Allaine Schaiko, People Continuity & Internal Communications Director Europe, from AB InBev, spoke to myGwork about how exploring through travel can open your mind, the benefits of working for a global company and how travelling has made him a better leader.
Hi Allaine, can you tell us more about yourself and your career so far?
I am born in Syria, raised in Belgium and have lived in more than six different countries around the world. After graduating from the Catholic University of Leuven as a Commercial Engineer, I joined AB InBev in 2014 as a Global Management Trainee. Ever since I joined, I held various positions in Sales, where I had the opportunity to launch global brands like Corona & Stella Artois in South Africa and lead the high-end sales team in France.
Today I work in HR, and together with my team, we are responsible for building the talent pipeline of the future for our company in Europe. As a People Continuity & Internal Communications team, we are end-to-end responsible for the Talent Acquisition, Talent Development and Talent Engagement strategy across more than ten key markets in Europe. Outside of work, I am passionate about animals, nature, photography and CrossFit.
Can you tell us a bit about some of the countries you’ve travelled to?
As a kid, I moved around quite a lot with my parents and lived already in Syria, Germany and Belgium. Since I joined AB InBev in 2014, I had the opportunity to work and live in the UK, South Africa and France. Next to the places where I lived, I had the chance to visit more than 40 different countries for work on five six different continents across the world. Some of the most memorable business trips included countries like the USA, Mexico, Brazil, Iceland, Russia, UAE, India, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand. I have visited most European countries as well for both holidays as work. I even have an app on my phone to track all the places I’ve visited😊. According to this app, I have taken 317 flights, spent 1233 hours in the air, and travelled 877,747km (=2,29 times to the moon) in the last ten years. The most interesting part of this story is that I have travelled to most of the places alone.
App in the air, showing all the places Allaine has travelled
Why is travelling important to you?
I’ve always been interested in understanding and seeing new things. For me travelling is all about seeing different people in different places through a new lens. Getting away from my routine at home is something that makes my heart throb faster. Furthermore, I love to learn about new cultures and the way people live in different places. Coming from a multicultural background myself, I am also extremely passionate about languages (I speak five languages fluently) and love international cuisine. In short, travelling opens up my mind. Just exploring every corner of the earth and meeting new and interesting people along the way is something that makes me thrive. By joining a global company and taking on multiple international positions, I got the opportunity to experience all these beautiful things and combine this passion with my work.
What’s your favourite travelling memory?
My favourite travel memory started on a low but ended on a high. It was my first-ever trip outside of Europe when I was 18 years old, for which I saved up some money by working in my local bar. After six months of hard work, my best friend and I decided to travel to South-East Asia for a three-month backpacking trip. However, after our second night in Bangkok, we got robbed, and all our cash and credit cards got stolen. Instead of calling our parents and asking them to buy us a return flight back home, we decided to stay as long as possible with the remaining 300 euros we still had. We ended up staying for another four weeks in Thailand by hitchhiking and staying with locals and even made it to Malaysia and Singapore for a couple of nights 😊.
A couple of other personal highlights:
- Doing thrilling hikes in nature and standing face-to-face with wildlife in South Africa
- Camping in nature whilst watching the dancing Northern Lights in Iceland.
- Diving with Manta rays in crystal clear water in the Maldives
Does a countries acceptance of LGBTQ+ identities impact your decision to visit?
When travelling with my LGBTQ+ friends, we do take this into consideration. We mainly consider the openness towards the LGBTQ+ community when selecting the cities we visit, the neighbourhoods we stay at and the hotels/bars/restaurants we visit. It is essential for everybody in the group to be able to be their whole self when travelling.
As a straight person, it never impacted my personal decision to visit a place; however, it unconsciously did impact my decision of where to live. In each country where I lived in the last years, I always chose to live in the LGBTQ+ friendly districts (E.g. ‘Soho’ in London, ‘Le Marais’ in Paris, ‘De Waterkant’ in Cape Town and ‘Saint Jacques’ in Brussels). This was not necessarily an intentional choice, but from my personal experience, the LGBTQ+ friendly neighbourhoods tend to be very welcoming, arty, trendy, vibrant and have a fantastic nightlife, which are some of the values I consider the most when selecting a place to live.
What advice would you give to someone nervous to travel because they are LGBTQ+?
After visiting so many different places, I have realized that personal characteristics or social identities, such as race and ethnicity, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation, abilities, religion, and many others can sometimes impact your experience as a traveller. My recommendation for everybody would be to start with completing a risk assessment before travelling. Regardless of a country’s reputation, knowing the local laws, customs, and your rights can help you feel more comfortable.
Secondly, I would always recommend connecting with locals to better understand the community and social framework of the country you are planning to visit. Social media and/or online communities can often help you connect easily with locals.
Last but not least, don’t shy away from destinations that may seem unwelcoming, but rather conduct research and track developments in those countries over time to understand the cultural differences and local nuances.
What do you think organizations can do to keep their LGBTQ+ employees safe when travelling for business?
First of all, I believe that organizations should create a psychologically safe and inclusive environment where people feel comfortable to report that they are nervous to travel for reasons of any kind. Secondly, organizations can ensure that suitable risk management systems are in place and that employees who undertake travel as part of their work are suitably trained and supported. Lastly, I believe companies should take any incidents and feedback from employees seriously and act on them appropriately.
Do you think your experiences travelling have impacted how you approach your work or as a leader?
Firstly, travelling has given me more confidence to step out of my comfort zone. Trekking in the bush in South Africa or hitchhiking in South-East Asia taught me how to be comfortable even outside of my comfort zone.
Secondly, experiencing other cultures inspired me to open my mind to different ways of thinking. It also helped me to embrace diversity in terms of the people I work with.
Thirdly, travelling made me a better communicator. Being able to communicate despite language barriers is an asset, especially if you work for a multinational company.
Last but not least, travelling is all about following up on schedules, solving problems quickly and organizing yourself in the best possible way. It definitely helped me improve my problem-solving abilities and time management skills.