elsevier colleagues signed up as volunteers.

During the 6-month program, Elsevier employees mentored refugee professionals, advising on various aspects of professional life in the Netherlands, such as applying for a job and building a professional network. They also answered practical questions and helping the refugees become more comfortable with Dutch culture and society.

In the kick-off session, mentors and mentees had a chance to speak one-to-one for the first time. Feedback was positive, with one mentor commenting:

It’s exciting to see what we have in common and how we can learn from each other. Thank you for bringing us together.

The aim was to help these young professionals with a renewed start in finding an appropriate position in the Netherlands maybe even within Elsevier ultimately helping them support their families so they can start their lives comfortably in their new home country.

Continuing the mentoring partnership

The inaugural program concluded June 24 with an online celebration, evaluation and heart-warming stories from some mentors and mentees.

“It was a successful and inspiring collaboration,” Sjoerd said, “and feedback from both the mentors and the mentees confirmed they were pleased with the program and the value they got from interacting with each other and broadening horizons from both sides.

“The closing session also provided great feedback that we can use to improve successive programs,” he added. “We will certainly maintain our partnership with the UAF and will start another program with a new cohort later in the year.”

Meanwhile, Elsevier’s Talent Acquisition team has been working to provide internship placements for interested UAF candidates, with most of them starting this September.

If you have job opportunities for Majd and his fellow mentees, please email us at [email protected]opens in new tab/window.

Q&A with a mentor and her protégé

For six months, UAF mentees met regularly with Elsevier mentors. We recently asked Majd Mshatyopens in new tab/window and his mentor, Anouck Sijmonsopens in new tab/window, about their experience in the program:

Majd Mshaty

Majd left Aleppo, Syria, for the Netherlands when he was 19 after studying dentistry for a year. He recently became a management trainee at PreZero Nederland.

Why did you sign up for the mentorship program?

I signed up to expand my network in the Dutch job market. Also, I needed some advice about how to apply for a job in the Netherlands and what a good CV looks like in this country. I thought that this program would help me get through this process.

Majd Mshaty

What did you learn from the experience as a mentee?

I learnt about myself. I learned what the color of my parachute is. My meetings with Anouck helped me to look at myself from a different perspective and use this perspective to apply for jobs. In addition, I learned a lot about what to expect in the Dutch job market and how to deal with the cultural differences inside the business field.

What part of the program was most useful, and did it help you to find a role?

My mentor’s advice regarding my CV was the most valuable. I used her advice by developing an effective CV that made an impression on many recruiters, and I was actively approached.

Anouck Sijmons

Anouck is Director of Account Support for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Elsevier.

Why did you sign up?

I signed up because I felt that my work and life experience could be relevant for this group of students in their search for a job. I also fully realize that I have always been in the privileged position to live my life in a safe country and to have all the opportunities at hand to develop myself. That this is definitively not the same for all of us, especially not for those who were forced to leave their own country so in my view they deserve all the support they need! Besides that, I really enjoy meeting people from other cultures a lot.

Anouck Sijmons, Director of Account Support for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Elsevier

What did you learn from the experience as a mentor?

What I learned most is that by focusing on the development of the mentee, you learn a lot about yourself, which helps you in your own development journey as well — and that is energizing and fulfilling at the same time!

How did you try to help your mentee?

We met every two weeks, and in the beginning, we focused on Majd’s position in the labor market. I recommended the book What color is your parachute?opens in new tab/window to help him with learning more about himself, his interests and his assets and also how to best present himself on his CV. Later, we also talked about many other things, like how it is to live abroad, cultural differences regarding work, travelling and so much more.


Portrait photo of Catherine Adenle


Catherine Adenle

Senior Director, Employer Brand