One of the most important things you can do when you relocate is connect with an expat group in your new location. No matter how much or how little support you’re getting from your employer, local expats can provide you with up-to-date, nitty-gritty details and invaluable moral support as you deal with everything from how to cope with an identity crisis to where to find peanut butter.
In this age of companies searching for innovative ways to provide more with less, I believe there’s a huge potential for corporate sponsors to work more with groups of willing trailing spouses. Not only do the families get the support and information they need, but these groups can be a source of employment (paid or unpaid) for the spouses themselves.
Some companies have been doing it for years for their own employees, such as Shell, through their Outpost organization, and the Schlumberger Spouses Association. These are both large multinationals who have been smart enough to realize the huge potential for their families to help each and all it took was for them to be the catalyst.
But I’ve also seen some great examples of companies coming together to sponsor organizations that serve the wider expat community. In Cairo the Community Services Association was a real lifeline for me, providing not only an opportunity to meet both locals and expats, but also orientation and language programs. It was founded 25 years ago by the wife of the American Ambassador and is a non-profit organization sponsored by both multinational and local companies.
Another model, in the UAE, is ExpatWoman. Here, Jane Drury, a corporate trailing spouse, realized the information she had amassed to help fellow “company wives” could be turned into a successful business. It provides support to thousands of expat women (and through them, their families) with a busy online forum and over 500 events each year. Again it is companies who pay for most of the expenses through sponsorship of events and advertising on the website.
I would by no means downplay the important role of volunteer organizations, such as the huge network of American Women’s Clubs, Newcomers Clubs and other similar, often purely local groups. But the point I’m making is that corporate sponsorship of groups, whether large or small can be a winning strategy. A financial “leg up” can allow an expansion of services and a higher level of professionalism, and the companies benefit from cost effective destination support, local goodwill and promotion of their brand.
Do you know of other similar examples?