This year the e52 High Tech Piek Awards were presented to nine people who made a significant contribution in the high tech arena (or from whom we expect great things in 2016). The award titles bespeak a holiday theme, with one “Piek” award (a typically Dutch Christmas tree-topper with a pointed shape), four “Star” awards, and four “Knallers” (firecrackers, or as we like to call them: Blasts). We’ve been talking to each of the award winners, and featuring one every day.
Today Kavitha Varathan What Awarded one of the Blasts of 2016 Why The jury is impressed by what Expat Spouses Initiative has achieved so far and has even bigger expectations of the year ahead.
Kavitha in (slightly more than) 52 words
At first, she might seem to be the odd one out amongst all the “techies”, and she is drifting further away from her technical side the longer she stays in Eindhoven. But even though she’s not a technical person herself, Kavitha is busy making Eindhoven more attractive to technical specialists from all over the world. Last year she and Anne Yianni founded Expat Spouses Initiative (ESI), a network whose purpose is to promote the professional development of expat partners in Eindhoven.
Kavitha is an expat herself – in 2008, her husband landed a job with Philips Research, and she decided to come along. She quit her job as an architect in Chennai, India, and started a new life. Once in Eindhoven, she managed to find a job in her field, but couldn’t help seeing the talent of many of her fellow expat spouses go unused. In the Eindhoven region alone, there are thousands of internationals who have followed their partners here for their work. They’re highly educated, but sadly often end up sitting at home, unemployed.
Scouting for startups
After its founding in 2014, ESI rapidly picked up speed. Kavitha won the Marina van Damme Scholarship for her initiative focused on finding jobs for the expat spouses. In the meantime, the organization expanded its database to include over 500 spouses, and established contacts with dozens of employers. In one year, ESI has managed to place around 25 people in jobs. Kavitha’s story met well with Guus Frericks, managing director of Startupbootcamp HighTechXL. He called the initiative “one of the most exciting developments happening in Eindhoven in the last year”, and immediately started working with Kavitha’s team. The spouses helped Startupbootcamp with the team scouting process, scouring the globe looking for interesting startups. Read about that whole process here.
In late November, ESI announced a partnership with USG People, one of the largest recruitment companies in the region. This is an important step in making ESI a partly profit-based organization.
Focus: the key to job search success
Sometimes Kavitha gets phone calls from people who haven’t even stepped on the plane to the Netherlands yet. But more often, she gets contacted by spouses who have been living here for longer. Many have gaps in their CV and find it difficult to get started in the local job market. Kavitha often hears from people who “really want to do something”, and just want to start anywhere. However, this approach is usually not very effective. “You have to have a specific focus in your search for a job,” says Kavitha. “You have to know what you can do or would like to learn.” It’s exactly in this respect that ESI wants to help. Kavitha and the ESI team have organized dozens of workshops for this purpose, on themes ranging from optimizing your LinkedIn profile to tips and tricks for the Dutch job market.
For Kavitha, it’s also about “learning by doing”. Although she has no background in HR, she is starting to see more clearly what works and what doesn’t. For example, she has observed that certain types of spouses tend to drop out after a while. “I saw people who were really active in our network – internationals who wanted to organize everything. Then there was a group that sort of supported the initiators. And then there was a group that wanted to do something, but didn’t really know how or what.” This observation inspired the basis for the communities that ESI wants to work with in the coming year. “A kind of support group of around 10 men and women, who stimulate and encourage each other in establishing contacts and finding a job.” Each group will include a mix of both more and less active people.
Companies are also expressing more and more interest in ESI, often for two reasons. The first reason is that expats who leave the country and terminate their contract early (because their partner is having a hard time settling in, for example) can cost companies a lot of money. The second reason is that companies are constantly on the lookout for international talent. Kavitha is encouraging companies like Philips and ASML to search for talent in the local expat community first, before looking at bringing someone else in from outside the country. Eventually, Kavitha wants to adopt a “dual career” approach. If Philips wants to recruit someone from another country, the spouse can be connected with his or her future opportunity through a centralized Expat Spouses Initiative that provides dual-career services to a network of companies in the region. “If dual career is enabled, then they get the same legal privileges as their partner with the job.”
“I want to scale this up to other innovation hubs”, Kavitha shares. “The Netherlands is fairly segregated when it comes to expertise areas: Eindhoven is for high tech, Amsterdam has a large focus on the Internet of Things, and health is big in Maastricht.” Having a non-technical background can sometimes be difficult in Eindhoven, and your chances of finding a job are probably higher in other cities. Kavitha wants to establish links with other regions and so allow the network to grow even further.
Translation by Kathryn Brunton