Acknowledge Women

Anke Renkens – Community Manager, GGI The Hague

Who is Anke?

So my name is Anke. I’m born and raised in The Netherlands, but my heritage is (Chinese) Indonesian as well. I’m in my early 30s and lived in several parts of The Netherlands and a few months in Australia and China during my studies. I have a master’s degree in engineering and currently work as a project manager for an international FMCG company, besides the volunteering I do for Girl Gone International. I’m a cat-person, I’m active with several sports and love cultural activities too. I can get lost everywhere, enjoy spending time with friends and loved ones and try to live in the here & now.

Tell us a little about your background and how you came to start Girl Gone International (GGI) The Hague.

I’ve lived in several cities in The Netherlands and when I moved to The Hague for work, I didn’t know anyone in this city. After I settled in with the new job and new city, I started to look for places to find new friends and came across the Girl Gone International network on Facebook. It seemed like a perfect place to find friendly faces, so I attended the events and engaged online in the community. I think most people of my age have experienced losing friendships, sometimes through physical distance, sometimes because interests and lifestyles change. So I was looking for people that fitted with my current phase in life and that would be near location-wise, so for example spontaneous meetups like going to the cinema, theater or for drinks after work would be an option. I truly met some very good friends via Girl Gone International and also introduced other people to the network who found friendships or participated in events and trips that enriched their lives.
I didn’t start the organisation in The Hague, but after a while the lady who did start the local group here asked if I wanted to help out and this is how I eventually became the Community Manager for the local GGI chapter in The Hague. Out of my own interest I also immersed myself more in the organisation behind Girl Gone International and made sure to meet with the founder, the Global Community Leader and many other Community Managers from around the world, which definitely opened my eyes and gave me even more sense of belonging and love for this community and belief that I want to pay it forward via GGI.

What does the organization do?

GGI The Hague is here to connect womxn (women and non-binary people) in this city. We aim to be a safe space, online and offline. Online is the easiest way to already connect, but also for the persons who can’t come out due to whatever circumstances. Offline we organise our events so we can all meet face to face but also discover the city together. It’s how you can connect with like-minded womxn in a casual and welcoming way, where our hosts are also always there to help and take care of everyone. All GGIs share this international experience and mindset, which usually is a good icebreaker and connector. I sometimes also think it’s easier with the same gender, because it possibly removes some additional expectation on the levels on intimacy and some challenges and experiences could sometimes resonate better within an all femxle community.
Globally, Girl Gone International began as a group to overcome social isolation when living overseas and has since grown into an empowering community to make friends and find support, so that any city can become a home. Our groups are an empowering women only community where members can find friendship, support, advice, and meaningful connections. Our community was founded in 2010 and has since grown to be 200 local community groups, in 55 countries with 500,000 members. Our members are globally connected and identify as ‘GGIs’, and together we create spaces for friendship and support both online in our groups, and offline in our in-person events.
We are a home away from home, a community where women can find a place they belong as they move through the world.
We reach up to 8 million per month across Facebook’s family of apps and WeChat. We host 5000 free events per year run by a volunteer team of over 600. Our community’s vision is a world where the 112 million women living outside the country of their birth can feel at home wherever they are in the world, empowering each other to go farther than ever before, together.

One of GGIs events of gifts sharing.

What would you consider as your most significant accomplishment so far.

The biggest compliments I’ve personally received are from ladies who told me they found friends through GGI which otherwise they would not have met and how it solved their loneliness in The Hague. I know of GGIs that really became friends and even went on holidays together, partied together, got tattoos together. I love how our community grows through word of mouth only, we do not do any advertisements anywhere, nor promote ourselves elsewhere. GGIs find us and decide to join us and get involved on their own initiative.

Have you experienced any challenges running this organization as a woman?

A challenge is managing the expectations. As a Community Manager I can facilitate but I cannot make anyone find or be friends. It’s a give and take and based on mutual trust and openness. Just attending an event doesn’t guarantee making a connection or possibly not the “right” people are there. Simply posting you need a friend could give you 100s of responses, but none of them could be that friend you are looking for. Friendships aren’t easiest and maybe even more challenging to make as adult, when it’s maybe not the person sitting next to you in class that almost automatically becomes a friend. So it’s hard sometimes to see that it doesn’t work out, especially because it really is possible as long as you do not give up. Another challenge is to never make the community about myself or one person. It’s all of us together that make it what it is today, even though I’m currently managing it by myself. So, I need to continue make sure to check with others and stay as objective as possible, as well as not let a member mutiny happen in the worst case. Though it’s a human job and some situations call for different approach. Despite my very strong believe that it’s super important not to generalize, I can imagine that in some instances or topics, women could be more expressive, their emotions possibly run higher or a neutral terrain is slightly more complex to achieve. It’s the passion within all of us and because our community is on such a personal level, protecting personal boundaries – in both ways for members and myself – is sometimes balancing on a fine line or thin ice. I don’t think this is different for men, because it is different for each person, but that would possibly be something one would traditionally ascribe to womenkind?

What’s next for Girl Gone International The Hague.

At the moment we’re hosting all our events virtually via digital meetups due to the COVID-19 situation and precautions. We do not want to do or organise anything that could put our members and friends, nor ourselves, at risk. We are looking how to plan the second half of 2020 with both virtual and in-person events, following the Dutch government’s guidelines. As our group has rapidly grown in members, so we might be looking in getting more events in general and possibly more niche events for our community, like we’re already having a Book Club, Movie Club and Big Sisters (40+) events. We believe we all connect regardless our age or culture – it’s even more interesting to connect cross “borders” – but we acknowledge that it is sometimes easier to find the type of friendship you are looking for in such a niche. I love to connect more and more womxn in The Hague, so in the very best case none of us goes lonely and all of us will find BFFs or what we are looking forward, within our communities.

An evening with the GGIs in The Hague

Any advice for Women who would want to pursue this kind of venture?

Of course, I would first find out if there’s a local Girl Gone International community! Get involved, give more than you take (you’ll be rewarded) and participate and contribute. If not, there might be the possibility to start one and I would suggest to also check out our Global Community on Facebook or our website. And never ever give up on friendships. It gets close to dating sometimes maybe: it can be scary to open up and to share a piece of yourself, but in the end it will be worth it. In my experience friendships enhance my life and happiness.

How can well-wishers contact you?

Well-wishers can reach us through our website and join engage with our online community on Facebook, through the GGI Facebook Page and the The Hague local Facebook group.

About the author

Bisharo Ali Hussein

M.A. Public Policy: Specialization in political economy and development
Prev. PRT. A. @UNHCRSom | Activist | Blogger | MBA | Mediator | ASRHR & Youth Advocate | Feminist | Policy Analyst & Gender Expert

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