“Did I have those doubts and times where I thought about giving up? Yes, I did.”
Co Founder | Inspiration Factory Foundation
On overcoming setbacks, his greatest fear and leaving everything behind.
Why would a man with a thriving career as a performing magician, investing hundreds of thousands of dollars into his companies over his entire young adult life, decide to leave it all behind for a life of altruism?
Upon asking him, Georges Hilaul reflected with sincere honesty and fondness.
“Those days are behind me,” he would often insist – and with a new life in Jakarta, running a pioneering foundation with a self-developed non-formal educational program, backed by leading Indonesian psychologists, accounting for over 1000 children across 12 locations in Jakarta and Bali, there is evidently little to argue against his case; you can find no illusions or tricks to this show – this is all real.
Digging deeper into the conversation, Georges recalls his earlier challenges in shedding perceptions of success carried over from a life in show business, encounters with corruption and difficulties of living in a foreign land.
Though he knows much work still needs to be done, he also harbors plenty of optimism for the future of young Indonesians – quickly pointing out several key areas of improvement to allow its creative potential to thrive.
In a time of where stories of hope are needed, we find one in Georges; an example of moral courage to go against his own life’s narrative and embrace a calling bigger than himself. A call to inspire, develop and cultivate the healthy minds of Indonesia’s underprivileged street children.
Enter, Georges Hilaul
Georges, before you came to Indonesia, you were a successful performing magician for more than ten years back in the Netherlands. What was it about magic that you loved most and why?
I started practicing magic when I was 5 years old, and I don’t think there is a child that isn’t somewhat amazed by magic at that age – yet I think 99% of kids who like magic and buy a magic kit end up quitting a year later and start playing with Legos or Barbies. I was one of the 1% that was continually mesmerized by the whole idea of fooling people, or creating something that wasn’t there.
Imagine being able to do something that a lot of other people couldn’t. I think that that is the most beautiful thing about magic – that you can make people believe in something that they thought wasn’t possible, and you have the power to make it happen.
I got full support from everyone around me because they liked the idea as well. I wasn’t a kid who played outside, I did magic – that’s what I did. So it was that feeling, combined with seeing other professionals performing, which only adds to your excitement.
“In that same month, I called lawyers, brokers and everyone involved to shut down the business, the shows; selling it and my house as well.”
Can you describe the very moment you decided to build a foundation from scratch? What did it feel like?
Wow. It definitely wasn’t an overnight decision; more of an inner struggle between November 2011 and November 2012 – a year of fighting with myself. It was the fight between making a change and doing something good in terms of trying to give others a better life, versus the selfish part of knowing that I already have a nice life, a nice apartment, a career – I had everything.
So why would I give it all up to start from scratch again for someone else? That burning question was the reason why I came back and forth between Holland and Indonesia during that year.
I came back to Holland after the first trip, spending a month here in Indonesia. I still had my companies, still performed and owned my house. Yet something inside me was still struggling to accept what I saw. I decided to stop complaining and doubting, just go back again to Indonesia and see what happens.
I went again to volunteer for 2 months and when I came back, the feeling was even stronger – that feeling of really wanting to do something and make a change. It wasn’t easy to just give all of it up – I had worked on my passion for over 25 years!
“It wasn’t easy to just give all of it up – I had worked on my passion for over 25 years!”
There was the moment when I came back to Amsterdam after a third trip during that year, and my mother dropped me home. I walked around my apartment for 5 minutes and finally said, “No, I don’t want to be here.”
In that same month, I called lawyers, brokers and everyone involved to shut down the business, the shows; selling it and my house as well. Within 3 months, everything was done.
I constantly told myself that if I missed performing, then it was only a ticket away and I could start again from scratch, so I had nothing to lose.
So it was at the end of 2012 when I realized that Holland is not where I want to be anymore. I want to go to Indonesia. The situation of street children here – it hit me.
Did you have a plan?
My initial idea was something completely different. Being involved in the magic industry, I knew, based on the studies that have been implemented in schools in England, that if you teach children magic, their self esteem rises. It truly has the ability to transform them!
The idea was to start a similar type of project here in Jakarta, but when I spoke to people about the possibility of setting up this “school of magic foundation”, I slowly realized that the last thing that the children need here was a magic trick. They need something much more essential, which are the basics to improve their lives – the moral values and their education.
