Amsterdam , Netherlands

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match

Binoq Atana

December 19, 2013

Connecting civic boards and advisory committee with diverse candidates

AmsterdamIn the past decades, the make-up of Amsterdam’s population has changed, but not its civic leadership. Just over 50% of Amsterdam residents have a migrant background; yet the civic boards and advisory committees that makes decisions about so many city institutions and services do not reflect these changes.  While this begs the question of whether this lack of representation can serve community interests,  it also represents a lost opportunity to benefit from the diversity of perspective, culture and experience within the city’s population.

For residents and citizens with a migrant background, the boardrooms and decision tables of civic institutions are often neither accessible nor familiar spaces.  Members of new or minority communities may not have forged the  connections  to social and professional networks that are often  associated with these institutions. Figuring out out how to open doors can be an enormous obstacle to entry let alone to sustained civic engagement.

For over a decade, addressing this issue has been the prime concern of the Atana network.  Atana has developed a board matching service that recruits and trains professionals with a “double cultural background” to become board members, advisors and consultants within the cultural sector and local non-profit institutions.  At Atana,  people with a double cultural background are “people who are at home in the Netherlands, but are also rooted in one of its many other cultures.”    The Atana network includes a range of backgrounds including people from Suriname, Turkey, the Dutch Antilles and Morocco.  More importantly, they all bring much-needed professional skills, ranging from strategic management to marketing and communication to finance.

Recruiting, Training, Matching

Founded in 2000 and financed by the Dutch government, the Atana network was launched to help local civic and public institutions, agencies and organizations recruit new board and council members of diverse backgrounds. With demand for its services growing, in 2005, Atana teamed up with Binoq, a culture consultancy with a focus on cultural diversity, innovation, and research and consultancy, to bring professional management to their highly successful operation.

Components of the Binoq Atana program include selection, training, matching and networking. The selection process favours applicants with skill sets needed on boards, such as finance, legal, marketing and communications, management and HR experience. Once accepted into the program, Atana members are brought together at quarterly networking events where prominent speakers share their insights about politics, culture, the social sector or industry.

Critical to the program’s success is the governance training that is provided to all participants. Through a mix of training sessions, lectures, case studies and on-site visits, members of the Atana network learn about the Dutch cultural sector, managerial skills, and diversity. In depth case studies form the basis for group training in public administration. Atana learners also get to shadow professionals at work and meet with the directors and chairs of a variety of cultural institutions.


Since its founding, Atana has held over 20 rounds of training to its roster of board candidates, and successfully made over 350 matches to boards and advisory councils, including major cultural institutions such as the Dutch Dance Theatre, the National Ballet, and the International Theatre Festival.

Success travels fast. The project has expanded to Maastricht, Hofstad and Lelystad and other cities in the Netherlands. In 2013, the city of The Hague also started a program with a focus on the education sector. It has grown to include other services such as a database of volunteers as well as consultants. Volunteers have been placed with the Dutch Heart Foundation, Amnesty International (Amsterdam), and Dutch Migration Institute while consultants have worked with the Council for Culture and the Amsterdam Fund for the Arts.

Atana is one of many organizations that focus on improving governance diversity. Toronto’s DiverseCity onBoard is another example. A winner of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and BMW Group’s Intercultural Innovation Award, it has been able to introduce its model in Canada, the United States and Europe.

Making it Work for You:

  • Use a regular quarterly event with interesting speakers to keep participants engaged in the program and network.
  • Ensure that candidates have skills that are “matchable.”
  • Include site visits with training to make the learning more meaningful.
  • Some organizations need to be convinced that they need a more diverse board. A cultural change will take time.

For this Good Idea contact:

Fiona Vening, binoq atana
Amstel 82
1017 AC
Amsterdam, Netherlands,
+31 (0)20 514 13 80

Recent Good Ideas

Leamington, Canada
From Survival Jobs to Rich Harvest
Highline Mushrooms  

Brandon, Canada
Industry Leaders Connect to Recruit Newcomers
Maple Leaf Foods  

Halifax, Canada
Welcomed in Halifax
Halifax Regional Municipality  

Toronto, Canada
Eliminating Barriers for Displaced Individuals
WES Gateway Program  

Kuopio, Finland
Encouraging Cities to Bring Locals and Immigrants Together
City of Kuopio  

View all