June 2023 | Written by – Ariel Slaughter
Oh, how time flies! This year Women for Women (WfW) Eindhoven marks its tenth edition. And one Ambassador, Natasja van der Velden-Huijboom, executive programme manager at Studyportals, has been there from the beginning and for every edition since. To celebrate this milestone, Natasja will share with us her insights as a long-time Ambassador, how the program has changed over the years, and her hope regarding the program’s future.
A Career Built Around Engagement
By her own admission, Natasja has led an “exciting” career. “I started off organising large conferences, and then I hopped from the other side and promoted the region of Eindhoven as a convention and exhibition venue…That was a great time. [Later] I did some projects for the library in Veldhoven, for the tourist board, and set up living-in activities for Internationals in Veldhoven.” From there she moved on and started her own business, managed The Hub, the living room for internationals, and organized many events for the international community in Brainport, before ending up at Studyportals where she still works today.
“At [Studyportals] I am the executive programme manager and member of the leadership team. In this role, I am leading several cross-departmental executive projects like the Global Student Satisfaction Awards, the globalization of onboarding our international new team members (called Superheroes), and lots of other overarching projects. On top of that I lead the office management team, all the company events, and provide executive support to the CEO, COO, and rest of the MT with everything they do.”
Studyportals’ mission is “to make education transparent globally, meaning that we help students from all over the world find the right education. Over 52 million a year, actually. And we help universities globally to diversify their [student] population.” To accomplish this, they have beyond their headquarters and staff in Eindhoven, a data center in Romania, and teams in the United States, Mexico, UK, and Australia representing over 35 nationalities. In this way, the corporate culture at Studyportals is as international as the service they provide.
Welcoming Internationals as an Ambassador
It’s immediately clear when talking to Natasja just how passionate is she about sharing her enormous wealth of regional knowledge with other people and how much of her previous work experience has involved creating a welcoming environment for the local international community. And when you’re that passionate about something, people notice; which explains why Natasja was approached to join the Women for Women program when it began:
“I felt really honored. While managing The Hub, I already felt really connected with all the internationals there. I wanted to get them out of their loneliness, [so they] feel they belong. And when Expat Spouses Initiative asked me to become an Ambassador for Women for Women, of course, I couldn’t resist because I love to help internationals land and to find their way and to connect to my extensive network.”
Belonging is important for so many reasons, as Natasja continued: “I find it very important that they feel they belong because if they belong, then their partners will stay, and that’s what we need with the shortage of talent in the region. So [belonging] has a big economic impact.”
Over the years, the Women for Women program, a collaboration between the Expat Spouses Initiative, the Living In program of the Holland Expat Center South, and Huis Naar Werk has connected over 194 professional international women with locally connected Ambassadors who have helped them not only integrate into the Dutch labour market but also Dutch society. As an Ambassador for ten editions, Natasja has helped 10 Talents using her own approach to guide them. “I have [had] very diverse Talents. My goal is to get the best out of people, but also to listen carefully to what they really want instead of what they think is expected from them. I think that’s one of the magic tricks to help them land.”
Ten Editions and Going Strong
Beyond her passion for helping others, one word embodies why Natasja keeps coming back to be an Ambassador edition after edition – improvement:
“I saw all the great improvements made. Because in the beginning, it was sort of a pioneer thing. It was like, ‘Oh, yeah, how can we help them best?’ But [ESI] also included the Ambassadors to improve the program. For example, now [the Talents’] LinkedIn profiles are updated way in advance. So, if [an Ambassador] wants to promote their Talent within this three-month period, [they’re] able to do so because [they] can link it to the correct information…The [Talent pitches] for the Ambassadors is great to help them gain confidence and to get them to focus on what they really want and what they really should ask for. Because if you don’t know what you want, then it’s also difficult for Ambassadors to help them find their way.”
Indeed the program has changed in many ways, but so too has the Expat Spouses Initiative (ESI) team and the Talents. “The program has changed because the team of ESI has grown. The selection of the Talents has improved. It’s really good that [ESI selects] Talent, who really want to make steps…The diversity of Talents, the level of Ambassadors, and the number of Ambassadors have improved. What also has improved is the expectations from the Talents toward the Ambassador and vice versa.”
What the Future Holds
If Natasja had her way the Women for Women program would have even more impact with a wider range of partnerships and opportunities for Talents than it does now:
“It would be wonderful if there could be some sort of a training or learning period for international spouses in a safe environment for half a year to gain knowledge of the local economy, local companies, sort of a traineeship which legally approved for them to gain and to grow. I think it would be cool if you could have a talent pool not only of, 20 or 25 [Women for Women] Talents each edition, but 100 to make a bigger impact. As an Ambassador I usually help more talents, so why not assign two talents to each Ambassador in the future?
Another thing besides the traineeship possibility is that all the local organizations have a clear overview of how they can jump in and do activities there. So, if you cannot find a job yet or if you are reconsidering a different career, you can gain some experience through volunteer work.”
Did you hear that, local organisations? Let’s partner to find ways to collectively co-create more impact to help internationals land, reduce the talent shortage, and advance the local economy.
Advice for Potential Ambassadors
Natasja also has advice for all the future Ambassadors out there thinking about joining the program:
“I think it’s one of the most honorable roles you can have besides your normal work. You can contribute to the local economy, diversity, and inclusion in a different way. And you can really, really make a difference in people’s life. So, if you have that in your heart, then go for it, because it does take you time…But it is so fulfilling to connect and make new friends and great local connections.”
If you’re a locally connected professional (Dutch or otherwise) and want to become (more) engaged with the international community, then become an Ambassador of the Women for Women program! You will become part of an innovative and successful solution that helps highly-educated spouses and partners of international migrant workers professionally integrate and contribute to the local economy. More than 80% of Talents of the Women for Women program land employment within six months of finishing the program, and it’s Ambassadors like Natasja that help make that transition possible.
Read more stories about other Women for Women Ambassadors or the success stories from Talents in the Tips, Trips, and Stories from our Community section.
Thank you to the innumerable people and organisations who have contributed to the Women for Women program over the years. We sincerely hope they know just how appreciative we are of their time, contributions, and support to make the program a continuous success edition after edition.
And of course, a very special thank you goes out to our Ambassadors, who donate their time, networks, and insights to help each edition’s Talents and also our partners, without whom the program would not be possible.
- Edition 1: Gemeente Eindhoven, 04Werkt, Kracht on Tour, the Living In program of the Holland Expat Center South, and ESI
- Edition 2 – Edition 7: Gemeente Eindhoven, the Living In program of the Holland Expat Center South, and ESI
- Editions 8 – Edition 10: The Living In program of the Holland Expat Center South, and Huis Naar Werk and ESI