I have to be honest; this foundation didn’t have a business plan at the beginning – I just started this purely out of intention and ideas. It evolved into a structured program, but it didn’t start that way.
“You can sometimes wonder why the government makes it so hard when I’m helping the country as well.”
Were there moments in the early stages or even afterwards where you thought about giving up?
At times, living in this country makes you feel like you’re fighting against an army of a million. In terms of my work for example, you can help one child but then behind you there are just so many other children and families who also need your attention, money or help.
Earlier on, there were moments of resistance even from the communities that we helped. We can help a family or a few sick children for example. We help them from A-Z, paying the bills for doctors, visits and taking care of them for months, and when it’s over, some can still complain about something. They can sometimes blame you for not giving them an extra pair of clothes because you gave it to another group of children.
All of those little things built on top of each other were frustrating at the beginning. But I understand of course that they have nothing to do with the fact that you quit your job and moved to another country. Some don’t care about that because it isn’t important for them.
Another issue had to do with bureaucracy and corruption. To live here as a foreigner can sometimes be difficult, and you can sometimes wonder why the government makes it so hard when I’m helping the country as well. You also can’t blame all of them, as I found that some people in the government do not care at all.
So did I have those doubts and times where I thought about giving up? Yes, I did.
“We both gave up everything to do what we do now.”
What pulled you through?
Our vision and mission weighed heavier than those problems. Luckily, I have my best friend Jenny, the Co-Founder of the Inspiration Factory Foundation.
If she weren’t here in my life, I would have already quit. We constantly remind each other why we started this. We both gave up everything to do what we do now. We made a promise to each other and to this country; to give back everything that we’ve been given when we were children, to those who are not as privileged as we were.
How has running Inspiration Factory Foundation changed you as a person over the years? What has become more important to you, and what has become less important to you?
It has completely changed me. Indonesian culture, first of all, has changed me a lot – it can force you to learn to be more patient. Coming from the West, we’re used to everything going fast, everybody doing what they say they are going to do and delivering when they promise to deliver. All of those can sometimes not exist here.
There is the western mindset of wanting to accomplish things with fixed targets and trying everything we can to reach those targets. But that’s challenging here in this country of course.
However, what changed me the most during the transition period of moving here was the realization that we can all sometimes live a pretty superficial life, and we do things purely for the outside world to see and not for yourself, just to impress them. I had done that my whole life simply because I was in show business, and that’s what you do.
What has become more important over the years is knowing that life is not about having that big apartment or a nice car – it’s really about feeling blessed with everything that you have, wherever it came from, and to share it with other people.
In my case it’s sharing experience and energy. I chose to share this with the underprivileged simply because they do not have enough of it, or none at all.
I hope the foundation changes the way that other people think because this essence of giving is what it’s about as a whole. It isn’t only about inspiring these underprivileged children; it’s about inspiring everyone who is connected with us somehow.
We want to encourage people to spread what it is they have, whether its love, energy or skills. There are a lot of people who don’t have those things.
“My father decided 40 years ago to get away from this country to give us a better life in Europe, and now, I’m going back to the country that he left.”
Who do you look up to, and why?
I tend to look up to anyone who is able to pursue their dreams in general or are simply able to live the way they want to live their lives. I look up to them for daring to make a decision, despite the possibility that everyone said they were crazy as it was impossible. That encourages me to continue what I am doing.
I admire my parents for being able to cope with my crazy ideas for the past 32 years. That includes seeing their own son deciding to move to the other side of the world. My father decided 40 years ago to get away from this country to give us a better life in Europe, and now, I’m going back to the country that he left.
I look up to Jenny. She comes from a completely different environment and culture, where starting a foundation is probably the last thing on the list to do.
She had to give up a lot of things in order to help and do the things we are doing right now. I look up to her persistence in continuing to do so regardless of the cultural expectations required of her.
How do you define success?
I do not see success in terms of money and possessions. If your mission is to get a new car – I don’t really define that as success. You just worked hard and you bought something from the money you earned. I see true success in terms of being able to do what you love and sustaining that.
“People call us ambitious because we often say that we are aiming for UNICEF levels.”
