Frédéric Simonart
Ashoka Fellow since 2018   |   Belgium

Frédéric Simonart

DUO for a JOB
DUO for a JOB is redesigning the traditional structures of mentoring, placing successful Belgian retirees as formal coaches for non-European unemployed youths entering the job market. In uniting these…
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This description of Frédéric Simonart's work was prepared when Frédéric Simonart was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2018.


DUO for a JOB is redesigning the traditional structures of mentoring, placing successful Belgian retirees as formal coaches for non-European unemployed youths entering the job market. In uniting these two populations, they are unlocking the social and cultural capital largely held by Belgian populations and fostering empathy between the local communities and people on the move.

The New Idea

Matthieu and Frédéric created DUO for a JOB to answer two growing problems, both with innovative mentoring as a solution. Firstly, the lack of challenging and ambitious volunteering experiences for older Belgian professionals and retirees, still eager to capitalise on their extensive experience and skills after retirement. Secondly, the systematic discrimination of non-European migrants within a Belgian labour market which still relies on networks and cultural etiquettes. With a personalised mentoring methodology that creates intimate and professional links between non-European youths and older Belgian professionals and retirees, not only are Matthieu and Frédéric answering the practical needs of these populations, they are also creating transformative encounters and increasing social cohesion across society.

Recruiting Belgium’s most successful older professionals and retirees, DUO for a JOB is creating and channelling high-profile networks, experience and talent to inspire a mindset change across Belgian circles and sectors by breaking down non-European migrant. With Frédéric’s experience of the corporate world and Matthieu’s large network within the NGO sector - including all Belgian public employment agencies, refugee support structures and multinational companies - DUO for a JOB is a cultural bridge across both sectors and populations.

With over 1200 duos created, producing twice the insertion rate of non-EU migrants into the labour market, and 91% mentor re-enrolment, Matthieu and Frédéric are advocating for more holistic and intercultural employment policies towards refugees and migrants. As DUO for a JOB spreads across Belgium to Ghent, Antwerp and Liège and opens-up its first branches in France, they are working to scale across Europe and ensure social and cultural capital is opened up to all members of society and intergenerational and intercultural links can create more harmonious European cities.

The Problem

Although one-fifth of Belgium’s population comes from non-EU populations, Belgium has the second-largest European unemployment gap rate between Belgian residents and non-European migrants, the unemployment rate of immigrants being about 10 percentage points higher than that of the native-born. This is due to high inequality rates due to discrimination, complicated employment networks catering to old school Belgian networks--lack of cultural contexts and institutional frameworks-- and the non-recognition of foreign diplomas and infrastructural limitations faced by non-EU migrants. The highly bureaucratic nature of public employment agencies and initiatives further complicates the matter.

Furthermore, non-European populations experiences high levels of social and economic alienation, forcing them into a vicious cycle of poverty; some Belgian neighbourhoods predominantly inhabited by non-EU migrants experience levels of around 30% unemployment. Thus, racism, Islamophobia and populism are on the rise throughout Europe and cultural segregation continues to increase. The polarisation of national and non-EU national populations, which has been exploited by the international press, perpetuates the loop of unemployment, discrimination and poverty for non-EU migrants.

Simultaneously, the worldwide population of people aged over 60 grows faster than any other age group. Although we can consider an increase in age as a societal triumph, many ageing populations face social exclusion, lacking an active participation in society at the end of their career or during retirement. In Belgium, the activity level of individuals between 55-64 years old is one of the lowest in Europe (48%) due to early retirement, and in many cases the triggering of early retirement. Many older generations experience anxiety at the thought of ending their professional careers and becoming inactive. Although volunteering experiences exist, very few leverage the vast resources and professional skills that these generations have acquired throughout their long careers.

The Strategy

Matthieu and Frédéric are using their highly innovative and scalable mentoring methodology to connect Belgian retirees and professionals to non-European migrant youths. This methodology, which answers the individual and practical needs of both populations (retiree and elderly inactivity and migrant unemployment), to create transformative experiences and strong intercultural and intergenerational bonds, while also enabling migrants to better integrate into the social and economic space. With only a 7% rupture rate between duos, they are using a technological CRM tool which allows them to meticulously match their duos according to personality, language and professional sector to ensure a strong bond. Mentors are given extensive training; theoretical and practical modules offer them job searching tools, help them to leverage their skills and experiences, and to be sensitised to the context of their mentees. This training allows mentors to support their mentees with their everyday job search, but also to connect on a more human level to increase the autonomy, self-confidence and cultural awareness of their mentees. This human yet professional approach forsters real empathy between Belgians and migrants and is breaking down prejudice, fear and stereotypes. These transformative experiences increase the success rates of the organisation and result in a 74% positive outcome rate (including internships, employment, training and further education) of the 1000-plus unemployed youths who entered the programme, which is twice the rate of public employment agencies and one of the highest in Europe.

