June 15th 2016

Mission survive. How to manage unthinkable challenges.

Joseph Oubelkas, Entrepreneur, Maastrich / The Netherlands

Within the frame of the MCI Alumni & Friends series of lectures, the Entrepreneurial School® welcomed Joseph Oubelkas. The Dutch IT engineer and author, who was unjustly imprisoned in Morocco for four and a half years, spoke about the power of positive thinking in apparently hopeless situations.

Oubelkas, who was brought up by his Dutch mother and his Moroccan father, experienced the divorce of his parents as the biggest setback in his otherwise rather comfortable life when he was eleven. However, he became aware of a whole new intensity of sadness, when his life took a turning point as he was imprisoned in Morocco, the land of his father.

In December 2004, Oubelkas was sentenced to ten years of prison for smuggling almost 8 tons of drugs –a crime he did not commit, which was based on rather loose evidence. The successful entrepreneur, who describes himself as a “mother child”, suddenly found himself sleeping on a concrete floor in a small room with hundreds of other prisoners. It was then that he learned to think in possibilities, so to make the most out of his situation.

During the imprisonment, his mother played an important role in his life. In about 400 letters, she lent her support to her son and gave him advice. His book “400 letters from my mom” describes what he has learned from being imprisoned in Morocco and is dedicated to her: In prison, Oubelkas learned to take responsibility, determine goals and to also reach them – he learned Arabic, taught English and even planted a garden in the prison’s yard.

Today, Oubelkas wants to share his new-won attitude to live with others. Tough being sentenced for a decade, he was released after almost five years at the age of 29. During the 1,647 days and nights in prison, he learned that it is okay to complain, but one should never keep on nagging. It is about oneself to see opportunities and to create them. What he wants, so Oubelkas, is to encourage people to do so and to push their positive thinking.

Siegfried Walch, head of the MCI-Department Nonprofit-, Social & Health Care Management, hosted the talk and pointed out that though we are living in a globalized world, no global legal framework exists. Walch sees it as the challenge for our generation to build one and highlights that it is on us to shape the globalized environment and to thereby contribute to prevent innocent people from being arrested.