Former stockbroker Abdelhamid Idrissi starts free supermarket for vulnerable families

Social entrepreneur Abdelhamid Idrissi.Statue of Rebecca Fertinel

Be careful when visiting the social entrepreneur Abdelhamid Idrissi in one of his 47 study rooms in the vulnerable neighborhoods of Amsterdam and Zaandam. Before you know it, help underprivileged youth with homework, find an internship, or have an important conversation. The government wants to do more to combat the transfer of poverty from parent to child. Former warehouse manager Idrissi has been doing this for years with an army of volunteers. His latest project: a supermarket where families can temporarily shop for free. Who is this recognized fighter for inequality?

‘Afterwards, my cheeks hurt from smiling,’ says lawyer Elsbeth van Rhijn, who visited a study room for a charity that donates money to charity. ‘How he treats the children; the attention to good behavior, the calm, safe atmosphere. Abdelhamid is a visionary who knows how to touch everyone with the stories he tells about the children. ‘

Government official Ronilla Snellen: ‘Abdelhamid is a bridge between the privileged world of highly educated white Dutch and that of the vulnerable neighborhoods where many residents are preoccupied with survival.’ You know it exists, says Snellen, but Abdelhamid makes you feel it too. ‘He is the king of inequality of opportunity’.

Volunteers in line

Advisor Bojana Duovski finds it no wonder that volunteers are queuing up to help Idrissi. Like Van Rhijn and Snellen, she offers her services voluntarily. ‘There is a waiting list because everyone can see that they sincerely want to help the children from these neighborhoods’. Appreciations such as the Amsterdammer of the Year (2019) or the Hélène de Montigny Prize (2022) do not mean much to him, according to her. ‘He’s only really happy when a child broadcasts good news.’

33-year-old Idrissi grew up in the Amsterdam suburb of Geuzenveld, where relatively many children grow up in poverty, hang out on the streets and drop out of school. His parents, who do not speak Dutch, allowed him to sit alone at school, in a sports club or at home, he says in the New Public Works podcast. His father advised him to study architecture, because then you always have a job. ‘I lay awake for a month with a stomach ache, I had never been outside my neighborhood, had to take the subway for the first time. I thought it bothered everyone, but it was not. ” Idrissi discovered that his fellow students had a laptop and internet at home, dared to ask questions and politely say ‘no’.

In Albert Heijn, where Idrissi has a side job, the neighbors look up to him because he is studying. He says he is disturbed by his peers ’bullying and macho behavior and decides to approach a colleague about it. ‘I showed interest, patted my shoulder, explained how to talk to customers and the importance of a smile. After two weeks, it was another boy! ‘ After graduating, Idrissi finds work in a construction company, but eventually chooses the neighborhood’s supermarket. When asked, Idrissi wrote about this choice: ‘It quickly became clear that the young people in the supermarket needed me more than the construction world. I felt I was making a difference there. ‘

Study rooms throughout the Netherlands

When he was 22, Idrissi set up his first study room for children in Geuzenveld. His fund now has two hundred employees, 42 of whom are salaried, and he receives money from municipalities and companies. It took years, Idrissi says, before he understood the steps needed to help vulnerable children: alleviate poverty (eg with the free supermarket), then increase self-confidence (more skills) and then discover the world outside their neighborhood ( eg go to a museum). Idrissi dreams of study rooms throughout the Netherlands. He has also started advising parents.

Ask about Idrissi’s weakness, and all the advisers say the same thing: he can not keep course. ‘Everyone wants something from him – children, parents, businesses, governments – and he never says no,’ sighs adviser Duovski. ‘I explained to him that it is better for someone else to screw in new lamps and hang up clean tea towels,’ says lawyer Van Rhijn. Every meeting he comes up with new plans. Then I tell him to focus. That trip for the kids can also be made later. ‘ Official Snellen: ‘His strength is his commitment. But now it’s time for strategic choices. It’s better to do six things well than ten things a little bit. ‘

New project: free supermarket

Moreover, the king of Geuzenveld is too modest. ‘It’s part of its charm,’ says Snellen, ‘but to get funding you sometimes have to bluff. I had to save him once when he told a potential sponsor that he also did not know what his project would be like. Anyone who invites Idrissi to a symposium can expect a bill from now on. Anyone who wants to make a good impression with attention to inequality in opportunities, Duovski says, must also be prepared to make a contribution to the fund.

Idrissi started a crowdfunding for its FRIS supermarket last week. Eighty families who use his study rooms are supposed to be able to shop there for free for six months. Provided they use that rest to give their lives a positive spin. Young people also gain work experience in the supermarket. ‘Supermarket chains can play a key role in supporting underprivileged young people and families,’ says Duovski. ‘We have approached many chains, but they do not fully understand our concept. So now Abdelhamid is starting his own shop. ‘

3x Abdelhamid Idrissi

Stichting Studiezalen runs 47 places where children and young people receive free homework guidance and lifestyle coaching from volunteers and trainees. The essence according to Idrissi: ‘We offer peace.’ He wants to roll out his concept nationwide.

Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences appointed Idrissi Professor of Practice earlier this year. In that capacity, he is trying to reduce dropout rates at his former school. Many young people from vulnerable neighborhoods, Idrissi pointed out during her own study, are dropping out prematurely.

According to Idrissi, a loving upbringing is the main reason why he succeeded in graduating. When he could not find an internship, his father advised: go to a construction site yourself and show your smile.

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