August 1, 2018
Marie-Noëlle is a French national who assumed the role of FY19 president in July 2018. She is an engineer with extensive project management experience. She was interviewed recently on her relocation experience and on two years of volunteering with WBFN. She also talks about the areas she will be focusing on as president.
I arrived in Washington DC in August 2015 with our three boys, a few months after my husband. One piece of advice I received before moving was somewhat tough to hear at first but was actually very helpful —to allow some time to manage the relocation by avoiding both parents starting a full time job right away.
I was the parent to stay at home. This was a first for my family and for me and quite a change from my former busy and demanding job. My main role was to create a safe and supportive space for my family so they could adapt to our new environment. While the kids were in school, I enjoyed my free time meeting people, exploring the area and taking online courses on topics I had been wanting to learn more about.
Regarding schools, we let our children choose between the French International School and the local American school, and they chose the latter. They wanted to learn English and to benefit fully from the experience of living in the US. To support my children I had to first learn about the school system myself and adjust to the cultural differences. A rich experience for everyone!
I first came to the WBFN casually, just looking for tips and information regarding relocation in DC, and hoping to meet people. I found so much more! I had thought WBFN was largely social in purpose, I hadn’t known what to expect initially, and had reservations about how I would fit in. I was surprised and really impressed to learn about the depth and range of the WBFN’s support worldwide, and by the professionalism and inclusivity of the teams and members.
I started volunteering in WBFN by helping in the MMEG Fair and the Children’s Holiday Party. Then I worked with the Professional Development Program, and on training and strategy implementation, which was closer to my professional area. In all the activities I was involved in within the organization as a participant or volunteer, the experience was enriching, feeding my professional development and/or my personal growth. I met wonderful people who have become dear friends.
WBFN made our relocation as a family a lot easier and I am deeply thankful for it. I still do not believe how lucky I am to be part of this community, so rich in its diversity, and in cultural and professional backgrounds. I hope to raise the awareness of all WBG spouses and partners so that they can also benefit from the opportunities of the WBFN.
When I felt my children were gaining confidence and needed me less, I started looking for a job and was offered a full-time position in the DC metro area. It was this job search process that made me realize I was not willing to accept the associated constraints on me and my family. I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from a work-life balance perspective in this type of position, because the job I was offered was more of a repeat in my career and was not really going to further my professional development. In addition, my husband was travelling quite a lot.
So, I decided to take a leap and try something I had been thinking about for a while. I set up my own consulting business, which allows me to work on more diverse and interesting missions and gives me greater flexibility and control of my schedule. I am definitely not working less but I have gained in freedom.
THE WBFN PRESIDENCY
After working closely with the WBFN teams on the strategy implementation in FY18, it was suggested that I stand for the position of president. I honestly was not sure at first. I’m more a behind-the-scenes person, and the public side of the president’s role was intimidating. In addition, assuming the position would limit my availability for my consulting work.
But the mission of the WBFN is dear to my heart, the team is amazing, passionate, professional and supportive, and the job is thrilling. All good reasons to apply for a position, aren’t they? I talked with my family and with the leadership to determine how we could make it work. I consider it an honor to be given this chance to contribute and give back.
WORKING WITH VOLUNTEERS
Like the majority of our team members, I am a volunteer. One of the strengths of WBFN is that it is run by its members, for its members. This allows the organization to see firsthand the changing demographics and needs of our community. Our volunteers have an impressively wide range of skill-sets and experiences, which is a great asset for the organization but also a constant enrichment experience for those who work with them.
In addition, for our volunteers WBFN is an environment where they can practice their talents, learn new skills, adjust to a different work culture, participate meaningfully, meet people, and network. During a transition period, this can be a great place to build confidence and skills.
Our teams are changing a lot, which is part of the DNA of the organization. Members relocating and moving on in their professional endeavors is normal and expected. This is why we work on the structure of the organization to make it respond robustly to a high turnover rate in the volunteer teams.
During FY19, we will continue the work of the previous EC teams, following the strategy FY18-FY20. I would like to highlight four areas we are starting with:
- THE WORLDWIDE PROGRAM
The WBFN’s presence worldwide has grown a lot, and we will start the fiscal year by adapting the structure of this program to handle its growth. The needs of our members vary depending on their location, and we must understand this better to improve our impact. We want to increase the involvement of our non-DC members in our programs, so that the organization really reflects the demographic of our community and can also benefit from what members in country office locations bring to us. A specific area of focus will be improving the professional development support for our members worldwide.
Being present all over the globe, we need to adapt our communication to make virtual teams work smoother and have access to our services. Communication shouldn’t rely so much on individual effort, but rather on a shared system.
WBFN cannot exist without its volunteers and staff but neither can it exist without building successful partnerships. We will continue working with our partners within the WBG and externally, keeping in mind the importance of finding the best win-win balance with each of them. We will also work on identifying other potential partners to better fulfill our mission.
- MALE SPOUSES
This is another area that we will work on. Male and female spouses face similar challenges as trailing partners. But the social pressures are different and we should adapt our support to the changing demographic of our members to stay as relevant as possible.