At Spring Ago­ra Kraków 2018 there will be two can­di­dates for the posi­tion of Finan­cial Direc­tor of AEGEE-Europe: Luca Bisigh­i­ni and Oğuzhan Ayhan. You can check their pro­grammes in the AEGEE Ago­ra site. Luca Bisigh­i­ni from AEGEE-Bres­cia is best known for being Pres­i­dent of the Audit Com­mis­sion, for found­ing the Migra­tion Inter­est Group and his love for cats. Check his inter­view!

Gun­nar Erth: Luca, how would you describe your­self in five key­words?
Luca Bis­gh­i­ni: Let’s go with: priv­i­leged, steady, trans­par­ent, worka­holic and open.

You are involved in many AEGEE bod­ies and projects. Will you be able to stop all of them imme­di­ate­ly if you get elect­ed?
Con­sid­er­ing three bod­ies I am active part, well, yes for two of three. I just have the knowl­edge trans­fer to do with the soon-to-be trea­sur­er of the AEGEE Acad­e­my, but I guess it won’t take that long. I don’t intend to have any active tasks next to the CD, just as sup­port or advice.

You cre­at­ed a team of ten sub­com­mis­sion­ers for the Audit Com­mis­sion. Can we expect also a big team of Assis­tant Finan­cial Direc­tors?
Actu­al­ly those were not 10, but 21 from Ago­ra Chisin­au to Enschede and 15 from Ago­ra Enschede to Cata­nia. In gen­er­al, I don’t think I will need a big team to do my job, but before tak­ing deci­sions I want to have a chance to exam­ine first my sched­ule, work­load and bud­get.

You work as Audit Com­mis­sion­er gave you insight in the work of Finan­cial Direc­tors. Which are the typ­i­cal finan­cial mis­takes that CDs make — and how does your expe­ri­ence help pre­vent them?
I had chance to see the work of three Finan­cial Direc­tors. I haven’t seen major mis­takes from their side, only minor things for tiny, not that rel­e­vant amounts, mean­ing we had a good accoun­tan­cy inter­nal lev­el from pre­vi­ous Finan­cial Direc­tors and the appoint­ed Exter­nal Audit. Just one big issue: not pro­vid­ing a bal­ance sheet is quite a huge deal we lacked. I com­plained about it in the past, right now it seems we are going to fix it – so: every­body hap­py.

The income side of AEGEE has been dete­ri­o­rat­ing in the past years. You want to find new funds. Can you name three con­crete sources that you want to tap into — and what sums are we talk­ing about?
At this very moment, nobody in the Net­work can come out and say: “Hey, here are new funds, 100% guar­an­teed”. Nobody. Unless this per­son knows some sheikh or entre­pre­neur will­ing to rain mon­ey on AEGEE. All these new funds AEGEE got clear­ly passed by a step-by-step work process from the Eras­mus+ Key Actions, to the Oper­at­ing Grants to build the so dreamed Sec­re­tari­at, to any oth­er way of fund­ing — see spon­sors or even crowd­fund­ing as we wit­nessed with “Europe on Track 5”. If I think of con­crete sources, I think most­ly at bet­ter per­form­ing. First, bet­ter per­form­ing hap­pens through involv­ing more mem­bers, sec­ond by find­ing glob­al spon­sors for our projects and brand­ed ini­tia­tives, and third by imple­ment­ing a sys­tem of vis­i­ble donors, all the time avail­able. The sum will depend on the peo­ple we get into those process­es, so I can’t fore­cast it by now.

One income source you sug­gest­ed are ten­ders from pub­lic ten­ders data­bas­es: what ten­ders can AEGEE com­pete in?
AEGEE right now has already some ten­ders ongo­ing, result of coor­di­nat­ed work with oth­er insti­tu­tions and NGOs as well as con­stant atten­tion on the Pub­lic Ten­ders Por­tals pro­pos­als. AEGEE is a provider of edu­ca­tion and train­ing. We do fit well on that scope and we need to be ready and pre­pared for any poten­tial offer.

You want to put a stronger focus on Euro­pean projects as a back­bone of AEGEE. What needs to be done? And in what way will you get involved as Finan­cial Direc­tor?
AEGEE has a good poten­tial to sell their con­crete inter­na­tion­al­ly based projects to many com­pa­nies in return for funds. Don’t you think that even some small and medi­um-sized enter­pris­es would not be inter­est­ed in giv­ing us some mon­ey, even a tiny sum for some vis­i­bil­i­ty on Euro­pean stage in a devel­op­ing mar­ket? Just look at the spon­sors of Ago­ra Krakow in their part­ners group… They are there, pub­li­cal­ly vis­i­ble. Look at the ones you can see in the Key to Europe or on the web­site. If we are not able to sell those projects, we are con­demned to a trap we won’t get out that eas­i­ly. To get there, we need to set up a pre­cise mar­ket­ing cam­paign. By look­ing at the oth­er CD can­di­dates, I noticed already many who can work togeth­er with me on this strat­e­gy — and this makes me feel good!

