Life lessons: Interview with Tessy De Nassau
We speak to founding member, Tessy de Nassau, a 36-year-old social entrepreneur, businesswoman, philanthropist, UNAIDS Ambassador, public speaker, activist and ex-military official providing students all over the globe with a dedicated, professional and inspiring learning.
Carrier are passionate about increasing our knowledge of the world and have a charitable partnership with Professors Without Borders (PROWIBO), whose philosophy is to champion knowledge around the world. We speak to founding member, Tessy de Nassau, a 36-year-old social entrepreneur, businesswoman, philanthropist, UNAIDS Ambassador, public speaker, activist and ex-military official providing students all over the globe with a dedicated, professional and inspiring learning for success in later life.
In the heart of rural Western Uganda, surrounded by burnt-orange earth and mango trees, a lesson is taking place. Eight groups of young adults are quietly playing cards, each group with a certain set of rules. After a while the students are asked, in silence, to mix up and play cards against individuals with different rules. As the teams overcome the ensuing chaos, they also learn the importance of communication, working through misunderstandings and the value in differing opinions. This is just one of the many different methods used by teachers at Professors Without Borders (PROWIBO).
The not-for-profit foundation was set up by three lecturers at Regent’s University London, Dr Caroline Varin, Tessy de Nassau and Majeks Walker, who wanted to correct the imbalance of educational privilege and the obvious lack of access to first-rate, higher education in developing countries.
Through education, PROWIBO aims to bring progress, innovation, fun and positive values to local communities. From India and Thailand to Sierra Leone and Uganda, all courses, from between three and 10 days, are designed to develop professional knowledge while imparting essential and relevant interpersonal skills to the students. Using a liberal arts model, the range of topics is tailored to the local area and includes: communication, global finance, clinical public health, gender and development, and negotiation skills.
As a friend and sponsor of the charity, Carrier has an established relationship supporting the work of PROWIBO and, here, takes the opportunity to speak to founding member, Tessy de Nassau. The 33-year-old social entrepreneur, businesswoman, philanthropist, UNAIDS Ambassador, public speaker, activist and ex-military official, is also a mother to two sons, aged 12 and 13, with ex-husband Prince Louis of Luxembourg.
Tessy with her children
Pofessors Without Borders students
How do you balance being a mother and a career woman?
It demands a lot of planning. I make sure that the time I’m not able to spend with my kids is spent well. I work with people I love and take on projects that inspire me. Most importantly, I talk to my kids about everything I do and take them with me wherever possible.
You spent five years in the military and were deployed in Kosovo as a peacekeeper. How did this impact you?
My time in the military taught me so much. I met the most amazing people. It taught me about myself, my limits, and my calling: I want global empowerment for women. I saw things in the army that shocked me, but which laid down the path that I’m on now.
As a co-founder, what does PROWIBO mean to you?
I love this project so much, not only because we give hundreds of young adults a better future, but because I am constantly learning too. I love working with my team, my frontiers, my teachers and my sponsors – we are very grateful that Carrier is our main sponsor. The impact has been enormous. After every summer school we think it can’t get better, but each year it does. It’s a really beautiful project that changes a lot of people’s lives.
How did your partnership with Carrier come about?
My beautiful relationship with Carrier has grown so much over the past few years. I was introduced to Managing Director Mark Duguid at a dinner. It became clear that we were both incredibly connected in what we believe. It was beautiful meeting a person who wants to give back, who listens, and who helps where he can. Carrier sponsors all of our teachers’ flights, which is the biggest chunk of our budget every year. We are so grateful for that.
Carrier’s support also goes beyond just the financial – this summer, we welcomed Byanne Akbor, one of Carrier’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) committee members, to our Sierra Leone summer school to personally experience the impact PROWIBO has on the community. Spending time with students and developing a deeper understanding of the challenges facing the country, she was heartened to see textbook theory being transformed into something meaningful for them – and in turn, igniting inspiration in a younger generation.
“Through education, PROWIBO aims to bring progress, innovation, fun and positive values to local communities.”
What effect does PROWIBO have on different communities around the globe?
Every year I travel to one of the regions we are working in, so I’ve been to Sierra Leone, Thailand and I’m going to India next year. In Sierra Leone, I found that the biggest gift you can give is encouraging self-esteem. It was clear at the beginning that students didn’t believe that they themselves could be the change in these institutions. After the summer school, they were completely different people – they were thirsty for change.
Professors Without Borders' fourth summer school
Tessy with her father
Many people see you as a role model for women’s rights. How important is this to you?
It’s very humbling that people look up to me. Obviously, that brings a lot of responsibility and I use that knowledge and strength to empower others, when they cannot. It’s important to remember that we all have different skills; a different piece of the puzzle to create a beautiful picture.
Who were your role models growing up?
My role model was – and still is – my dad. He is a fabulous human being. He taught me that it is OK not to be perfect. I have seen him struggle, fall and stand up again, but always with such grace and elegance that when I fell, I knew I would stand up again. I know some people have heavier crosses to carry than I do, but this positivity is something that has always stayed with me.
What has been the most challenging moment in your life so far?
My divorce was a really difficult moment, my miscarriage, and, most recently, the loss of my late grandfather the Royal Highness Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg. That has been really hard for me. It just shows that life continues; you may fall into a dark tunnel but there will be a light and you will come out the other side. As long as you keep that in mind, the challenging times will always pass – because without cloud and rain, you wouldn’t appreciate the sun.
Why is travel important to you?
Travelling expands your mind, refreshes your spirit, and refuels your body with things you see, with love, with beauty, new cultures, new religions – everything. It encourages people to be more receptive to different opinions and not just stuck with the world-view of your community, your family, or your culture. It provides life lessons that aren’t available in the classroom. Travel is also a luxury and it should be treated as such – it’s the most rewarding thing in the world.