Power to men: Matthijs Overhaal wants to be the next Secretary General

During the Agora in Patra there will be elections held for not only new Network Commission and Juridical Commission members, but also for the members of the Comité Directeur and the more specific functions of Financial Director, President and Secretary General of AEGEE-Europe. Matthijs Overhaal from AEGEE-Tartu decided to apply for this last function, which means that if he gets elected AEGEE will have a male Secretary General for the first time again since Evren Erdener in 2008 – 2009! The AEGEEan asked him some questions about his motivation, plans and dreams for the upcoming year.

The AEGEEan: First of all, the most important question: why did you apply to be the Secretary General of AEGEE-Europe?

Matthijs: The Secretary General is in my opinion a key position, since other team members cannot function properly if the administration and sometimes even bureaucracy is not dealt with. I applied because I realized that my assets are very useful and suitable for this position, namely being a bulk worker and being structured and organized. Also, the fact that I am interested in everything that people are doing, helps a lot. Those are very important aspects of being a Secretary General. I love to have the responsibility and even the pressure to work and deal with the administration. Last but not least, I am very motivated to fight what we all fight for in AEGEE: a better Europe for young people.

The AEGEEan: Why did you apply after the deadline had already passed?

Matthijs: It was very unsure whether I would be able to graduate, as it was no longer in my own hands. When it became clear that I managed to do the practically impossible, I realized I can graduate with ease. This was a very big requirement for me to apply, motivation was not the problem. I only found this out after the deadline and then I wrote my application, in which I spend a lot of time as well. I just didn’t want to bring uncertainty about my university to the head office, which is never a good idea.

The AEGEEan: What is your experience within AEGEE until now?

Matthijs: My experience in AEGEE is quite diverse and I consider that a useful strength as Secretary General. Having been an active member in my local, I discovered the seemingly endless possibilities and motivated people in AEGEE since Agora Skopje and Network Meeting Riga in 2011. Ever since, my life has never been the same. For the sake of reading this interview, I cannot mention all the highlights but only the ones that are most dear to me. Life- and mind changing events such as Training for Trainers Warsaw 2011, Leadership Training Brussels 2014 and European School Summer University Patra 2012 have made me realize what amazing people live on this Earth, as well as what my strengths and weaknesses are. The foundation of the Health4Youth project, together with Mayri Tiido and Katre-Helena Käppa, and being a board member for two years now has been an amazing experience, teaching me a lot of what is to be known in AEGEE.

The AEGEEan: Do you have any administrational experience that you’d need being the Secretary General?

Matthijs: Despite not having an official administrative position, I have always fulfilled and dealt with the administration in Health4Youth: taking minutes, host meetings, prepare meetings, data storage of our events and (promotional) documents. I very much enjoy doing so, keeping track of the whole process and gathering what we were doing all the time. Next to that, I am familiar and competent with mailing lists, the administration of the online working format of Podio, shared documents and folders etc. But there are always things to improve, such as setting the agenda for meetings and updating the working agendas from other team members. However, I have no doubt that I will master that as well. And by the way, I am a very efficient cleaner.

The AEGEEan: Which goals do you want to achieve during your year in the CD?

Matthijs: As I wrote in my candidature, there are a couple of points that are really important to me. Being the person who has to keep track of what people and AEGEE is doing, the development of a good, internal measure of our work is very important. This can start with our trainings, and then be extended to Network Meetings, Summer Universities and other events. One year is a very short time for this, but my aim is that measuring the impact of events in AEGEE is a standard procedure in the end. Externally, improving the work of the Liaison and Policy Officers by better cooperation with the Comité Directeur is needed. I wrote it down more specifically in my application.

Next to that, I consider it crucial that we continue to develop the statutory events, and mainly the Agora. I noticed that it has become less inspirational and outgoing for others. Also, I believe that the opportunity to work together when we are all there is diminishing. I think we sometimes don’t realize how special an Agora actually is; not many people can say that they attend an event with a) about 500-1000 people and b) people from all over Europe. So then not using the opportunity to work together fully is a bit of a waste of time and money for all of us. Of course there are good reasons for that (such as comma-bureaucracy), and tackling those is going to be a major challenge I will happily face head-on.

