Co-Founder & Executive Director
Founded: Denver, CO
Industry: Educational not-for-profit
Carlo Kriekels is not afraid to say, “yess.”
Kriekels, co-founder and executive director of YESS Institute (YESS), was born and raised in Flanders, Belgium where his ambition to pursue knowledge was nurtured by his family.
“When you stop learning, you stop living,” Kriekels said. “That is what I learned at a very young age.”
In 1992, Carlo Kriekels jumped on a motorbike and embarked on an 18-month, 35,000-mile journey to discover authentic Latin America. Riding from California to Chile, he experienced culture, community, and a shift in his life purpose.
“The people I met along the way changed the entire trajectory of my life,” he said. “I had found my compass for caring.”
Kriekels knew that if he wanted to make any sort of meaningful difference, he needed to first work on making a difference in himself. He followed his new compass for caring to England, where he met Susan Greer and enrolled in personal development, emotional intelligence and leadership courses held by Greer’s company, Perceptions Training International. Shortly after, the two combined their brilliance and co-facilitated leadership workshops and intensive personal development programs for international business leaders across Brussels, Netherlands, UK, and the United States.
Known for his charisma, passion, and talent for storytelling, Kriekels has earned a reputation for exemplifying the foundation that his agency was built upon. Kriekels and Greer founded YESS Institute in 2001.
“We both felt deeply that our calling was to provide these valuable emotional intelligence concepts to the next generation of leaders - today’s youth,” Kriekels said, “especially those with existing potential who simply needed to feel empowered to wield it.”
Since its inception, YESS has utilized an entrepreneurial business model to generate earned revenue for the agency, thus reducing dependency on more traditional nonprofit revenue streams. Realizing YESS can generate earned income through licensing its expertise and program curricula, agency leadership created a social enterprising branch within YESS called YESS Academy.
Building off the momentum of YESS Academy, YESS developed another curriculum in 2018; Healthy Lifestyles is an awareness and education curriculum designed to improve the way that youth are informed about marijuana. In November 2019, Healthy Lifestyles was contracted for 40 licenses across Alaska with the Alaska Afterschool Network. Additionally, Kriekels’ strong work ethic drove him to work with other leading mentoring agencies to reinvent mentoring best practices based on the experiences of youth in his own program. In 2003, based upon the ideas and leadership by two YESS high school juniors, Jacob Malson and Annalise Smith, YESS began piloting its signature peer-to-peer mentoring model. Kriekels works from the philosophy that the communities YESS serves are the experts of their own realities.
“The voices and the needs of the people our agency serves are the deepest wells of knowledge we have for truly improving the way we work,” Kriekels said.
Kriekels success is reflected in his accomplishments and involvement. He served on both The Denver Foundations Inclusiveness Committee from 2009-2015, and The Denver Foundations Education Committee from 2012-2014. Additional recognition includes: 2008: The Denver Mayors Office awarded Kriekels the “Innovation Award”, and in 2011, the “Heavy Lifting Award” in recognition of children and youth in Denver; 2012: YESS received the prestigious national Service to Science grant from SAMSHA; 2014: YESS was one of the founding agencies of Mentor Colorado; 2015: Rocky Mountain PBS invited YESS as a community partner in its documentary series: “Standing in the Gap: Race & Denver Schools”; 2016: YESS received the inaugural MBK25 “ My Brother’s Keeper“ Award. At the YESS headquarters, there is an entire wall dedicated to the numerous media features of YESS and Kriekels including: Colorado Public Radio, CBS Morning Show, The Denver Post, Fox31 Denver, and several international papers. YESS co-founded the Mentoring Forum in 2002 with Carsten Baumann and Ge Thao to address mentoring agencies need for support. The Mentoring Forum was the forerunner to the Youth Mentoring Collaborative in 2005 and Mentor Colorado in 2014, both of which YESS were integral to launching.
In just the last six years, YESS has quadrupled in program and participant size. In 2006, YESS was serving 50 students twice a week. Today, YESS serves upwards of 1,200 students every day.
Kriekels said that the success of YESS only happens “with the entire team pulling the cart in the same direction.” He said that not only will outcomes improve, but all staff will feel a sense of empowerment, belonging, and accountability to the success of a greater cause.
“I strive to lead from a place of equity, transparency, and humility,” Kriekels said.
Being a true titan, Kriekels says that success is having a close family and some friends you can call at 3am, being acknowledged and respected for who you are, not what you do or what you have, and living your purpose as a leader. “Success is being able to inspire and influence your team through being a role model,” Kriekels said. “Success as a leader is when others around you feel empowered, grow and achieve beyond what they believed they could
When he was a junior in high school, Carlo starred as the main murder suspect on the Belgian TV show Met Voorbedachten Rade, the number one show on Belgian television in 1982!