This month we talk to Astrid Aafjes, the Dutch woman making a serious impact leading initiatives in gender and human rights around the world.
Currently based in Spain, Astrid has brought her background in international development to the digital nomad world, running a women-focused community Downtown Offices for entrepreneurs in Barcelona, launching WeSpark, a global platform for women in the healthcare industry, and serving as President and Founder of Women Win, a nonprofit organization on a global scale to empower women and girls through sports.
How did she find herself settled in Spain? Let’s get down to it.
With a background in international development, you’ve always been traveling and relocating for work. How does that work style line up against a digital nomad lifestyle?
I remember having to communicate with my partners through faxes and letters. Sometimes we didn’t hear from each other for weeks because it was taking so long, and it was all very expensive. Working and living abroad was a way of life for me even before the digital nomad term was really around.
I had experience working and creating a foundation overseas, but there were things I had to learn with time, e.g., networking and building community, and learning the ropes of how to start a business in a new country. I am lucky to have an office with two interns now. This is where I go every day after I drop the kids off at school.
Running Downtown Offices and launching WeSpark community now, you’re probably facing many challenges that entrepreneurs come up against. But you’re doing all of that with two teenagers by your side. How did they adjust to your family’s digital nomad lifestyle?
That’s right. We have two children ages 13 and 16, and they love living in Spain. They go to an international school because they are not sure if they will remain in Spain, and in the beginning, they couldn’t speak Spanish (though their Spanish is better than mine now). This was a big decision that really helped them adjust to living in Spain. Going to school in a language they speak also helped with the transition.
What runs at the top of your list to adjust to a new city?
For me, finding an outlet to empower other women is central. I started the community of women entrepreneurs because when women empower other women there is a contagious power.
At the Downtown Offices, we all support each other and learn from each other. I love my work because it’s not just that I help other women or support them, but also I support myself becoming a better entrepreneur.
You also really need to find a place you can call Home. For me, friendships are super important. If you relocate with your family or a partner you have a unique situation. We were not only starting a company, but also moving as a family, so it’s very important to consider factors like our children’s education before relocating somewhere new.
You’re a woman supporting other women. What does that look like in the kind of work you do?
As a human rights lawyer, I was always working in the women’s rights area. That was my focus and expertise. I started a foundation in Holland, which is called Women Win. We work globally and focus on the empowerment of women and girls through sports as a strategy. Since I started this organization, I became an entrepreneur in a way. I have had to learn about everything from budgets to hiring and marketing.
When we moved to Spain I thought deeply about what I wanted to do here, and what made the most sense. It was very logical for me to start a business that could help women entrepreneurs grow their business, and build a community where women could meet and connect with each other.
From this blossomed ‘Downtown Offices’, the first community for women entrepreneurs in Barcelona. It was a new experience for me doing what I love and not being in a developing country. It is such a special way to work, to empower women entrepreneurs.
Here in Spain, I am also launching a new community called WeSpark, which is an online platform for women entrepreneurs in the medical and healthcare sector. Doctors and physicians are very well trained to treat patients and to make people feel better, but they usually lack the knowledge they need to run a business. This platform will give them important insights directly from business experts.
Your family based in Barcelona now. Why is that a good fit for you?
Barcelona is very international with a lot of young people, but overall it’s a relatively small city. It’s comparable to Amsterdam, very pleasant, easy to blend in, and I enjoy being able to walk. It helps if you speak a bit of Spanish, but if you don’t, I think you could still find your friends and your community.
The cost of living is comfortable, and the expenses are low compared to The Netherlands. I would say a salary of $1,000 USD per month would be insufficient for a family of four considering the rent, insurances, food, everything, but it all depends on your personal needs and still is way cheaper than you can find elsewhere.