And to keep it short, on a personal level I’d like to work on the recognition of our own Non-Formal Education work, which is quite related to the impact measurement. Also, the defining and development of a permanent secretariat in the head office can be very beneficial for everyone in AEGEE.

The AEGEEan: Since you are a couple with Mayri, what would happen if one of you would not get elected? And what would happen if both of you got elected?

Matthijs: I’d like to stress here that my application is my decision and from no-one else. And I know that the same applies for Mayri. We are two individuals, who happen to also like each other a lot. If one of us doesn’t get elected, it just means that one of us needs to find something else to do. Me and Mayri have lived in every thinkable situation already; long-distance, together in a super-small room (14 square meters), together in a bigger room. Whatever the outcome of the elections, it will make it not much easier or harder to be together in my opinion. If me and Mayri both get elected, it will mean that we can prove again what up to so far we have always done; to work in a team as individuals. In Health4Youth, the Identity team, as trainers in ESSU Patra, as participants in events, we work together, disagree with each other and discuss matters with others. I work with Mayri just as I would work with anyone else.

The AEGEEan: In your application you wrote that you want to “provide a hospitable working environment for others to function, as well as assisting other team members when this is needed.” How exactly will you do this?

Matthijs: For the hospitable working environment part, I can do something which is a bit of a guilty pleasure: cleaning and making sure that the house stays organized. I am actually thinking of making a 30-min round in the office and house before I get to work and just organize and clean where needed. In order to keep things clean and organized, both me, my team mates and guests to the head office will have to comply with the rules of the house and office. As it is part of the Secretary General job, I will make sure that all people respect the house rules. With the assistance of other team members, I referred to the fact that a Secretary General needs to know what goes on in the head office and can help with small tasks (let’s say: checking a grant application for content and grammar mistakes or share information about European institutions), but only when asked.

The AEGEEan: You also wrote that “AEGEE has a good product, but seems to forget to update and improve it.” How would you change this for the better? What are your concrete plans?

Matthijs: AEGEE mobilizes people, broadens their mind and trains them with and about non-formal education. This last year, the process of impact measurement started, but it proved to be difficult to finalize and implement it. So I will start with that, by defining what and how we are measuring ‘the AEGEE effect’. I believe that the Quality Assurance Committee is crucial during both the development and implementation phase and the Network Commission for the awareness among locals to use it. In the end, I see it taking shape in several surveys (for different kinds of events) that are just a standard procedure for participants to fill in.

The AEGEEan: You have a lot of plans for the upcoming year, but do you think you will be able to fulfill all these? It has been said before that the administration of AEGEE-Europe alone already takes a lot of time. How would you deal with this?

Matthijs: Being a full-time (and probably a bit more) member of the Comité Directeur and living in the house already will help me a lot. And even though I probably will have some initial difficulties getting used to the amount of work, it will only go easier as the time progresses. Also, the fact that earlier Secretary Generals have been able to fulfill their tasks as well as focus on personal interests makes me feel very confident that I can manage the administration very well.

The AEGEEan: What do you expect to be your biggest struggle during your year in Brussels?

Matthijs: For sure not the Brussels weather, I am quite used to that and like rain and cold a lot. I think that for everyone the situation of living together with six other people in one house while also working there is already the biggest challenge that they need to overcome first and foremost.

The AEGEEan: And what would be your favorite aspect about it?

Matthijs: Giving food to the bunnies of course! And next to that, I am pretty sure that I will very much enjoy the idea of trying to make a change in Europe in my own way. In fact, the idea of doing the general administration in late, dark hours with shitty weather outside will satisfy me most, as I know that the stage for a better Europe is set for others.

The AEGEEan: Why should AEGEEans vote for you as a member of the CD?

Matthijs: I think that all AEGEEans should vote for the person (in whatever position) with the best ideas and programme. I believe that my plans will help the organisation forward, especially since we need to look at what the organization has done in the past and does every day. My skills, competences and strengths will get me there already halfway.

The AEGEEan: For which candidates would you vote yourself?

Matthijs: If I would have voting rights this Agora (sadly I don’t), I would vote for candidates who have both brilliant ideas and excellent means to execute them. This is not only the case for Comité Directeur but for any other available position as well. AEGEE needs good, common-sense and qualified people in every position, whether it is in a local, working group, Network commission or anywhere else.

Written by Svenja van der Tol, AEGEE-Nijmegen