The Role of the European Female Entrepreneurship Ambassador
The NextWomen Europe Theme.
Lina Tsaltampasi tells us about the role of European Female Entrepreneurship Ambassadors; and profiles five Ambassadors who act as role models for girls and women across Europe.
Ambassador – a heavy title to carry on your shoulders for the rest of your life. Many times I wonder what I have done to deserve this honour, then I come back to myself and reply, “I have probably made it at one point or another”. I can’t help thinking about the day when I was attributed the title at a ceremony in December, 2010. But let’s start at the very beginning…
Sweden is a country each woman is proud to live in. Since I lived there for some years, I liked making a joke saying “men are struggling for their equal rights in Sweden!”.
Sweden is the perfect role model society where you have the husband staying home with children stating, “I have to stay home since my wife has a better career than me”. This is a dreaming society, and for me being Greek and raised traditionally (not by my family, but by society in general), this sounded like an alien concept. I adored the idea though….
Sweden is the home country of the idea of Female Entrepreneurship Ambassadors. Sweden is a society that keeps on working to improve its structure and doesn't rest on its laurels. So they developed the model of the Ambassadors: self-developed businesswomen to serve as role models to younger women, serving society as volunteers. This model was so successful that it became a Best Practise Guide for EU officials. In 2009 the Female Entrepreneurship Ambassadors Model started building up in Europe after an open call for particpants. Country stakeholders were invited to be the moderators of the 27 EU countries, and the 5 neighbouring countries for the National Networks. In Greece the Association of Greek Women Entrepreneurs, together with the Industry and Commerce Chamber were the initiators of the project.
15 active, successful and creative ladies were chosen to be Greece's official National Network. But what does the role actually involve?
The women chosen (out of many, many applications) should meet the following requirements: a growing business, an extroverted business profile, volunteer work with other women and a will to participate.
The chosen Ambassadors served as role models, promoting the idea of entrepreneurship in Greece, and in Europe. The Ambassadors gave speeches, lectures, interviews and any promotional activities emphasising their role and the key success factors of their lives. It was essential to show young women that most of us were part of middle class families and we all just followed our dreams.
In Greece we had a triple challenge.
- Motivating women who were brought up in a traditional way.
- Motivating Greek women (one of the most educated population category of Europe) who were struggling to break the glass ceiling
- Motivating women to self-develop during the crisis situation.
Our national network was a patchwork. We welcomed ladies from different educational and professional backgrounds, willing to promote diversity.
In our network we had ladies who owned multinational groups of companies and women entrepreneurs from rural areas, sharing stands in international conferences and working hand-in-hand to promote women entrepreneurship.
Sometimes we even get sentimental, but this is just a way to express the power of life, the power of success. During a speech I was giving, a group of girls stood up and said “we have no experience, we have no assistance, so we can’t do it.” I turned back and said “if I have done it, then any of you can do it. Why? Do you know what my odds were in this life? I come from a middle class family that only believed in investment in education. Both my parents got really sick when I was in high school; I had to take over my dad’s small business when I was 16 in order to survive. I had to work in order to study. I was a cancer patient twice.. I’m a mother of two children, and when they were toddlers I invested in my business and couldn’t afford child care. I had both my sons at the office with me. But I had a vision and I followed it. I didn’t just dream, I decided to live my dreams”.
Sometimes we get too personal, but this is the only way to convince them that our way to success wasn’t free of obstacles either.
Being an Ambassador is about changing your way of thinking and giving back to the society what society has given to you. This is what made really busy women act, react, participate and share intimate and private stories to empower women in their countries and Europe. You listen to their stories and each one is more interesting than the other. Not all dramatic, but all happy-ending.
Some more remarkable Ambassadors:
- Sandra Zammit: Sandra comes from the island of Malta. She’s been health conscious all her life and at the age of 44, she decided to do something about it. With a background in human resources management and public relations, both in Malta and abroad, but with no experience in the fruit drinks sector or financial backing, apart from a huge bank loan, she opened her own bottled smoothie facility. Her fruit smoothie is called Smoochie, and it’s made from lovely fruits with no sugars, additives, concentrates, preservatives or heat treatments– it’s basically just like the smoothie you would make at home – but instead it comes in cool little transparent bottles with a mere 10-day shelf-life. She juggles her company, which includes the production of the actual Smoochie, with new product development and marketing, with her busy home life which includes a physiotherapist husband and four children. Definitely not easy but extremely challenging and she can assure us there’s never a dull moment. Though busy, she was eager from the beginning in her new role as a female entrepreneurship ambassador. She stated from the beginning “Even if I manage to make a difference to just one person during my talks, then I think I will have done my job”. And she has clearly succeeded.
