By Alexandra Paucescu
Diplomats all over the world embrace, together with their families, a nomadic lifestyle which is neither easy nor comfortable for most. The stress of moving, the constant uncertainty about the near future and all that comes with it, are factors which strongly shape their personality and meanwhile make them more resilient and enterprising.
For Amel Derragui, having lived in eight countries only laid the groundwork for her strong and complex personality today and her successful business.
Originally from Algeria, born in India into a diplomatic family and becoming Austrian by marriage, Amel lived her whole life ‘on the move’.
After she studied in France and got her MBA in US, she worked in sales and then built most of her career in the advertising industry in France.
And then, as in a blockbuster love story, she found her love, while visiting her parents, who were posted in Iran at the time.
She remembers: ‘the first night they took me to a dinner invitation at the Turkish residence. There, I met a very nice gentleman… Six months later we were engaged. A year later, I quit my job, we got married and moved to Iran.’
As she is a very intelligent, determined and strong minded woman, she figured out right from the start that she was not going to be able to continue her former career, while moving constantly with her husband. So she started looking for an alternative, which was to start her own business, as a consultant in marketing and communications.
‘I am very passionate about topics related to innovative businesses and social entrepreneurship. In fact, I strongly believe that it is possible to make profits while solving problems and making our world a better place’, she says. ‘While doing that I have stumbled upon a few issues and challenges. The first one was the loneliness. I really struggled to find other entrepreneurs like me who had to build their businesses in a foreign country. I realized that although having a business was a great solution to my career challenges on the move, it was still a challenge if my business was not portable. I felt lonely in this journey because even the great mentors that tried to help me to grow as an entrepreneur were not able to guide me as they have built their successful businesses while living a pretty settled life, in one place’.
All the gained expertise and experience helped Amel find a different kind of business and she founded a beautiful community, Tandem Nomads.
She tells me proudly; ‘Once I got to learn how to make my business truly portable and discovered so many great tools and ways to do it, I really felt like I wanted to share that with other diplomatic and expat spouses. I saw so many smart women around me who felt completely desperate, sometimes depressed as they had lost confidence and their sense of identity. I saw so many couples separating and unhappy marriages due to the resentment these spouses had developed over the years, because they had to give up their own careers. Even sadder, I saw a lot of spouses stuck in a relationship where they were not happy, just because they could not be financially independent. So, I wanted to help and share the message that it was possible to create a business aligned with our lifestyle.’
She confesses that at first she wasn’t sure how to get her message heard by as many people as possible, but one day she discovered the world of podcasts and that’s how she came up with the idea to start one. In November 2015, she launched Tandem Nomads podcast, sharing weekly inspiration about how to build a sustainable portable career on the move, thanks to entrepreneurship.
Ever since then, her Tandem Nomads community has grown constantly and that’s what made her decide to focus on developing online courses and coaching services, reaching global entrepreneurs all over the world.
She loves her job and she confesses that ‘it has been an amazingly rewarding journey and a great path to self-growth and personal development. I really see how much I’ve grown as a person and as a human being. One thing that makes me very happy is every time I see a client who has reached a milestone and has grown, when I receive messages like “Oh my God, this feels amazing! I just moved to a completely new country and do all the things that this new transition requires, but there’s one thing that did not change and that is my business, which allows me to continue doing what I love without having to start again from scratch. It feels so liberating!” This is exactly why I started Tandem Nomads.’
She then sincerely continues: ‘I would have not been able to do all that without creating my own support system. My biggest supporter has always been my husband, who has been there every step of the way. As much as I love being the diplomatic spouse and supporting wife, I love that I can also count on him when I need help. My husband and I share our journey learning how to support each other in this podcast episode: www.tandemnoamds.com/193’.
She also recognizes that the diplomatic community offers a close network and support to settle in and still feel at home. ‘It’s just like a family, I meet diplomats that I don’t even know, yet it still feels familiar because we immediately know what it is to live this lifestyle and we are all also aware of the challenges. So, most people are often willing to support and encourage newcomers – this is something I really love. But I must also share one thing that I’ve struggled with, in the diplomatic community. It is when we actually all get together, especially spouses of diplomats, and the first thing we do is introduce ourselves through the position of our husbands. I might be too much of a feminist, but this is something that really bothers me. I feel that it’s a huge honor and privilege to represent our countries and also build bridges between different cultures. But for me, the position of my husband or the country that we represent is not the number one thing that defines me. When for example I lived in Iran, I was always introduced either as my father’s daughter or the spouse of my husband, but my own name was rarely mentioned in networking events or receptions. This is something that I really fought hard to change. Slowly, people started being interested in me as the person and not just the title. I really encourage everybody to make sure that they don’t just become a label of their position!’
You can sense from her words that she is a fighter, a determined woman who will not take ‘NO’ for an answer when it comes to things that really matter to her and to her expat community. She intends to help and support those in similar situations to hers, and also to lobby and advocate for their cause.
‘Another issue that I think we need to urgently tackle is the legal restrictions that prevent diplomatic spouses from working or having their business, in many countries. These legislations do not fit to our current world anymore. There is still a lot of work to do in this direction!’
Over the years, she spoke at various international organizations such as the IMF and Foreign Affairs Ministries of various countries, providing guidance on how to use entrepreneurship as a solution to dual career challenges and how to make a business truly portable. Her work on the topic of entrepreneurship and women empowerment has been featured in various media such as Forbes Magazine and Global Living Magazine.
She transformed her life-time motto, ‘turn your challenges into opportunities’ into a lifestyle and she now successfully teaches others how to do it.
About the author:
She speaks Romanian, English, French, German and Italian, gives lectures on intercultural communication and is an active NGO volunteer.