HOW IT ALL STARTED
Women who leave family and friends behind in order to relocate to a foreign country show tremendous courage. We’re faced with various situations – perhaps a new job, or relationship, or a completely different lifestyle. The culture is unfamiliar, and in many cases so is the language. We arrive with dreams. And, as we slowly settle in we eventually yearn and cultivate new aspirations that are fitting for our new home and brand-new lives.
This is as true today as it was in 1990 – 25 years ago! Shortly upon arriving, one lone woman reached out inviting women with professional work interests to her home in the autumn of 1990. Nanci Cederbaum’s aim was to connect with other English-speaking women in similar situations. The dozen or so women who responded so enjoyed themselves that a decision was taken to meet on a regular basis.
By March of the following year a committee was formed and the name Professional Women’s Group of Basel was selected. The initial committee was comprised of just four women: Nanci Cederbaum (Chair), Sue Flotow (Membership), Jan Hawley (Facilities), and Cathlyn Darley (Advisor). As the club grew, so did its leadership team. Today’s Committee consists of ten to twelve women.
As the monthly meetings progressed, so did the meetings format. At the early gatherings, it was local expat women who spoke on a theme of their choice. Today, the Committee tries to satisfy the interests of the members by offering a wide range of cultural, professional and personal topics delivered by women (and occasionally men) from across the region.
Long-held traditions were also born from those early programs. The very first gathering was a wine & cheese party. To this day, every monthly meeting and annual general meeting still offers a ‘wine & cheese’ or apéro setting.
The first networking cocktail party was held in a beautiful private garden, replacing the regular meeting format. Today, our annual June Social is always held in a pleasant setting and husbands, partners and significant others are invited to attend our annual December Holiday Social.
Recognizing and giving attention to the needs of its members has always been a core focus of PWG. This is discussed at Committee meetings, in workshops, and with members. By 2003 membership had grown sufficiently to encompass not only professional women, but business women and those seeking employment as well. PWG responded with the formation of focused sub-groups.
The Job Hunt Support Group is for ladies who are actively looking for a job. The regular twice-monthly meetings provide an opportunity to connect, and to share progress and plans in support of one another during the job hunt process. Lead by Aletta Karsies van Eeden for the past 10 years, experts are invited to advise and to lead thematic workshops. Providing that all-important ‘moral comfort’ from the more casual early days is still an essential element of the group. It’s interesting to note that a Working Mothers Support Group had been formed 10 years earlier in 1993 as well.
At that same time, it became evident that our entrepreneurial women would also benefit from a focused forum. Lorraine Rytz, Jennifer Hill and Katerina Dobrik explored ways of satisfying the business orientated needs of women like themselves who were interested in starting, or further developing their own enterprises. The Women Entrepreneurs group formalized in 2004 and continues to this day offering very interactive monthly meetings, workshops, and networking opportunities. Today’s dynamic group is co-lead by Judit Csapó Karowits and Violeta Karalic.
A great spirit of community mindfulness existed from the very beginning.
In 1991 a meeting ‘Parenting and Childcare’ chaired by Cathlyn Carley tackled one of the biggest issues working mothers were then faced with – adequate daycare needs. Subsequently, a sub-committee was formed whose objective was to investigate the need for, and establishment of, an English-speaking daycare system in Basel. The community was surveyed. Action was taken.
In 1993 the Tiny Tots Verein was founded as a parent support group for expat families in Basel. This initiative stemmed from discussions and planning conducted by PWG members. Now known as The Early Learning Association, it is licensed as a private kindergarten and a primary day school (German/English).
In 1995 representatives of PWG joined with other clubs and organizations to discuss the establishment of an international center for the English-speaking community. A major focus quickly identified was the desire to have a physical location where resources could be shared. The ESCCB (English-Speaking Community Centre of Basel) was created, with PWG becoming a partner and shared tenant in 1997. Now known as Centrepoint, it is centrally located in Basel at the beautiful historic Lohnhof (our current home!) where it will soon be celebrating its 20th Anniversary at this prestigious location.
Partnerships with other clubs was also important as PWG grew and strengthened its local presence.
WIN (Women’s International Network, Geneva) provided access to a larger platform of conferences and networking events. The few PWG members lucky enough to attend reported back to the club. We then got involved with the 8 Millennium Goals (UNO) viewed as a historical chance to fight poverty and social imbalance.
On the local front, a strong relationship was built with the Basel chapter of BPW Switzerland starting in 2009 till 2013. Joint programing was held twice yearly providing social exchange and the chance of members widening their local networks. Steps are being taken in this recent year towards a renewal of this friendship. New on the scene is The Women’s Leadership Project. Launched just this past March 2015, discussions are already underway for possible joint ventures. Sabine Schmelzer from the TWLP founders group is facilitating a workshop in November for our very deserving Committee members. PWG has always enjoyed having ‘shared’ members with Toastmasters of Basel. There’s a renewed interest in topical joint programing as the past ones were so well received. We offer our congratulations on their recent 15th anniversary.
PWG’s affinity with social causes began in 1993 when the Committee, with the approval of the members, voted to make annual donations. The decision stated that ‘50% of remaining funds over Chf 150 at the end of each year be donated to charity.’ This was later amended to align with the annual situations. Cumulating year by year, PWG has facilitated in access of CHF 100K donations during its existence to various charities. Some of the earlier organizations were Swiss Red Cross, Basler Frauenverein, and 1’000 Donkeys for Eritrea. Hermès Charity Luncheons at Tois Roi were initiated by Hilary Frazer, Bente Helt Edlich, Neima Sitawi-Bottone, and Natalie Merkelbach in 2006. Through this event the local organizations donated to were: MOMO (2006), Familienpass (2007), Crescenda (2009), Leben wie Zuvor (2011), SSSB, The Blind Guide-dog School, Allschwil – funding the 1st in Switzerland Autism Service Dogs program. In 2013 PWG was a major contributor to OneBillionRising, a flashmob dance at Marktplatz, providing dance leaders, dancers, promotion, awareness building, and extreme enthusiasm!
In 2015 PWG took a new approach by hosting an evening where two charities could introduce themselves to the membership.
25 YEARS AND COUNTING
For a group created within a transient expat community, having achieved 25 years is impressive. There are many PWG members, as well as folks from the greater Basel community, who believe the best is yet to come. An organization with such diversity, inspiration, and capacity for action will continue to enrich the lives of the members who will, in turn, create value for the Basel area. That truly is a legacy to aspire to.
Written by Lorraine Rytz