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Women who make change happen: #1 María José Castellano | PROEXCA
It is a series about women the Atlas team admires, works with, or just happens to know for any reason. We want to make their stunning work and great attitude visible for everyone because of #sharingiscaring and because we do care much about our people, clients, partners, and friends. This time we have as an example an expert in International agri-food Industry.
#1 MARIA JOSÉ CASTELLANO | Proexca Delegate for Central Europe | Brussels
PROEXCA is a publicly-owned company attached to the Regional Ministry of Economy, Knowledge, and Employment for the Government of the Canary Islands whose main objectives are the internationalization of Canarian companies and the attraction of strategic investments into the islands.
The primary aim of PROEXCA is to become a source of reference for the Canary Islands internationalization process and to attract investments.
Although we all smile when we think about the Canary Islands due to their awesome weather, stunning scenery and great food, the reality of Canarian businesses is somewhat harder than what we would expect. Its territory, geographically divided into 8 islands, and the isolation that comes with it makes it much more difficult for companies in the region to export and position their products abroad.
María José Castellano, based in Brussels, represents and defends the interests of the Canarian region at the EU level. That means that she fights for the interests of the business network in the islands, for the growth, both national and international, of Canarian companies, and for creating equal opportunities to boost the competitiveness of her region.
Maria José is a high-level Canarian technician in Brussels, and from Atlas Marketing Studio we have had the pleasure of speaking with her and sharing her experiences:
Q: Could you tell us a little more about your background and how you came to work in Brussels for Proexca?
A: I have studied Political Sciences and Sociology in Germany. I have always been convinced that the European Union was the logical framework to get a stronger and more competitive Europe. So, the main subjects I have chosen were all related to European matters. When I finished my studies I went back to Tenerife, where I have started working at the Department of European Affairs (Government of the Canary Islands). My studies, and later on my work in this department, led me in 2004 to Brussels, the heart of the European policy.
Q: What is a day in the life of Maria José like?
A: My days are long and very intense. I work many hours in my office, and in my private life, I dedicate my time to my children, my hobbies, and my contribution as a volunteer in an ONG.
Q: What is PROEXCA’s main challenge?
A: The main objectives of PROEXCA are to boost the internationalization of regional companies and to attract investments to the Canary Islands.
Q: What are the main challenges you have encountered in your professional career?
A: The main challenge has always been (and remains) to get the right institutional and financial support from the European administration to develop key internationalization projects for our companies.
Q: How do you help companies market products from the Canary Islands in Europe?
A: We help them mainly throughout promotion campaigns and through a program called “Canarias Aporta”.
Q: Which Canarian products are best received in central Europe?
A: We have several problems that prevent us to export to central Europe: tax and customs issues, and the maturation of the products. We started years ago a campaign to promote the Canary Island banana and it was a failure for this reason.
Nevertheless, Central Europe has a good demand for Canarian products such as Canarian aloe vera, natural products made with endemic plants of the Canary Islands, and typical products such as Malvacía wine. There is a demand because they can only be manufactured in the Canary Islands thanks to our climate,
This type of aloe vera product is pretty versatile since there is a wide range of them. Also cheeses Canarian “mojos” (sauces), and tomatoes are products that have very good reception.
Q: In your opinion, does the European Commission have parity of representation?
A: Yes, I think so. Definitely.
For me an organization with parity is the one that allows equal opportunities in every way, that does not discriminate against anyone and that leaves no one behind.
I compare it to Spain, and I think that the people I know who work in the European Commission have never complained, but, even if this depends on each general directorate and department as everywhere, in general terms, I think that the European Commission has parity of representation.
Q: Have you had any negative work experiences due to being a woman?
A: No, I haven’t got any negative work experience due to being a woman. The only negative experience I have had as a woman has been in Mauritania. You could say that my biggest challenge has been negotiating with a country of different customs and beliefs, cross-cultural negotiation so to speak.
These negotiations with Mauritania were made for an internationalization project, and I have been working on that project for 7 years and it will be for a long time precisely because of the mentality that the people of this country have, not only towards women but in general, due to the way that they have to work and to do business. We are still there, not only at the corporate but also at the institutional level and we will continue to expect more favorable results over time.
Q: What has been the project that has brought you the most satisfaction in your professional career?
A: The creation of the EEN (Enterprise Europe Network) in the Canary Islands. I worked in the Canary Islands in what was previously the “Euroventanilla” (which is not the “one-stop-shop” of the Chambers of Commerce, but the Enterprise Europe Network that was called in Spain “Euroventanilla“). I have been in the Canary Islands ‘Euroventanilla’ for seven years and then I wrote the proposal for the ‘Enterprise Europe Network’ for the Canary Islands, which was subsequently approved and is what has been working so far.
I am very attached to that project because I am very fond of it and I continue to collaborate with the EEN. It is without a doubt the project that I liked the most since I think it helped many companies in the Canary Islands.
Unfortunately, the EEN is now there, especially in the economic management part (which is what I was), it does not reach as many companies due to the lack of personnel and the lack of resources, for that, we are now trying to promote them. This is the project that has given me the most satisfaction personally and which is included in my Proexca programming precisely for that reason. I firmly believe that it is a very important internationalization instrument and must be completed with Proexca’s actions.
Q: What would you recommend to young women who dream of playing an important role in the development of their regions?
A: I would recommend them to get good training and education, to work some years abroad, to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of our region to develop the best strategies and to be empathetic.
Q: How is Proexca dealing with COVID19?
A: Proexca is facing it like everyone else, with many activities stopped and with enough uncertainty about the coming months. We hope that after summer we can return to normal activity, but we still know that many actions will not be able to be carried out. On our side, we are trying to find alternative solutions, for example by doing virtual business actions: instead of doing face-to-face matchmaking, we do web Seminars … Which is leading us to save the situation as best as possible.
In general, the situation is quite complicated, even our “Canarias Aporta” program has been put on pause. It is a complicated situation because we owe ourselves entirely to the business world and if the business world stagnates, so do we.
But on the other hand, this situation is also a challenge for us. We must reconsider now our strategy to better help our companies after the confinement.
The agri-food sector is even more complicated. It is a much more fragile sector than the industrial or port sector, at least in the Canary Islands. It is a sector that we believe should be relaunched as soon as possible. I believe it should be one of the first that should resume its activity and that we have to support it. We will try our best to support it and use all instruments that we have.
Q: Do you think that the European Commission and the agencies that depend on it will worry about promoting recovery policies in the agrifood sector?
A: I hope so, it is the least they can do. The institutions, in my opinion, acted late to all this alarm. And once the institutions have seen the scope of everything, we have seen how far it can go, and we know how all these sectors are going to be harmed. I suppose now, there must be a union, rather than between the institutions, of all the Member States of the European Union. To put all these initiatives into action.
So, I strongly believe that the European Union and, more specifically, its Institutions, will respond favorably and will approve measures to support the sector.
We are very grateful to have been able to count on the words and wisdom of María José for our first interview.
She is an example of talent and work and from ATLAS MARKETING STUDIO we feel very proud to have had the opportunity to interview her.
She is, without a doubt, an example of a woman who makes change happen.
If you want more information about these agri-food promotion programs, check it here