With regular mentor interaction sessions and a strong social community, DUO for a JOB is engaging their influential mentors beyond job searches, leveraging their experience and networks to promote, advocate, recruit and fund their organisation. Beyond one-to-one mentorship, groups of volunteers have created repertories of housing or childcare to break down barriers preventing many mentees from accessing employment; they have offered CV writing workshops, speech therapy workshops and practice interviews to the mentee community. With over 50 professional sectors represented, DUO for a JOB has a support committee of over 30 mentors advising advocacy as well as strategic decisions and implementations. Mentors are also one of DUO for a JOB’s highest source of funding, as mentors actively fundraise for the organisation; one mentor, a retired executive for BNP Paribas, has created a round table of Brussels’ CEOs to fund and support DUO for a JOB.

Matthieu and Frédéric have created a strong network of 124 public, civic and private partners to ensure the expansion of their methodology, the continued creation of duos and an ensured connection to the ecosystem. They are partnering with Actiris, le Forem and the VDAB - Brussels', Wallonia and Flanders’ public employment agencies - to ensure that all non-EU youths have the chance of mentorship by experienced Belgian professionals. Their privileged relationship with Actiris, with whom they created the first European social impact bond, allows their mentors to be considered as official coaches and accompany their mentees through the different steps of their employment journey. Actiris regularly communicates to their 5000 non-EU job seekers to take part in the DUO for a JOB programme. Frédéric is also working with multinational companies to screen and train senior professionals; they have trained over 100 employees from BNP, Bpost, ING, Engie and DHL with the DUO for a JOB methodology to engage them as mentors and ensure their skills and experience are being leveraged.

Matthieu and Frédéric are raising awareness amongst the public through publications, training sessions and testimonies to publicise the benefits of multicultural societies. With strong quantitative and qualitative impact measurement, including the documentation of hundreds of testimonies from mentors and mentees, Matthieu and Frédéric are using their partnership with La Libre, one of Belgium’s most read newspapers, to showcase the idea that intercultural links are productive and create value across society.

As their duos increase and impact multiplies, Matthieu and Frédéric are using their acquired expertise in social and professional integration to advocate at both a Belgian and European level to ensure the creation of more inclusive employment policies for non-Europeans. They have met and advocated to Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, minister of economy and employment Kris Peeters and other regional and European ministers to ensure holistic support for refugees and migrants. They have organised round-tables with the European commission on matching refugee skills with labour needs, maximising EU support for refugee inclusion, and even the use of intergenerational and intercultural links for tackling extremism.

The success of the process has resulted in DUO for a JOB being replicated by organisations across Belgium and Europe, including 109, Team for a Job and Sammen om een Jobb. Partly due to their strong network of members, Duo for a JOB has been able to scale to Brussels, Ghent, Liège and Antwerp, and they hope to open a new branch in France by 2019. To date, their scaling methodology has focused on creating an international lab for development where (1) the team networks in advance, connects with the employment agency, opens the office and recruits the staff, (2) coaches the teams, and (3) implements the methodology and capitalises expertise. By 2020, Matthieu and Frédéric aim to offer over 2000 participants, both young and older, an opportunity to experience a transformative encounter between cultures and generations; to train 1500 mentors how to pass on knowledge, to listen and to embrace difference; and to continue to develop the level of current rates of access/return to work, which is twice as high as the “natural” insertion rate.

The Person

An avid reader of sociological texts, Frédéric is interested in understanding how social structures and patterns are replicated, generation after generation, in middle and upper-class caucasian environments. Although he was always very conscious of his social enablement, he quickly learned that it could also be leverage for good; throughout his adolescence and young adulthood, Frédéric was often involved in volunteering initiatives, like the scouts. As a “chef Pionnier” (Pioneer Scout Leader), he coordinated young scouts and founded volunteering and humanitarian projects in Belgium and Africa.

After undertaking an undergraduate and postgraduate degree in management, he wrote his first thesis on burnouts among pre-retired professionals, for which he interviewed many retirees and semi-retirees; here he observed a strong sense of anxiety amongst pre-retired professionals.

Following the end of his first degree, Frédéric undertook a second, complementary Masters’ degree in Psycho-Sociology of Work in Toulouse, where he wrote a second thesis on inequalities around employment for immigrant populations. Frédéric soon realised the potential these two populations had to support each other.

In order to gain professional experience before launching DUO for a JOB, Frédéric started working as a social relations officer at Engie, where he led negotiations between workers unions and the company. Realising that this type of intermediary work was highly political and fundamentally Matthieu and Frédéric joined forces to start DUO for a JOB after Frédéric received a grant of 30, 000 euros from Engie’s director.

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