For this edition of the Central Station blog I was looking for a student who didn't just sit back during this corona time, but instead became inspired and motivated many others as well. During this edition I speak with Leonoor Wismans, one of the two founders of Koetjes & Kalfjes, an organization that focuses on combating social isolation among the elderly.

From the Kilimanjaro to your own company: Leonoor Wismans about Koetjes & Kalfjes

Throughout the year Studentflex meets up with interesting companies, initiatives and people. The train station as a place where people come together and where connections are made. For this edition of the Central Station blog I was looking for a student who didn’t just sit back and relaxed during this corona period, but instead became inspired and motivated many others. During this edition, I speak with Leonoor Wismans, one of the two founders of Koetjes & Kalfjes (literal meaning: cows & calves, stands for smalltalk in Dutch), an organization that focuses on combating social isolation among the elderly.


When I ask Leonoor (22) to tell me something about her ideas and Koetjes & Kalfjes, it immediately shows her extreme enthusiasm. She talks about how she and her good friend Rosalie Swart (22) have always had a passion for volunteering. While Rosalie is working with the UN Working Group on Human Rights and Security and the Mara Foundation, Leonoor has been working with her passion for the elderly at the De Zonnebloem Foundation since she was a child, in addition to her studies in medicine. Rosalie and I have been friends for a long time and climbed the highest mountain in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro, together last year. When we had achieved that together, we said to each other “now we can really handle everything together”.


Through our voluntary work, we already knew that there is a great demand for companionship for the elderly. I saw how small outings allow the elderly to enjoy themselves and when it became clear that this corona situation would take some time, I thought “we have to do something with this!”. We wanted to take advantage of the situation because we noticed that people like to help each other in these times. This is how we came up with the idea of linking the elderly, the “cows”, to young people, the “calves”, for weekly calls based on shared interests. We started the initiative mainly for our own environment, but now we already have 3000 applications from students and over 250 matches between the elderly and younger people. This comes down to an average of 600 calls per week! Both of us had no experience in entrepreneurship and setting up a business is a very different kind of ordeal, especially in this day and age with everything that needs to be arranged’.


From their idea on, it went very fast. In the afternoon, the idea was born and after one night of working on a website and social media channels, everything was ready the next morning. And yes, without a concrete plan or idea: ‘during the creation of the website, we shaped the initiative: are we going to match people by interest or by city? Because we had to explain the idea to others online, the content slowly began to take shape’. The friends contacted various care institutions in order to reach older people who are not on the internet. After that, the registrations went quickly through name recognition, via connections and through our collaboration with Lipton.’


Through a shared connection, Leonoor came into contact with Lipton – the world’s largest tea company – about their initiative. After a couple of skype sessions Lipton turned out to be very interested. Together with Lipton, Rosalie and Leonoor made an advertisement for social media and brought 5000 packets with a flower, tea box and leaflet to senior homes and care institutions. Leonoor tells about the choas: ‘the strange thing is that at the beginning I didn’t even know what exactly happened when this possible collaboration came on the list of things we still had to do. It was only when I took a step back from the chaos that I thought, “wow, we’ve all achieved this!”


The girls get, besides a lot of applications, also a lot of positive replies. The young ones, the calves, get distracted from their studies and het to learn from all the experiences and stories of the older people. The elderly, the cows, say that the calls bring a real addition to their day. What works especially well is the idea of matching the elderly and young people on the basis of shared interests, ‘Last week, for example, we heard from an old tram conductor who is now talking to a new conductor about all the differences in work between now and the past. We also have a match that both have a passion for Italian food and we received a message from a cow that she had received so many nice recipes from her calf’. Everyone is very excited: there are couples who are scrambling online, bringing cake to each other or even having a beer at a safe distance.


We have decided to continue our initiative after corona because there is no reason not to always do so. Loneliness will always be there and extra social contacts will never hurt! We do want to keep doing it next to our studies because I want to work in the hospital later on. Because of our initiative, I have become a lot more independent and know how to organize and solve things because I have the final responsibility for what I do. We didn’t have any experience with marketing or setting up a business ourselves and we still learn something that can be done better or more efficiently every day’.


How does Koetjes & Kalfjes match with the core values of Studentflex, according to Leonoor? According to the ambitious student, the girls are especially critical: ‘We still make all matches by hand. We want successful matches and we want the couples to really fit together. We don’t make it easy on ourselves with this, but we do this to get good quality. We also get messages from companies that want to help us with automation and logarithms, but we want to keep everything very personal’. The link with contemporary is a bit more difficult to make. ‘Calling is of course not very contemporary, but via social media we are very activating and we have also consciously chosen for this with for example forwarding messages via Whatsapp. We know how to draw attention to something in this day and age. When we couldn’t reach enough elderly people via the internet, we started using older media such as door-to-door newspapers and newspapers’. Enterprising and connecting also speak for themselves with all the initiatives the friends are committed to and how they connect young and old with Koetjes & Kalfjes.


Leonoor has some doubts about this, but she thinks the most important thing is to just do it: ‘Show your enthusiasm and tell other people about your idea. It will surprise you how many others would like to help. Look for people so that you don’t just keep the idea in your head and ask for help. Everything is now much easier with the internet, online action plans and training sessions: it has never been easier and the world is literally at your feet. ‘

We would be happy to help you to further develop yourself, gain experience and find out what you like with a part-time job that really suits you at Studentflex.

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