What is your greatest fear?
My biggest fear is regretting that the decisions I made turned out to be the wrong ones. In the present, we think we’re doing the right thing, but what happens if we don’t? We preach about this every day at the foundation. It needs to be worth it in the end, and my fear could be that it is not.
To provide some context – Jenny and I set extremely high standards. We both have the mindset of wanting to be the best – something we want the foundation to strive towards to.
We want to have the best program, reach as many children as possible and make the biggest impact. People call us ambitious because we often say that we are aiming for UNICEF levels. We don’t want to just spread happiness; we want to truly change lives. But because of that, we don’t think about what we’re going to do if we don’t succeed. We have no answer to it, but it is a fear.
The only way to protect ourselves is to remind each other that the foundation does not define who we are personally. If we put everything into this and the program fails, it doesn’t mean that we failed as people, but our program failed. Of course because it’s ours, there’s a part of us that will blame ourselves. Simply put, we just have to make sure that we don’t fail!
We have to ask ourselves, “Was it all worth it at the end of the day?” and I hope we can say yes.
What do you see in young Indonesians today and the future that awaits them?
There is huge potential in the young generation of this country. A huge difference I see compared to the west is the creativity that so many of them have, which is amazing.
It unfortunately hasn’t reached it’s full potential, because the education system and environment doesn’t fully allow it to blossom. We tend to focus only on the ability to read, write and count – and if you can’t do that, you’ve failed. But there are plenty of other gifts that can be considered a talent. The education system here needs to acknowledge that and it needs to give kids the room to play, and that goes for parents as well. If those two areas back up the potential, then the sky is the limit for them.
People are incredibly creative here – everybody can find a way to work or make money. Someone can change his bicycle into a moving coffee making stall, or find some extra wood to make a Bakso stand.
It’s something that people in the west can learn from actually, because some of those who are unemployed can stay at home, live on their government support and do nothing.
Outside of the work that you do, what makes you happy and fulfilled?
There comes a downside achieving to all these things. When you wake up, there are all these emails to reply, locations to visit and kids to help. That’s the first thing I think of when I wake up and the last thing before I go to bed. It is really difficult to divide these two lives and it is an assignment for us all this year. So what truly makes me happy is seeing the success from effort that we put into something. Seeing that we are making a bigger impact and getting the belief from people – that makes me happy.
But my advice to everyone is to try and separate private and work life! Not everybody would agree with how we work non-stop, but it did result in the fact that we’ve built an organization that would have taken a lot of people 10 years or more, all in just a few years. It did come with a price, but the result is there.
Where do you usually go to for new ideas? What places, sights and sounds can stimulate your creativity?
I’m the most creative when I take a step back and create a little bit of distance. Once I dive into something, whether it’s a new module or promotional campaign. I dive so deeply into that I barely receive influence from the outside and become fixed a lot of the time.
I don’t need to escape to a certain place, but I get inspired most of the time when I am running. It forces me to not think about work and that’s when I come up with most of the crazy ideas. I think 99% of the ideas that I’ve come up with were from running! The other 1% from the shower!
What do you think is the single biggest characteristic that can allow people to accomplish success in any given field?
Persistence. Everyone will meet resistance along the way, be it complaints and different advice from people who think they know better for you. If I had listened to what people told me from day one, I would become what society would usually expect.
It expects you to take a job, to get married and live a normal life. But there are millions of other options to fill your life outside of society’s expectations.
You have to understand however, that most people give you advice because they only have the best intentions for you. It’s because they want to help you or they’re worried. It’s important to acknowledge that but then it’s up to you how focused you are.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
Jenny and I would like to have established many more locations in Indonesia. My personal intention for the future of the Inspiration Factory Foundation is to establish in parts of the world where our program is needed.
Countries in South America, Asia – there are so places with underprivileged children without any purpose or hopes and dreams for their future.
Though I don’t see that happening within 5 years, it eventually should be like that. I hope that in 5 years I could find that balance of dividing work and personal life – that I can better take care of the foundation, as well as myself and my environment.
One piece of advice you would give to your 20-year-old self ?
Never stop dreaming, never stop pursuing.
If you would like to get in touch with Georges, you can contact him at :
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