You want to improve the finan­cial man­age­ment of the net­work. Many before you tried finan­cial edu­ca­tion. How will you suc­ceed where oth­ers failed?
I don’t think oth­ers failed. They tried, pre­pared or even reformed the ground. Some Finan­cial Direc­tors of the past should be proud of their work in this area. The prob­lem of AEGEE is to make things in an over­crowd­ed envi­ron­ment. It’s a mat­ter of talks and dis­cus­sions. In many uni­ver­si­ties, the Accoun­tan­cy and Report­ing class­es include “Com­mu­ni­ca­tion”, because you must be able to com­mu­ni­cate data. Just look at the Audit Com­mis­sion: every­body laughs about the cats, but every­body for­got the work of dozens of peo­ple and hun­dreds of trea­sur­ers in all of Europe, which is put at test on a year­ly basis. All these peo­ple can put a “finan­cial-based activ­i­ty of trea­sury or audit­ing” in their own CV lat­er after this one year, which is some­thing valu­able. Inter­est­ing, right? But how many times do you hear these sto­ries? Almost nev­er. Many trea­sur­ers thanked me for the help and bet­ter under­stand­ing. This is the best feel­ing you can get in AEGEE: being hap­py and will­ing to keep doing some work that many peo­ple judge as “bor­ing” or “mean­ing­less”. Edu­ca­tion and train­ing can be fixed just with con­tin­u­ous ded­i­ca­tion on the top­ic with some adop­tion of inno­v­a­tive non-for­mal edu­ca­tion train­ing.

You want to decrease the AEGEE-Europe expens­es. Which bud­get lines will you cut exact­ly? How do you want to pre­vent neg­a­tive con­se­quences for the work of the CD and the net­work?
Com­ing from a cor­po­rate per­spec­tive, I am quite sur­prised to see that we are wast­ing thou­sands of Euros for some­thing we don’t have that much of con­trol of. We can reduce for sure the costs of inter­nal pub­li­ca­tions, mem­ber­ship cards and mate­ri­als. Who is ben­e­fit­ting from them? We are los­ing approx­i­mate­ly 5 to 10 locals per year as it hap­pened in the last two years. Go count and then make the aver­age of all the locals who show up in Enschede, Cata­nia and Krakow and make an aver­age to dis­cov­er the liv­ing core of AEGEE we are shrink­ing to. The impact on CD life by cut­ting costs here would be min­i­mum, while the impact on the net­work would be a choice I for­ward to the net­work: Net­work, are you more inter­est­ed in hav­ing more friends in more cities in Europe — mean­ing more locals or expan­sion projects — or do you want more print­ed badges or pub­li­ca­tions? Choose wise­ly!

Which big mea­sures must a shrink­ing AEGEE under­take to secure long-term finan­cial sus­tain­abil­i­ty for the next 10 or 20 years?
In order to make AEGEE sur­vive in this com­pet­i­tive land­scape, we need a mul­ti-fold strat­e­gy. On one side we have the insti­tu­tion­al fundrais­ing — see Eras­mus+, foun­da­tions, oper­at­ing grants to build up a sec­re­tari­at and oth­ers. On the oth­er side, we need to make AEGEE pop­u­lar and rel­e­vant again among stu­dents’ organ­i­sa­tions. This involves PR and mar­ket­ing on Brus­sels’ lev­el. We need strate­gies to put us back on the map. Third, we need to look out more. We need to coop­er­ate way more with NGOs, foun­da­tions and com­pa­nies. Last, we need to find our core com­pe­tence and oper­ate some brand posi­tion­ing choice and exploit our com­pet­i­tive advan­tage which are, at today, still SUs. In one word, what about a three-year Finan­cial Strate­gic Plan?

Peo­ple accused you of spread­ing sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion, nam­ing locals that didn’t send the finan­cial report or didn’t pay the mem­ber­ship fee…
I have no prob­lems to admit the prob­lems caused dur­ing the activ­i­ty report ses­sion at Ago­ra Cata­nia or the ques­tion to Dominic. So, 50% is true. The rest – fees and finan­cial reports — are false accu­sa­tions pro­vid­ed by some­one with dis­tort­ed sources or what­ev­er they heard. But well, regard­ing finances and non-dis­clo­sure agree­ments and peo­ple respect­ing these NDAs… oh my god, I heard so many weird inter­nal news from a bulk of “Euro­pean active peo­ple” that this type of ques­tion makes me feel quite cozy.

How do you want to pre­vent such sit­u­a­tions if you will be elect­ed?
That’s easy. I am up to share what is need­ed, but only if you have an allowed doc­u­ment. That’s what I have done for the last two years. It won’t change that much. Any­way, I think — espe­cial­ly at the Euro­pean Lev­el — we have a seri­ous inter­nal mis­con­cep­tion of which type of human resources mod­el to con­nect to non-dis­clo­sure agree­ments. Many peo­ple in AEGEE are liv­ing NDA just in a pre­cise — and to me wrong — HR con­cept of hav­ing a top-down hier­ar­chy per­spec­tive all the time, for­get­ting the cons of it! They for­get espe­cial­ly the fact of hav­ing a vol­un­teers’ based flex­i­ble orga­ni­za­tion — and what the NDA actu­al­ly allows.

