• Marinela Gremi

On International Women's Day, we had the pleasure of talking with Ms. Mirela Sula, an extraordinary diaspora entrepreneur and the first National Goodwill Ambassador for IOM Albania. 

Her lived experiences and commitment to women's empowerment make her an inspiration for the IWD 2024 theme championed by IOM – "Invest in women: Accelerate progress for gender equality and safe migration” – emphasizing the importance of supporting and uplifting migrant, displaced and diaspora women and girls in their journey towards equality and safety.

In this heartfelt interview, Ms. Sula articulates the profound impact that investing in women can have on advancing gender equality and fostering safe migration pathways, in a world where every woman and girl can thrive, irrespective of their background or circumstances.

Q: Can you share with us some insights into your personal migration journey, from your life back in Albania to your achievements as a global entrepreneur of the Albanian diaspora?

(Mirela Sula): Eleven years ago, I left Albania to move to London, with nothing but a handbag, a teenage son by my side, and a big dream to find my path. As a single mother with limited resources, very little savings, and minimal English, I had no idea how I was going to survive. I started my first job as a cleaner but 5 days later I was fired. I applied for jobs every day and one year later after lots of rejections I got a “yes”. It was an offer to run workshops for a charity that was helping women who suffered domestic violence. That was my dream job. I always wanted to advocate for women, especially those who don’t have a voice, even though many times I felt like I lost mine. When I saw my mother being abused and so many women like her losing their dreams and their rights to stand for their lives. Many times, I felt lost while trying to find my path but giving up was never an option. And of course, I could find many reasons: I am a woman, a migrant, and a single mother, with no job, and no friends… so hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Yet, I felt I was following my calling, a purpose that started to get clearer and clearer day by day. 

My life in London marked the beginning of a completely new journey. This journey, of course, has been full of challenges—sunny days interspersed with storms; moments of triumph mixed with feelings of despair. The key, I discovered, was consistency; not only trying but doing whatever it takes to move beyond your comfort zone: start what you commit to and see it through without excuses. Our past experiences, rejections, and challenges, all serve a greater purpose, pushing us beyond our limits and guiding us towards our true potential. Life does not always give us what we want but it provides us with what we need to grow, find our identity, and connect with our higher selves. 

A decade later, my life has transformed; I have created my platform globally, and I have spoken on international stages alongside renowned celebrities, to inspire thousands with my story. This journey taught me that anything is possible when you focus on adding value to others' lives and staying loyal to your vision. Despite the challenges of migration, I embraced the belief that where there is a will, there is a way. This mindset shift was crucial in overcoming the obstacles faced as a migrant and in contributing to a world where we recognize our shared humanity.

© Mirela Sula/Migration Journey

Q: How has migration shaped your perspective on gender equality and safe migration?

(Mirela Sula): Migration has profoundly shaped my understanding of gender equality and the importance of safe migration. Moving to London as a single mother, I encountered the dual challenges of navigating a new country and overcoming societal expectations placed on women. This experience highlighted the resilience and strength required for migrant women to pursue their dreams against all odds. It taught me that ensuring safe migration is not just about physical safety but also about creating environments where women can thrive, free from discrimination and inequality. My journey from vulnerability to empowerment has illustrated the potential of embracing gender equality within migration narratives.


Q: What specific challenges do migrant women and girls face within your global network?

(Mirela Sula): Being a migrant woman is tough. It means that we have to go through many challenges.  For two years, I facilitated workshops in various areas of London, focusing particularly on women who have experienced domestic abuse, many of whom were migrants. The fact is that migrant women face worsened vulnerability due to several factors: language barriers, lack of family, social, and legal support, feelings of isolation, and exposure to exploitation and discrimination. From my global network, I've learned that many also encounter obstacles in accessing education and employment opportunities compounded by societal norms that limit their autonomy. These challenges underscore the urgent need for targeted interventions tailored to the unique needs of migrant women and girls.


Q: Can you share a story of a migrant woman or girl whose journey has inspired you and embodies the potential gains of migration?

(Mirela Sula): Over the past 11 years, I've had the privilege of meeting countless inspiring women. One particularly moving story is that of a young woman I connected with through my platform. She arrived as a refugee with her family from a conflict-ridden country, facing immense challenges upon their arrival, including cultural integration and financial instability. I vividly recall her initial lack of confidence when she joined our community. Despite this, she courageously shared her dream of becoming a powerful advocate for refugees. Today, she stands as a remarkable role model, not only for migrants and refugees but for women everywhere. She authored a bestselling book, delivered a TED Talk, and now speaks on international stages, sharing her story and advocating for refugee rights. Her journey shows the transformative potential of migration when accompanied by resilience and support. 


Q: How do you believe investing in women can accelerate progress towards gender equality and what do you hope to achieve in this aspect as IOM Albania National Goodwill Ambassador?

(Mirela Sula): Investing in women, particularly migrant women, is crucial for advancing gender equality. Such investments should prioritize education, entrepreneurship, and leadership opportunities, enabling women to unlock their potential and contribute to economic development. From my own journey, I've learned that empowering women with resources, networks, and platforms not only elevates their personal growth but also has a multiplier effect, benefiting families and communities at large. By amplifying women's voices and ensuring their active participation in decision-making processes, we can challenge systemic barriers and cultivate a more inclusive and equitable society. As a Goodwill Ambassador, want to utilize my platform to raise awareness about the challenges migrant women face, highlighting the importance of legal protection, access to services, and economic opportunities. By sharing stories of resilience and success, I hope to inspire collective action towards creating a world where migration is a choice, not a necessity, and where women and girls are empowered to lead safe, fulfilling lives. 

© Mirela Sula/Migrant Woman Talks platform

Mirela's journey from Albania to becoming a global entrepreneur and advocate for women's empowerment exemplifies the transformative power of migration. As we celebrate International Women's Day, we must join hands to challenge the norms, and to build a world that's not just equal but truly inclusive. 

In observance of International Women's Day on March 8th, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) emphasizes the urgent need for unified action to support migrant, displaced, and diaspora women and girls in their full diversity. This support includes committing to gender-sensitive financial strategies that propel sustainable development and vigorous climate initiatives, positioning feminist leaders at the heart of these efforts.