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Success within you: Brussels campaign promotes diversity in the workplace
From the railings of Brussels Park their portraits hang defiantly opposite the Royal Palace in a symbolic reminder of the continuing need to confront stereotypes in Belgium. On display until 13 January, the glossy colour shots are a bright point of interest for passersby during the dark winter months.
Each of the 18 portraits is accompanied by a presentation of the professional accomplishments and skills of each individual. They represent success in their field, whether it be business, fashion, comedy or acting. And they all share one thing in common - their non-Belgian background. Selected as role models to encourage youngsters from similar backgrounds, the campaign is also targeting political and economic leaders as well as the media.
Says campaign founder Chouna Lomponda: “There was a lot of emotion at the opening of the exhibition because of the enormous amount of work that went on behind the scenes. There was also pride on having all these profiles with their inspiring journeys presented in Brussels.”
The show is part of a larger campaign, Success DiverStory, a volunteer-based nonprofit launched in September by Lomponda. She is of Congolese origin and among the 18 profiles exhibited. A communications expert and the spokesperson of the Jewish Museum of Belgium, Lompondo was provoked to found the platform after reading about discrimination in the Belgian work market. A press article highlighting the lack of educational qualifications of adolescents in Brussels from an African or North African background, similarly aroused her activist spirit.
At the campaign’s launch event, she said the idea was to shine a light on different examples of diversity that were not frequently shown. “We want to contribute to a change in the way people from diverse backgrounds are seen, to change perceptions to combat racism of course, but also everything that creates inequality between people and inspire future generations.”
As well as the outdoor exhibition, the campaign consists of an ongoing series of projects, including billboards and video capsules. The initiative is supported by the Brussels region and city. Brussels-Region state secretary Minister Fadila Laanan said that diversity was now a dispositive for recruitment in the public and private sector and that any discrimination was “intolerable”.
As for the striking group photo and individual portraits, Lomponda was inspired by the glamorous pre-Oscar images of rising stars by Annie Liebowitz in Vanity Fair. For Success DiverStory, Brussels photographer Vaya Sigmas applied a similar aesthetic in her shoot, “for a group of people who are not usually portrayed in this way”.
The participants expressed their gratitude for being selected for the campaign. Finance and HR director Maya Yamaguchi, from Japan, said the effort required to establish her career had inspired her to “work even harder” and that it was important to give a positive message of encouragement to young people. “You need to hang on,” she added.
Erdogan Ozkan, born in Brussels of Turkish origin, runs his own fitted kitchen store after years working as a technician. He said it was necessary to learn how to bounce back during difficult times and to persevere. He said: “There’s a path for everyone.”
Belgo-Moroccan fast food entrepreneur Rachid Azaoum, who was profiled in the Bulletin’s autumn issue, had this message for youngsters: “It’s possible to succeed in life, whether it be with your studies, business, or life in general. It’s all a question of your mentality and philosophy of life.”
Idea architect and marketing strategist Doa Majouli of Tunisian origin, expressed her joy and emotion at being included. “It’s a beautiful exhibition and I’m just speechless at such recognition,” she said.