- Elena Tanou: Elena was born in Nicosia. She graduated from the University of Nancy where she obtained her BA (Hons) in Travel and Tourism Management. She worked in the UK, in the Travel industry specializing in the Sectors of Special Interest Tours and Conferences. She is the Vice President of Top Kinisis Travel Public Ltd since 2000. She was the President of the Cyprus Federation of Business and Professional Women 2005-2009. Also she served as the Vice President for Tourism Nicosia Chamber of Commerce and Industry in two terms i.e. 2005 - 2008 / 2009 - 2011. She is currently the Vice President of the Cyprus Committee of the International Chambers of Commerce and has been a former Board member at the Cyprus Coop Women’s Bank. She is an associate judge at the Industrial Court and is a Board member of the Dean’s Advisory Council, School of Business of the University of Nicosia. She serves in several Social Responsibity positions, always supporting Female Entrepreneurship.
- Liselotte Norén: Liselotte runs two companies, Mongara AB was started in 1992 specializing in organization, management and personal development including ICT development with Web 2, social media and communication training. Mongara has also produced two booklets: Cowboysäljaren (the cowboy-salesman) and Cowboychefen (the cowboy executive), and a third one is on the way. Mongara has subsidies in Linköping (Mongara Öst AB) and in Gothenburg. The second company, Neoscona, develops and sells CMS and other web-based ICT applications. Nescona was founded in 2003. There are a number of consultants, advisory services and mentors available for women entrepreneurs. Liselotte Norén has mentors throughout the years and has changed them ongoing to optimize her own knowledge. She is a member of Företagarna, a business network for SMEs and she is also a member of some active social networks, not the least one for women entrepreneurs. She enjoys both activities. Since 2007 she has been a “ambassador” of the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth (Tillväxtverket), a government national coordinator for the programme "Promoting Women's Entrepreneurship".
- Katalin Szigethy: Katalin is a language teacher, interpreter and translator. When her son was born, she gave up her career at the Budapest University of Technology and Economy and she decided to build up her own family business. Soon she realized that if she wanted to achieve excellence in her work she had to publish the books herself. It took her almost two years to come to a firm decision, however; selling her car was her first capital that lead her to the Frankfurt Book Fair. She figured, her only chance as a newcomer was to buy rights of existing books, and sell them at home. This strategy proved to be a success. She published nine titles out of a planned ten, and it earned her the "Children’s book Publisher of the Year” prize. It was a huge acknowledgement and the beginning of a new career. Her courage and her risk have been inspiring for many young women.
- Despina Ioannidou: Despina is the President of a Women Farmers’ Cooperative Company. Despina was a city-girl who, after following her priest husband in his new position, found herself in a rural area. What she faced was a high rate of women unemployment.. At the same time their families' agricultural products were either sold extremely cheap to traders, or were left as stock. Then she decided to activate the female potential, and developed the Cooperative Company. The women from this rural area take the first material from the local economy, and proceed fresh raw material into producing traditional Greek food ready to consume. Not only did it make women come out of their houses, but her plan had a huge effect on the local economy as well. Her idea of this Women Farmers’ Cooperative Company has been taught as a best practice example in Universities in all over Europe.
After reading these dynamic examples, who would have thought that women are still struggling for equality in business life?
Lina Tsaltampasi is a Business and Development Consultant. Her business is what she calls an International SME, working on projects with partners from more than 50 countries. She was attributed the title of the EU Female Entrepreneurship Ambassador for Greece, based on the fact that she is one of the youngest owners of such a successful SME. At the moment she is the youngest Ambassador in Europe. She is Gen. Secretary of the Association of Greek Women Entrepreneurs, and she was elected as the first Secretary of the Balkan Entrepreneurship Women Coalition. She is now committed to developing the Black Sea Basin Entrepreneurship Women Coalition - Atalanta. She is also a Young Entrepreneurs Mentor and a frequent speaker on Female Entrepreneurship.
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