Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Expat Entrepreneur Inspiration

One of the wonderful things about expat life is the network of people you build along your journey. Every now and then, (actually quite often I find) there is someone that crosses your path that is worth shouting about.

Last August, I was inspired to write about a few of the amazing women I have come into contact with over the years I have been living an expat life (and you can read A World of Inspiration: A Patchwork Quilt on Velvet Escape). I have yet again been inspired to write about another expat; an expat entrepreneur who not only takes her own photography business seriously but her social responsibility too.
Natalie's Award from the WBII
Photo: Natalie Carstens

In fact, the Dutch based Women's Business Initiative International (WBII) has just awarded British expat Natalie Carstens with the Social Innovation Award for her exceptional contribution to the social projects she involves herself with. I decided to talk to her about the projects she works on, and about expat life.

Natalie photographed by her
husband, Heiko Carstens
Natalie came to the Netherlands just over six years ago whilst completing her Masters degree. Her career looked much different back in the UK she explains:

"I was a full time student. For my Bachelors degree in Information Engineering and Technology Management I spent a one-year internship with the UK Ministry of Defence. As a result of my internship I received sponsorship for a Masters degree in Information Security and Computer Crime."

Whilst the Netherlands is Natalie's first experience of expat life, she has certainly not been afraid of change. I asked her how she came to make such a dramatic career switch from IT to photography and she happily recalls:

"I discovered IMAGES International Photography Club and joined straightaway. I loved photography and thought it would be a great way to meet people outside of work. It wasn’t long before I joined the Committee and I spent three and a half enjoyable years filling the roles of Website Editor, Publicity Officer and Chairman. Quite unexpectedly I discovered something I loved with my heart and soul."

It was not an easy decision to leave secure employment and start up for herself, but convinced that she should follow her passion she set up Tigs Creations in 2008 and hasn't looked back.

She says, "Now I work full time as a children and family portrait photographer, specialising in pregnancy and newborn portraiture."

But she also involves herself in much more, namely two social projects that are closely linked to her photography: The Littlest Heroes and I asked Natalie to tell a little about these projects, and how she came to be a part of them:

The Littlest Heroes Project. Photo by Natalie Carstens
"The Littlest Heroes Project is non-profit organisation made up of a network of professional photographers worldwide that have come together to help give back and capture miracles through the beauty of photography. The project provides our littlest heroes (children who suffer from any type of serious illness of life altering disability) and their family with a complimentary photo session and selection of photos. This is an amazing gift for these families that are dealing with hectic schedules as their child battles disease and sickness. When I first came across the website I could not hold back the tears. The stories and images of these brave children (including the story of the founder of the project) really tugged at my heartstrings and I knew instantly I wanted to be a part of this very special project."

She goes on to tell about

Photo: Natalie Carstens
"The idea behind came from four photographer friends with a shared passion for wildlife. We were regularly visiting zoos together and day trips turned into weekends away to visit zoos that were further away. Each zoo visit sparked a discussion about the variety and health of the animals, the quality of the enclosures etc. and during one of our discussions we realised the importance of promoting the conservation projects and breeding programmes that are funded and supported by the various zoos. After some brainstorming the idea for the project became more and more a reality and my husband and I launched the website in January 2008."

One of the photos from the romantic portrait session offered for Helping Hearts. Photo by Natalie Carstens
Natalie was also moved to help the victims of the recent earthquake in Haiti. She offered a romantic portrait session on-location as a prize to one of her blog readers who donated to the Dutch National Giro555, as part of the Helping Hearts for Haiti initiative.

For Natalie, involvement in social projects is a natural activity:

"I’ve never really questioned ‘why’; it’s more something that I do on impulse. If I feel passionate about something I like to find a way I can help."

She explains that taking social responsibility is not only good on a personal level and for those less fortunate, but can also be good for your own business,

"Supporting a social project enriches businesses and opens doors. Some projects may also present new business opportunities as well as the chance to grow your network further."

Her advice for others who would like to get involved in a social project? Simply...

"Choose a social project that tugs at your heart and go ahead and support it!"

What are you waiting for?

*This was first published in April 2010 in the Expats@Home series of newsletters. If you want to receive future copies of my newsletter you can sign up in the right hand column on this blog or read more on my website*

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