Ritika Mehra is the founder of the successful non-profit organization named Bridge the Gap. It brings communities together in the Netherlands. Her idea behind BTG was to provide a platform for people to come together, feel at home and be a part of each other’s journeys. She strongly believes this idea contributes to stronger communities.
She has been a part of the Royal reception held at Amstelveen and has also represented India for the Royal Dutch family. She bridges the gap between the local Dutch community and the Indian Diaspora in the Netherlands.
As if this was just not enough, she has done Ted X talks and has also led the delegation when the Kind & Queen of Netherlands first visited Amstelveen. Unlike other influencers who gauge success by the number of awards, this influencer counts her achievements. She also leads the Youth Chapter of the NICCT. It helps youth from both countries to expand their businesses in the respective countries.
Influencer Speaks, is where we aim to bring Influencers on board with us. This series will focus on knowing the influencer journeys more closely. Here are some questions on which Ritika interacted with us.
Brief introduction about what u do, how u started to connect Indian diaspora here in the Netherlands?
I have a nonprofit organization here called, Bridging The Gap. We are a group of 5 people, I founded it and am presently the head of the Board here. It started 10 years ago as this was something that I had wanted to do even as a child. I had grown up here in the Netherlands and had seen my parents being active participants of Indian festivals and celebrations here. I had seen people coming up to my parents for help in a foreign land. My parents have accepted people with open arms and have made sure they felt at ease with them. It probably is the main reason why I wanted to do the same for people. I wanted to make sure the transition becomes easier and the next generation gets the same value.
Introduce family? 3:00-7:35
My parents moved to the Netherlands 40 years ago. My father’s from Delhi and Mother’s a Punjabi. They have spent more than half of their lives here in the Netherlands. They understand the Dutch culture really well. I believe my parents and their friends from that generation have made things so much simpler for us now. That generation panned the right path for us and set the right foundation. They certainly hold a big part in keeping societies together. A younger brother who is very sharp and intricate, who is in London. My Mother’s a teacher, she has been a source for advice to Ladies here. She would talk, console them as and when someone reached out to her. She holds Karwa Chauth here in a foreign land when she shifted here. Now 20-25 women come to our house to celebrate it.
How did Bridging the gap come in? 7:48-13:30
My family was the first Indian or brown family here in Amstelveen. And gradually more people started coming in into the then suburb of Amsterdam (It’s a city now). The municipality here wanted to set up cultural events for integrating Indians into the society. They approached my father for this, for it to happen more authentically. I had just completed my university and didn’t have a clue about the real market. My father took me along to meet with the dignitaries. Senior partners from big companies, the mayor, the deputy mayor, second in command were all there in that room. And there, I was a fresh college graduate in that same room. There was this event company that was pitching its idea about a Diwali celebration. And I kept saying my ideas in between, to make it better. My father told me later that my ideas were great, but they needed to be executed. I became a project manager and started making contacts in the first year. It’s wonderful how people from our community responded positively to my cold calls in those initial years. Today we can host about 5000-7000 people, it was much lesser when we started. I used to discuss with my father that even if 200 people turned up it would be a success. And, to our wonder, 5000 people turned up to the event in the first year. This was something Indians were missing.
There was this incident when the Mayor of Amstelveen wanted to meet the backup dancers. I brought him in without knowing the protocols required for it. I just asked him if he could address the crowd while I looked for the dancers. He readily agreed and it was a massive success with the audience, the crowd cheered as they would have done for Sharukh or for any Bollywood star. Interestingly, he even did Bhangra on the stage along with the dancers. And it was the first Indian event hosted for Indians by an Indian in collaboration with the local government.
That made me realized we are missing a platform to bring people together. Bridging The Gap intends at filling gaps between generations, between cultures, between societies. Integration is a 2-way road; you need to keep evolving.
About your event management skills. How did you plan your events? How did you form your team? What advice would you have for someone who is starting as an event manager? 14:00-18:00
I wear a lot of different hats, be it BTG as a non-profit, my full-time job, events etc. Facebook wasn’t as developed as it is today and we launched in January. I remember distributing flyers out in extremely cold temperatures then. I think, being very passionate about all your projects helps you to give your best to it. Irrespective of whom I am doing it for, myself or for a client, I need to be passionate about it. When we work with clients, we don’t just understand their pain points, we try to understand what their guests would expect of them. For example, if it’s a wedding, we ask the couple to walk up to each guest. Because the guest expects to be valued when they made time for you.
4-5 positions that are required for organizing an event? 18:03-24:00
There are types of events we do, commercial and non-commercial, Public and private events etc. For BTG we have 5 board members and volunteers. Irrespective of the type of events, make sure you do not have inhibitions about doing a particular work. It is a smart leadership technique actually. If your team sees you picking up garbage, they would do the same. You should be hands-on always. For public events, you need to have a person to look after all the tasks, the team of volunteers and if they are doing their tasks properly or not. They ensure they are at the right place at the right time. There’s a logistics person, who takes care of the script book. This is something that contains all the tasks we have to do and in the right order. The logistics person makes sure that the flow is maintained. For example, the sound engineer shouldn’t be called before the event site is set-up properly. And that can’t be done before the site is open. We basically make a sequence, make a list of things in order. We start it from the bottom. We make sure there’s a leaving committee who addresses people when they leave. This is something most people miss out on after allotting a welcoming committee. There’s a cleaning committee that helps in evacuation into smaller rooms. Overall event manager, makes sure that people doing different tasks are well coordinated. At times, there’s a security person too.
