Maarten de Groot for Member of the Comité Directeur: “Bringing AEGEE-Europe Closer to its Locals”

By | May 7, 2016 at 12:04 pm | Candidatures, People | Tags: , , , , ,

Today we are meeting Maarten (AEGEE-Amsterdam). Member since September 2013, Maarten covered several positions on the local and European level. He is currently running for Member of the Comité Directeur, so let’s get to know him and his program a little bit better!

IMG_9621The AEGEEan:  Who is Maarten de Groot? Tell us a bit more about yourself.

Maarten de Groot is an analytically minded guy who enjoys to think things through, especially together with others. He enjoys talking to people, ranging from casual conversations with strangers to intense discussions with friends or classmates. However, he is not all that skilled in so-called ‘small talk’. Maarten is frequently perceived as a serious guy, which he is in certain respects, but actually he also
enjoys doing fun stuff, including fun parties, playing the game ‘Werewolves’ or poker.  Lastly, Maarten enjoys going outside for a run or a bike tour, as it refreshes his mind.

How have you prepared your candidature?

First of all, I’ve talked to quite a couple of current and former CD members in order to get a basic understanding of what ‘CD life’ is like, its upsides, but –  maybe more importantly – also its downsides. Secondly, in March, I was in the CD house for almost a week of job shadowing activities, in order to get a more comprehensive picture of CD work, and the tasks of the current Projects Director (Réka Salamon) in particular. Additionally, I have attended the AEGEE Leadership Training, which has also increased my understanding of AEGEE (and its history in particular), CD  and myself. Lastly, I’ve tried to talk to others who’ve shown interest in running for CD as much as possible – trying to get to know them, their ideas and their motivation a little, as CD work is also ultimately a team effort.

This question comes from our readers: You come from the biggest antenna of the Network, and from a country where antennae are generally big. How do you plan to adapt your ideas to the reality of small antennae, which often only have around 20 members?

First of all, I certainly acknowledge that my AEGEE experience is far from representative for the ‘average AEGEEan’, if it even makes sense to speak in these terms. On top of that, I must say that my experience with locals outside the Netherlands and outside the statutory events is (almost) non-existent. Having said that, I do not believe it would be an insurmountable problem in my functioning as CD member as long as I take it into account in the things I do, and the way I do them. That is to say, I would need to consult with others with different AEGEE backgrounds than me more frequently in some instances. At the same time, I would like to stress that consultations and finding support from the network (or particular parts or bodies thereof) are things that any CD member, no matter how experienced and knowledgeable, will need to be preoccupied with continuously in order to realise his or her plans successfully.

A question from our network related to the previous one: People always say that Dutch members have an opinion of the Network which is quite diverse from what is really happening in locals located in other parts of Europe. How would you be able to engage with them and really try to bring AEGEE-Europe closer to the locals? How those locals can give an input of reality to AEGEE-Europe and how you can shape your work in th_MG_6997e CD based on the reality of the Network?

I think a very important aspect and necessary first step in bringing AEGEE-Europe closer to its locals – ie., the very diverse locals that our network harbors – is to bring representatives of locals and European bodies (and the CD in particular) physically together in order to exchange and discuss needs and expectations in an open and somewhat informal atmosphere. I do not believe that our currently existing statutory events or Network Meetings adequately accommodate this, which is why I suggest to explore alternatives (such as the previously existing Presidents’ Meeting).

You have quite a bit of experience on the European level. What is the most important experience you will take with you if you are elected?

My work as a Content Manager for the Your Vision for EUrope project certainly counts as the most relevant experience that I would bring to the CD. Being part of a quickly growing international project team, almost from the start of the project, comes with many challenges. Initially, the challenges were more related to the project team in general: how do we arrive at objectives that we all feel happy about? How do we work and communicate with one another? Over the last couple of months, my own challenges have shifted to the management of the Content Team: how can I manage this team effectively, making the best use of everyone’s talents and acknowledging everyone’s needs? How to integrate new team members and how to deliver results under time pressure? Currently, we are busy with the last preparations for the Franck Biancheri Award conference ‘Borderless Europe – Blessing or Burden?’, that we are organising in cooperation with AEGEE-Cluj-Napoca, so we hope that our efforts will soon pay off.

Here is another question from our readers: How quick do you answer to e-mails?

Currently, I respond to mails within a couple of hours or days, depending on my availability and their priority. However, I fully realise that the current influx of mails is not comparable to the influx you have to deal with as a member of the CD. Although I am not going to make any promises as to how fast I would to respond to emails as a CD member, I do want to state that I think professional communications – of which responding within a reasonable amount of time to e-mails is certainly an important part – is crucial in developing and maintaining a good relationship between CD and AEGEE locals and members.

In your program, you specify six bullet points. Which area is most important to you and how will you improve it within your tasks as CD?

If you force me to choose, I would pick my point on Strategic Plan and EPM reform, and mostly because, as AEGEE, we are entering a planning year. The Planning Meeting (or ‘AEGEE Idea Factory’, as it is called this year) is scheduled for Autumn 2016, and  is meant for us to evaluate where we are at the moment, as an organization, and where we want to be heading for in the next three years with regard to both organisational and thematic matters. For this reason, I also believe it to be the right moment to discuss the functioning and the Strategic Plan, the Action Agenda and the EPM itself, in order to gather the necessary input from the network that a task force can then follow up on, with supervision from the CD.

