From Albania to Greece via Sheffield, Mirela Arqimandriti’s journey is an extraordinary one. We spoke to her about winning an Alumni Leadership Award, progressing gender equality in her home country, and why she is so dedicated to volunteering.
For Mirela Arqimandriti getting an MBA in 2004 was the springboard for achieving so much more, but not just in her career – helping others was always part of the plan. This quality, along with a life-long commitment to volunteering, led to her being honoured with the University’s 2016 Alumni Leadership Award which recognises alumni who have shown exceptional leadership skills in their involvement with the University. Although she couldn’t attend the ceremony, the audience was inspired by her unwavering commitment to promoting the University of Sheffield’s Greek campus, where she studied for her MBA, in her home country of Albania.
It didn’t start at university though – Mirela has ‘given back’ her entire life: “I grew up in a dictatorship in Albania. Volunteering was promoted, so I was educated to help others and contribute voluntarily. In 1999 I started volunteering with the organisation where I am now executive director – the Gender Alliance for Development Centre.”
“In Albania, businesses suffer from various problems – when I took on the executive director role, the situation was quite unstable. However, I’ve been able to draw on skills learned during my MBA and using these, the organisation I lead has been able to monitor women’s human rights issues in Albania. Recently me and the team have also been working on women workers’ rights and wage-related gender equality in the country.”
Progressing women’s rights is an ongoing focus for Mirela, who set up the Network for Albanian Women Entrepreneurs (NAWE) last year. Along with the Centre for Women’s SMEs which she co-founded in 2005, she plays a prominent role in encouraging female entrepreneurship in Albania by acting as a board member for both organisations. Mirela said: “In 2016, Albania saw a 31 per cent jump in women running businesses – however, much more should be done to empower this group. With the Centre for Women’s SMEs, I have organised seminars and training, particularly around introducing corporate social responsibility into your business and managing start-ups.”
“Through volunteering in these roles, I am determined to respect and protect human rights and to try and advance gender equality in my everyday life. Volunteering for the University of Sheffield is different – I’m rewarded with the feeling of helping people, knowledge gained from colleagues, and engagement. When you know something is good, why not tell others?”
Returning to the Alumni Leadership Awards, Mirela was nominated for her work in implementing a range of PR and recruitment activities for programmes offered at our International Faculty in Thessaloniki.
As well as organising a number of presentations at high schools and universities in Albania, she is an exceptional ambassador, opening doors for University staff to visit and meet with organisations and prominent academics in the region. Mirela said: “I think Albanian students need the academic skills that top universities like Sheffield can offer. The Faculty in Thessaloniki gives them access, without being too far from their families or paying very high tuition fees.
“My son is now a student in the Computer Science department in Thessaloniki – the next generation of Sheffield alumni! I passed my love for education on to him, and I hope he will have the opportunity to visit the city of Sheffield while he’s studying.”
Mirela’s passions – whether it’s for volunteering, empowering women or getting a high quality education – have driven her career, but have ultimately improved the lives of others.