What do mean by this?
Many peo­ple in this orga­ni­za­tion are wrong­ly using the NDA as tool to stop dis­cus­sions and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, cre­at­ing a mid-run dis­as­ter they might not think of: How can you think to pass the torch for any vol­un­teer posi­tion if you don’t allow the peo­ple to go through the process of learn­ing and doing in an orga­ni­za­tion of vol­un­teers, which is demand­ing flex­i­bil­i­ty. Hav­ing these absurd top down direc­tives – min­ing the signed con­tracts per se – is bad. NDAs should allow you a lim­it towards the exter­nal world, not the inter­nal group you are in. When this does not hap­pen, I am not sur­prised lat­er to wit­ness the con­se­quences of such lacks. I will work on a fea­si­ble HR, NDA-respec­tive mod­el with the bod­ies I will have to work with.

Additional questions from the network

Ques­tion 1: As you are high­ly active in almost every body of AEGEE, can you spec­i­fy max­i­mum three of your most impor­tant pri­or­i­ties that you as poten­tial Finan­cial Direc­tor would like to work on?
Work­ing with projects on their fund-rais­ing by involv­ing many bod­ies at the same time and devel­op­ing an exter­nal mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy for AEGEE are the two main goals which will see sev­er­al bod­ies involved, too. The spend­ing review made me cut the last point.

Ques­tion 2: Can you elab­o­rate your knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence in the field of eco­nom­ics, main­ly financ­ing and bud­get­ing?
I have an MBA degree, stud­ied abroad, worked in cor­po­ra­tions deal­ing with exports, bank­ing, finan­cial ser­vices — and I have been study­ing many dif­fer­ent eco­nom­ic relat­ed class­es since 2005, more or less till 2016. So for the past 13 years I have been deal­ing with eco­nom­ics in many fields.

Ques­tion 3: Based what hap­pened with­in CD 55, how would you pre­vent res­ig­na­tions with­in the team?
To be hon­est, I still don’t know prop­er­ly what hap­pened to take a point. Any­way, I have no will to con­tin­ue the dra­ma, so let’s move for­ward, as I am sick of these scenes. I think there is no bet­ter recipe than clar­i­ty and hard work. Reli­a­bil­i­ty and com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Under­stand­ing and some time off to clear up our minds and set­tle things pri­vate­ly by using con­flict man­age­ment skills. Some god­damn smiles and jokes and hugs, from time to time. We are not slaves for this orga­ni­za­tion. We are run­ning for a board promis­ing to be there for 13,000 peo­ple in need of a direc­tion, exam­ple and lead­er­ship.
All of us will be in the same boat. If some­body leaves, we will all lose it. CD 56 and all the 13,000 of us.

Ques­tion 4: Regard­ing the spend­ing cuts: some of AEGEE’s income is labeled, mean­ing cer­tain grants AEGEE gets are only able to cov­er cer­tain costs. Does this con­flict with your pro­posed spend­ing cuts?
I am among the very few ones in this net­work who knows in detail how the grants have been spent in the pre­vi­ous years. So, the answer is no.

Ques­tion 5: What will you do with the mon­ey that is being saved with the help of the bud­get cuts? Con­sid­er­ing AEGEE is a non-prof­it organ­i­sa­tion, the saved mon­ey should go some­where or the income should be equal­ly reduced…
I know indeed that what I need to cut on has to be rein­vest­ed in NGOs. I would like to see mon­ey going in sta­bi­liz­ing new project ideas, aim­ing to expand either in new top­ics with some good poten­tial or bet­ter, to expand our net­work as it’s hard to get there.

Ques­tion 6: What do you think about the Anten­na Cri­te­ria pro­pos­al pro­posed by CD?
It’s a brave con­cept to reduce bureau­cra­cy, but is bureau­cra­cy reduc­tion going to solve prob­lems or cre­at­ing them? I realise many issues, which can be fixed dur­ing the pry­ta­ni­um. While I don’t see many prob­lems for the “Becom­ing a Con­tact Anten­na”, I see some prob­lems on the “Becom­ing an anten­na” side. In the field of finances, not hav­ing access to the anten­na account data will lead to prob­lems and we already had prob­lems relat­ed to finances due to local mis­man­age­ment or rob­beries. The cri­te­ri­on to sub­mit finan­cial reports should remain and even be rein­forced with more data — total bud­gets — if you want to have the net­work some form of trans­paren­cy con­trol and finan­cial safe­guard, before any poten­tial neg­a­tive issues arise, which might lead to a Medi­a­tion Com­mis­sion case. I am also skep­ti­cal about not hav­ing to send any­body to Ago­rae and Net­work Meet­ings, which might lead to a reduced democ­ra­cy process, less par­tic­i­pants at Ago­rae and a reduc­tion of the inter­nal edu­ca­tion and shar­ing of best prac­tices. The rest of it seems ok and accept­able. Regard­ing the “Remain­ing anten­na” part I would like to ask the CD what are their plans, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing the fact that in 2017 only 120 locals — accord­ing to acces­si­ble data — made Euro­pean Events and con­sid­er­ing that the num­ber of SUs is going down year by year.

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