This year’s International Women’s Day is dedicated to recognising women’s achievements no matter how small.
So it’s the perfect opportunity for the Olive Press to showcase women from the expat community in Spain who are doing great things.
One of the biggest advocates for women in Spain has to be Ali Meehan. Ali set up what is one of the biggest women’s networking groups in Spain – Costa Women – more than 10 years ago. There are now 12,500 members and Ali and her Costa Women team have more than 20 events every single month.
It is not all about business. As well as offering trainings, live and online business networking events, Costa Women offers discussion forums on important subjects like menopause, a book club and the opportunity for women to get together socially all over Spain.
Ali says she is immensely proud of how Costa Women has grown. Since January alone she has welcomed 275 new women to the group and launched a brand-new website and member app.
“It has been a privilege and an honour to create Costa Women as a space for women to connect socially and share their businesses. We tend to forget that as foreigners we have achieved much by first making the move to another country. Then we create businesses in a language not our own, deal with bureaucracy, and market our products and services in a way different way, or on different platforms to those we are used to,” she said.
It doesn’t stop there. Ali has just updated the Costa Women business directory and plans are in place for the organisation’s annual conference on the May 12 at Andalucia Lab in Marbella and she is soon launching a new show ExpatRadio.
Mari Miota Villalba was born and raised in Alcala de Henares, Madrid. She moved to London and worked her way up the ladder in Transport for London, becoming a very successful senior reliability analyst with all the perks, and all in her second language. When Mari became pregnant with her daughter, everything changed. Mari and her husband Liam decided to move back to Spain to raise Paulina on the coast.
“It was a scary prospect to pack up our lives and move back to Spain, and a part that I did not know well here on the Costa del Sol. Not only had I left my home, I left an amazing job to go to a strange place where I had no friends and a new baby in tow. It was a crazy time.
“Paulina is now five and about 18 months ago I decided it was time to get back to work. I secured a role as an independent real estate agent for the biggest franchises in the world, Remax. Before finishing my first year, I was named the best agent of the month out of 50 agents and received a huge promotion. I couldn’t believe it.
“I don’t think there is just one big achievement to celebrate. Moving to London, speaking hardly any English and making a huge success of time at Transport for London was incredible. But then moving to a new part of Spain and juggling both working and being a mum has been a big challenge. Everything has been worth it to be able to spend time with Paulina and be a good example and role model for her.
“If women believe in themselves, even at the worst times, with perseverance, persistence, hard work, and empathy and kindness towards others, they can achieve everything they are determined to do,” she added.
Bi-lingual celebrant Debbie Skyrme is a huge inspiration and role model for women across the world. She moved to Spain 12 years ago after she gave up her job in the UK as a registrar of births, deaths and marriages. After eight years in rural Spain Debbie moved to the Costa Tropical where she realised she could put her skills as a registrar to good use and become a wedding celebrant. Since then, she has won award after award for her work.
“I have been presented with the International Wedding Award for three years running. Last year was one to remember. I was awarded European Celebrant of the Year.
Debbie has faced a challenging few years since she set up her business. coronavirus hit and all travel and foreign weddings were cancelled.
“I had to reschedule 50 weddings due to the pandemic and I am still catching up now. My business has changed alot since COVID. There is a new category of people getting married. Many are elopements with just the couple present, or micro weddings, with 10 or less guests. Many couples have been diddled out of their wedding elsewhere due to COVID and want to come out and do the big dress and the photos here in Spain. And others are coming out here on holiday and want to combine it with a wedding,” she explained.
During Covid, Debbie recognised what was going to happen when the world opened up again. She spent lockdowns here in Spain reaching out to other multi-lingual celebrants to create the Celebrants in Spain directory.
“It was important to me that any weddings that needed rearranging could go ahead on the date the client requested. And on top of that, my biggest fear was getting sick, losing my voice or being struck by Covid and not being able to officiate the wedding. I couldn’t bear the thought of my clients losing their wedding again.
“As much as Covid really rocked me, it has actually made my business stronger. Now, I don’t have to turn anyone away.”
Sam Bayley’s business, Painted Kitchen, began 30 years ago when she arrived in Spain as a 27 year-old new mum… providing her husband with sandwiches to take to Fuengirola market. Now she has her own specialist painting business and works alongside some huge global brands.
“Joe, my husband, started off showcasing mock ups of kitchen and bedroom furniture that he could create and took orders each week at the market.
“It grew and grew to a point where we were doing full kitchen and bathroom renovations, all from orders taken at the market. It was incredible. I was good at drawing and scaling, so I had an idea to draw and paint cartoon characters onto pieces of wood. It came to a point when we were selling 50 pieces a week on the market.
“From 2008, for around four years, it was really tough. We had to rethink the business to fit in with what people wanted and could afford during this recession period. We turned to helping people to renovate existing kitchens to fit budgets so our clients felt like they had a new kitchen, but we had just refreshed it. That has been the business model ever since.
“For years I was mostly found in a mask in the spray room, very much in the background. I came out to do any specialist design work. It worked really well around the kids and schooI. But in 2014 I was at a networking event representing Joe’s business when I realised that the work I was doing could be a stand-alone business. That was when Painted Kitchen was born,”
Sam is now travelling up and down the coast from Nerja all the way down to Sotogrande and Gibraltar doing professional spraying and hand painting.
“I think my greatest achievement has been to realise that I am quite good at what I do and luxury brands like Clive Christian Homes want to work with me. I am really proud of how a nugget of an idea on Fuengirola market has turned into what it has,” she added
Helen Johnson has taken her business from a phone box in Mijas to business with clients from Almeria to the Portuguese to 36 years she has been on the coast.
Her and her husband run Envirocare Spain, which is an air conditioning and pool heating business and Masterbuild Spain – a kitchens and bathrooms renovation company.
Helen said: “A magazine came through our door in the UK and on the front of it was an apartment in La Cala Golf covered in beautiful purple bougainvillea. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I am not quite sure how it all happened, but we rented out our house, packed up our car and drove down to southern Spain.
“We had no money. We used the rent from our house to pay the rent on the apartment, but there wasn’t much left. I got a job in a telesales call centre selling air conditioning. They didn’t pay me the first week. No money the second week. By the end of the month there was still no money. I left and took my leads with me.
“My husband and I went down to the local phone box as there were no internal phones and couldn’t believe it when the first lead we called bought an air conditioning unit. My husband was an engineer, so he could fit it. The deposit just about paid for the unit. And that was the start of our business.
“We have customers who have been with us from the very start. I think our biggest achievements are to create what we did back when we arrived and create a life for us and our family out here.
“Stuff doesn’t just happen. You have to embrace the country you are in and make a life where you are. I think that is really important for women who are moving to this wonderful country and want to make a success of themselves. I have worked hard with my husband to create an amazing business,” she added.
Over to you. What are your biggest achievements? Let’s shout about them!
- 8M in Malaga: Programme with all the rallies taking place in Spain’s Malaga for Women’s Day
- What Women’s Day means to three generations of strong Spanish women
- International Women’s Day: Celebrating the inspirational work of expat women in Spain