Anybody who has done it before can tell you, and if you're reading this, you probably agree: moving to a new country is as exciting as it is challenging. In all cases, the adventure is made better by finding a community of individuals with whom you share the same passions or experiences.
In this article, we interview Yustine Alvares. Yustine is one of the founding members of the International Women's Networking Group (IWNG). In her day-to-day role, Yustine is in charge of sponsorships and partnerships for IWNG. She also helps with events and with the setting up of dedicated member groups.
For Yustine Alvares, the pleasures and pitfalls of living abroad are things she has experienced first-hand. After spending a decade abroad, she came back to the Netherlands and tried to seek out an international community in Rotterdam. "When you move to a new country, the first thing you do is go on Facebook and search for what is available. That's what I did abroad and that's what I tried to do here as well."
This is actually how the IWNG was founded. From humble beginnings as an informal Facebook group, the women have now built a real, increasingly influential organization run by and for women.
What is the International Women's Networking Group?
IWNG can best be described as a networking community of entrepreneurial women. Entrepreneurship, however, can mean different things to different people. For some members, it's a side hustle, while others have gone in all the way. For the women of IWNG, networking is not just about exchanging business cards. "We want to see women supporting each other rather than competing. When women support women, incredible things happen."
How does the IWNG support women?
"At first, we started with small-scale events and meetings. In January 2019, after two years of only existing as online group, the IWNG organized its first major in-person event. Ever since, the organization has grown quite a lot. The Facebook group now has over 700 members and the events have become more frequent. We now do monthly social events, lunches and dinners. These are great moments to meet up with other members, promote a new business or find partners to spar with."
"With our professional events, we focus on the growth of these women, whether it's career-wise or in personal development. We do so by offering them workshops on a wide range of business-related topics, from business presentations to social media and storytelling."
For a taste of the depth and breadth of IWNG's dedication to issues faced by women, one need only take a glance at the IWNG blog. The articles cover insightful topics like women's healthcare and intersectional feminism as well as practical skills like how to write a business plan and SEO copywriting.
What kind of businesses do they start?
"What they have in common is that they are flexible entrepreneurs. This shows in the wide range of projects they come up with. It varies from sustainability initiatives to yoga, mindfulness and professional coaching. Some have taken up cooking as a means to teach or sell meals that are unique to their culture and hard to find in the Netherlands. Our members also organize and participate in a lot of workshops."
Why is entrepreneurship popular among female expats?
"Most women come to the Netherlands as a trailing spouse or because they joined their Dutch partner and have high hopes for the future. However, after spending a lot of time looking for a job and failing to find something suitable, they eventually start their own business. Whether it's out of frustration, necessity or boredom, what all these women have in common is that they want something to do and aren't going to let language or any other barrier stand in their way."
How would you describe the typical IWNG member?
"Many women are looking for a connection with others; new friends, like-minded women they can spar with. The IWNG's members are highly diverse. Though most of the women are expats who have started a new life in the Netherlands, quite a few members are Dutch. Also, while most members are based in the Rotterdam area, many women who attend our meetings come from other cities. Some of our members are students. Being a member provides them with the opportunity to network while working towards their masters or PhD degrees. Others are still living abroad and planning a move to the Netherlands."
The "spouse initiative"
The IWNG is one of the organizations behind the Rotterdam Spouse Initiative, a monthly event that takes place as part of the Venture Café programme. At these events, spouses who have come to Rotterdam with their partner can join others who have also come to the country for similar reasons and exchange ideas on how to reinvent themselves and discover new talents.
While Venture Café is held weekly, on Thursdays, at the monumental Groothandelsgebouw near Central Station, the Spouse Initiative is included in the programme once a month. Be sure to check out the Venture Café website for more information. The Rotterdam Spouse Initiative is organized by Rotterdam Expat Centre, Venture Café, Madam Rotterdam, IWNG and Leiden-Delft-Erasmus.
How can somebody join IWNG?
"Our Facebook group is open to any and all women who would like to join a wider community of ambitious women. For those who would like to take their professional development a step further, we've recently also started with memberships. We've made available three membership tiers; for students, internationals and professionals. All the benefits and prices can be found on the IWNG website."