In your program you specify you want to reform the Agora. Would you explain what you think is wrong with it, and more importantly, what your ideas are to improve it?

Let me first of all make clear that I am not suggesting that radical changes are needed. However, recognizing the potential of the Agora, as a biannual gathering of hundreds of young AEGEEans from all over Europe, I believe it is worth investing in finding ways to get (even) more out of it. I believe the most basic problem of the Agora to be the following: we spent too much time on insufficiently important discussions in which too few AEGEEans are interested, let alone actively involved. Although the Agora Reform Task Force (of which I was a part) has come up with a number of suggestions for improvement already, much more work DSC00741is to be done. I do not consider it the task of the CD to stipulate reforms in detail, but rather to facilitate the process whereby a task force can work on ideas that are developed in consultation with the network.

A question from the network:  You want to reintroduce the concept of the Presidents’ Meetings. Do you think it is wise, considering that NWMs and other content events are struggling to get participants?

I do not want to reintroduce the Presidents’ Meeting (PM) per se, just like that, but I certainly believe that the concept has features that our currently existing events do not have. For example, a PM-like event could accommodate for in-depth, specialized discussions for which there is no time during the Agora, and for which there are not the necessary type of participants during Network Meetings. For this reason, I believe it is worth evaluating our currently existing structure of annual events in comparison with past structures, and to take actions accordingly. If we face a decreasing interest in Network Meetings, this is only further reason to assess the current structure critically and raise questions like: does it make sense to have two similarly structured events per year? Would it be an idea to differentiate the Autumn and the Spring Network Meetings from one another in order to respond to different needs (e.g. many smaller ones in Autumn, like we currently have, and only a few but bigger events in Spring)? Let me stress that these are simply genuine questions that sprang to my mind in response to the valid worry that is expressed by the one sending in this question. I certainly do not claim to possess the final answer to these (and other) questions, but I would like to stimulate and facilitate such discussions within the network, actively involving all relevant parties, and to follow up on them.IMG_3738

In case you are elected, you will probably be working with members who have been working together for a year already. What is your opinion about this?

This situation would bring with both opportunities and threats. With respect to the former, having a certain continuity in the CD is certainly a not a bad thing: as a newly elected CD, you will face many situations in which experience is key. In principle, there are no better consultants you can wish for than people who did the very same job a year before you. Being able to consult with these people directly, as you are living and working with them, is then a great practical advantage. However, the threat that comes with it is that the CD members that have already completed a year in CD leave too little room for new perspectives of ‘fresh’ CD members. In order to counter this threat, it is first of all important for all parties to acknowledge it. Moreover, it places an extra responsibility on the ‘established’ CD members to be receptive to signals indicating that they are not responsive enough to new ideas. Personally, I would not expect too much trouble in this respect, as I usually know how to convey my ideas – and defend them, if needed – even from a relatively inexperienced starting position.

Another question from the network:  If you could only make one big change in AEGEE’s current state, what would you want it to be and how would you contribute to it in the position you are running for?

I may not believe in ‘big changes’, so I will opt for a relatively small but significant change that I believe a Projects Director can significantly contribute to: establishing more thematic Agora pre-events. I do not think the Agora itself should be turned into a thematic event, but we can certainly use the momentum of the Agora to discuss important societal issues ‘on the side’, during a pre-event. AEGEE-Kyiv has set the example with the one-day Young Ukraine conference preceding Agora Kyïv. However, it need not be the Agora hosting local that organisees the logistics of this event in addition to the Agora, it may equally well be hosted by one of the many other neighboring locals that already planned on organising a pre-event. The task of a Projects Director would be to find such an interested local, and possibly to mediate between this local and a Project Team or Working Group assisting in content development.

Are you willing to take up another position in the CD if another candidate also desires the position of Projects Director? Which position(s) would that be?

Let me say first of all that I see room for dividing up the portfolios that are usually associated with Projects Director. I may even prefer it over the current division of portfolios. As I explained in my application, I believe working with certain projects or working groups may well be combined with doing the external representation towards certain partners. Moreover, I have an interest in working on issues related to the long t1936380_532717046908309_203560920025050223_nerm organisational development of AEGEE, some of which I refer to in my program (e.g. Strategic Plan, EPM and Agora Reform).

How do you envision the future of AEGEE, and what can you contribute to it as a CD member?

I believe that AEGEE’s main challenge is to decrease the distance between the European bodies and the network, and (thereby) to increase its pool of members active within these European bodies. In order to realize this, AEGEE-Europe needs to invest more in its relation with the network, and offer its active members the support, recognition and learning opportunities necessary in order to remain active, which will further activate other members. I believe it to be the task of the CD to facilitate this process, and to make it a top priority in their work. Although many people would agree upon the above, realising it in practice is a whole different story, especially within the demanding environment of the CD house. If I were to get elected as a member of the CD, I believe I have the skills and character needed to be reminded of this in my everyday work, and to remind my fellow CD members in turn, if needed.

And here, Maarten sent us a brief video…


You can read his candidature here.

Written by Mireille Voorendt, AEGEE-Utrecht

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