Interview in the Forum opinion journal by VNO-NCW

  • Press Release
  • December 2017
  • Rotterdam - the Netherlands
VNO NCW logoTandheelkundegroep Logo

Jessica Maas
freelance editor Forum

Why Ali Keles helps refugees in the Netherlands

Ali Keles, CEO of the Tandheelkunde Groep Nederland and managing partner of an investment company in Rotterdam, is more a doer than a talker. And certainly not about himself. He does not really like interviews, but makes an exception when it comes to corporate social responsibility. That’s in his DNA. Taught within the family. An eye for the weak. While studying law at the Erasmus University, originated from Rotterdam with a Turkish background, he was already fascinated by human rights. ‘I still remember our lecturer in sociology of law, Dr Pieterman, who wrote about life opportunities. That made an impression. Life chances, that’s what it’s all about.’ Keles – as an entrepreneur, employer and investor – likes to encourage talent and invest in social projects.

Tandheelkunde Groep Nederland is setting up dental practices throughout the Netherlands. Also in deprived areas, where staff from the same district are recruited and trained. Keles recently signed the Diversity Charter, in which entrepreneurs declare their commitment to greater diversity and inclusion in the workplace. There are no shortcomings in different backgrounds within the Tandheelkunde Groep. The medical staff speaks more than eighteen different languages. It seems that the policy of diversity has developed in a natural way. ‘With a female-male ratio of 53-47 percent, there is a healthy balance. We really regard diversity as an enrichment.’

Give refugees in the Netherlands chance for their own company

When Keles only heard the story of an elderly dentist from Aleppo in the office via a patient, Keles wanted to meet him. ‘As it turned out, this 60-year-old man spoke five languages, had completed his master’s in Greece and was really a specialist, but he could not get started in the Netherlands. It is intolerable for such a person to clean up in our country while we are in high demand of good professionals.’ He offered the man his help, without any obligations. The BIG-registration has been applied for and soon he can hopefully pick up his old profession again. ‘It’s just about giving people a chance. Tomorrow I will speak to another dentist who is also from Syria. Too often, only the limitations of a person are considered.’


Whether it is the task of Dutch entrepreneurs to help newcomers on their way? Keles is quiet for a moment. He does not like to impose on colleagues or to wave a teaching finger. ‘In any case, I could totally agree with the German industrialists who supported Merkel immediately after saying ‘Wir schaffen das’, and called on the German government to shorten the procedures in order to be able to hire newcomers more quickly.’ Keles points at a painting ‘Oversized Shirt’ in the office. Work by the now highly celebrated artist Alexander Kaletski. A former Russian refugee who ended up in New York and then continued his passion for art and made work on cardboard boxes that he collected on the street. ‘Such a story is leading. And so everyone has a story. You just need to want to hear it.’

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