In case of private events, we delegate roles, welcoming and good-bye, to family members. We do this because we can’t give that familiar touch like a family member. You do personalization while we take care of the execution.
How do you do the marketing of the event? 25:00-30:00
I always go by the book. Follow the local rules and regulations. Of course, there’s insurance, you won’t have the liability and people around are insured. These insurances are very intricate and change as per the event we are doing. For example, in Indian color festival Holi, they would not cover the color allergies while they would cover if someone falls down and hurts himself. This ensures that people are safe.
Make sure you have contracts with all your vendors well in advance. We make sure we tell them clearly what we expect of them much before time. We tell them what they can and cannot do at the event. For example, we don’t allow our caterers to use gas for deep frying at our events to avoid fire risks.
I write and send the agreements to the client before the event, to avoid confusion on the event day.
How do you ensure if people don’t turn up? Do you have a marketing strategy? 30:00-33:00
This is every event organizer’s biggest nightmare. I have a marketing background. I have a degree in International business, luckily for me, I understand why it’s important to take the risk and do marketing. Marketing is what brings in the customer. People need to understand why it’s important to keep a marketing budget set aside, for this very purpose. It has to be a significant and realistic amount. It does have to be substantial and make sure you use different marketing media to stand out. You got to mix and match between traditional and digital marketing strategies. Sometimes, a traditional billboard is more effective than a digital campaign. Social media has become so cluttered right now that a billboard feels like a breath of fresh air. Use FB, Instagram. Linked in and also offline marketing like handing out flyers.
Which media do you depend on for your promotions, digital media or real media?33:03-34:20
Depend on the vent. For corporate events, its LinkedIn and Facebook. And we also do email marketing using the client’s databases. However, in case of a commercial event, we spent more on offline marketing with billboards and all. Effective social media marketing reduces costs significantly.
Arkya: How do you measure an event’s success? 34:20-36:20
For commercial events, it’s always the budget that measures the success. We obviously try to have profit; however, our initial goal is to come break-even. You need to decide for yourself to what capacity you are willing to take a loss if you are okay with it in the first place.
For private events, the process planning is very important. We see if the process was executed well and if the client is happy with the end result. Our goal is to always ensure that the client got his/her money’s worth.
Do Insurance companies cover your ROI for events? 36:25-36:40
No, it’s our own risk and responsibility. Insurance companies do not cover those risks.
Have you gone over-budget? How do you deal with it? 37:00-38:30
Yes, we do become over-enthusiastic and go over the budget at times. We make an initial budget with the approximate costs of each and then get the real-time costs too. Sometimes things are costlier than what you had anticipated. Additional costs come up too.
It is wise to ask what is the loss capacity you are willing to take up while dealing with these situations. At times, I bear losses from my own pocket as it is my passion. It’s your own call.
Ankit: How profitable is events management as a business in the Netherlands? 38:40-45:30
It’s not profitable when it comes to non-profit events for expats here. The main reason being, it’s a very small community and the over-heads here are quite expensive. Labour charges are higher here when compared to Indian. It’s also the same for design work and printing jobs included in an event. It also depends on your budget and your footfall. But it’s certainly not profitable when it comes to only Indian events. That way I consider myself lucky, to have been working in a non-profit where I don’t have to worry about that aspect.
Yes, doing events is very different here in the Netherlands. There have been times when people have asked us why do they have to pay for water in our events. Their doubts are logical, as in India water comes a necessity and not as a drink. Every activity here is treated more as process and less as just an activity. This increases the cost, along with the added labour charges, higher employee charges in it. ROI is generated from Bars in the Netherlands and from Food in India. We try to explain that to people, why they pay a certain charge.
And it is difficult to have the crowd at events in the Netherlands, as the population is much lesser here compared to India.
You also lead the youth chamber of NICCT. It works for providing platforms for expanding businesses in both countries. What is your role there? 45:40-49:00
Netherlands India Chamber Commerce & Trade is an 18 yr. old organization that provides a platform to businesses settled in India and Netherlands to expand in the other country. I have been working with them for 3.5 years, along with 3 other guys. We create events which cover recent things in the other country. These cover the changing taxation systems, government rules and working cultures too. The idea behind this is to make things easier for someone who is moving to a foreign land for business. We also suggest them options that will be more fruitful and profitable for them for their business. NCCIT encourages people to give back to the society in small and big ways.
How can youth from NCCIT India get in touch with you? 49:00-51:00
The best way would be to send me a message with the relevant details on LinkedIn. Tell about what you do in a step-wise process and what are you wanting to know about. You could ask your doubts about location, transport and skills required etc.
We are trying to set up a 1-to-1 guide which will be very generic yet useful though.
What would you say about your Journey till now, how do you see it? And also tell us about your different ventures. 51:30-59:00
It’s hard to imagine the things that have happened. My father got kinghood here, I get invited a chief guest to events. These are things we never thought would happen in the first place. Me and my family feel extremely blessed to be where we are. People have been extremely helpful within and outside the community. I have met incredible people in this journey, all because of the job I do. I feel great when I see the amount of trust people bestow on me.
We do Bollywood parties. I have a full-time job as a project manager too. There’s a BTG got talent show which is a talent competition. It’s brilliant how much talent the Netherlands has. We have professional artists as judges and consider audience votes too. We do it over multiple cities for people of all ethnicities. We got Diwali, Garba-Dandiya, Independence Day celebrations etc. in the year too.
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