For several years Marta Wnuk was watching the Agora from one of the front rows. Next week in Bergamo you will see her on stage – as Vice Chair of the Agora. The Golden Times asked her about reading 500 motivation letters, being strict, the pronunciation of all antenna names, the way a chair should be dressed and much more.
GT: At Agora Bergamo around half of the participants has never been at an Agora before and might feel overwhelmed or lost. What is your message to them?
Marta Wnuk: That is very striking number. And shows the huge importance of right preparation before the Agora. Again, I would like to advise all new members to turn to their local boards or other experienced members and ask them for introduction to all basic terms. However, when being already in Bergamo there will be a chance to get to know what Agora is about as on Friday there will be Agora for Newbie session which I will lead. So I like to warmly invite everyone who feels the need to find your path among all those terms and procedures.
GT: In the preparation of the Agora, you and Chair Tom Simons had to read more than 500 motivation letters, some even in Italian language. So what can you tell us about the motivation of the Agora visitors?
Marta: I can diplomatically say that there is a big room for improvement. When it comes to motivation letters of visitors, unfortunately there are few motivation letters that address in any way the content of the Agora or answer all questions given in the box when you fill the application form. Also many people think that it is the local organisers who read motivation letters which is the reason why we got so much praises on Italian culture as reasons to be accepted.
GT: How come that there is such a misconception about the Agora?
Marta: I think the reason for the misconception about the Agora that many visitors have is the lack of guidance from their local boards. I would like to appeal to all boards to take more care of your members when it comes to Agora preparations.
GT: You will have to pronounce the name of 180 locals correctly. Will you practice that before?
Marta: Thanks to my experience as Network Commissioner I am quite familiar with names of many locals. However, I will surely double-check some more challenging pronunciation before the Agora.
GT: Is the work of a chairperson just to speak on the microphone?
Marta: It is definitely more than that. Before the Agora itself a lot of work has to be done that is not usually visible. We are responsible for the selection of participants, which involves reading the mentioned hundreds of motivation letters. We create the agenda that has to reflect the essence of efficient decision-making and combine various request from the network at the same time. We issue various open calls, cooperate with locals organisers, Comité Directeur and Juridical Commission on the preparations. We often are the ones that have to combine different views and expectations and find a best solution for all having the right conduct of Agora in mind.
GT: Which do you think are the abilities a chairperson should have?
Marta: Being a chairperson requires a very defined set of skills. I used to say that a good Chairperson should be like a good diplomat – respectable, representative, knowledgeable and a master of a compromise. Now after being in that role for few months, I can add that he or she also has to be very well organised, with an eye for details, open to discussion but at the same time very decisive. Being strict with time, consequent and adhering to the rules are also needed qualities.
GT: How is the cooperation within the Chairteam, especially with Tom Simons?
Marta: Very good. We have very complementary views on the role of the Chairperson and a similar attitude towards work on Agora. Our preparations go really smoothly and in a very organised manner. Tom does his second term as a Chairperson so I can learn a lot from his experience, which I appreciate greatly. Also Lia, Erik and Svenja are a valuable part of the team and I can say that we have really great team dynamics.
GT: Will you be a strict chair? At the last Agoras some people were hard to separate from the microphone…
Marta: How strict I will be will depend more on people and circumstances, rather than on my own tailored-in-advance plan. On the one hand, I believe that the Agora means ownership of members for the future of the organisation, so that they should have possibility to voice their opinions and be listened to. On the other hand, the absolute priority of a Chairperson is to assure a good and efficient conduct of the Agora, which means some unnecessary discussions have to be cut. The art of chairing an Agora comes down to constantly balancing those two aspects and deciding on what is the most important in a given moment.
GT: You are always very elegant. What are the clothes and accessories that you will wear behind the chair table?
Marta: I am a big fan of ties! But more on a serious note, I think that volunteer character of our organisation does not mean that we shouldn’t strive to be professional. I believe that right appearance is a sign of a respect for others and shows that one takes its position seriously. I am not the kind of person that discusses clothes much but I can say that the General Assembly is a very special event of great relevance so my set of clothing will be carefully adjusted to the occasion.
GT: Tell us how your AEGEE journey started. When did you join AEGEE and how?
Marta: I joined AEGEE in March 2012. I was a second year student then and looking for some non-academic activities. The perfect opportunity came, when I got a leaflet at my university advertising a Local Training Course organized by AEGEE-Poznań. This is how I discovered a whole new world of possibilities. I also met a wonderful group of people passionate about Eastern Europe. I joined them and we ended up organising two editions of “I’m for the East!” Festivals. The first weeks in AEGEE determined most of my later choices and sparked my life with passion without which I can’t imagine my life now.
GT: You were active in AEGEE-Poznań and board member of AEGEE-Warszawa, Content Manager of the Eastern Partnership II project and Network Commissioner. And now Agora Vice Chair…
Marta: Those four years I’ve spent in AEGEE were indeed incredibly intensive. It was a roller coaster of various experiences marked with many milestones. All I did I was doing with passion and commitment.
GT: Which of your tasks was your best AEGEE experience?
Marta: It is hard to choose one task or position or to say that one was better than another. All my tasks were valuable in their own way. When focusing on the last year only, I can say that I was really proud of the Eastern Partnership Youth Convention. I have never had the opportunity to meet so many like-minded people with whom I would have achieved such amazing results leading sessions as a trainer. Also being a NetCommie was a very special and meaningful experience and I will never forget how much appreciation I have received from my locals when I was ending my term in NWM Kraków.
GT: You are regarded indeed as a very successful Network Commissioner. How do you characterise this period of your life?
Marta: That is a big question. It was definitely the most challenging and rewarding task at the same time period of my life. I have never viewed by job as a NetCommie as just a set of tasks. I felt incredibility privileged by having the opportunity to take care of the locals that I do know very well and I can have very personal and direct contact with. I was also very grateful that locals from Ukraine trusted me and chose me to be their NetCommie. I had an extremely skillful and ambitious team of subcommies that were my team of experts and my best friends at the same time. With great privilege there comes also a great responsibility. We were very aware of the importance and impact of our work. That’s why we did our best, even fighting for what we believed is right. Looking back I think we achieved a lot and managed to organise two Network Meetings that raised up to the highest standards. I was the most happy to see how my locals dealt successfully with challenges and overcame difficulties, how they started to flourish and how wonderfully they can cooperate with each other.
GT: What was your motivation to chairperson? Is it the power of the hammer or the glory of the chair table?
Marta: Near the end of my term as a NetCommie I had a very clear feeling that this is exactly what I want to do next in AEGEE. I was very fulfilled after four years in AEGEE, but the thought of Agora still brought me a thrill of motivation. I was always fascinated by the processes that constitute our General Assembly and wanted to become a part of them. The chairperson has a very special role in this regard. It is a great privilege and a great responsibility. I applied for this position as I believed that I can contribute to efficient and quality Agora and at the same time gain a valuable experience for my future non-AEGEE life.
GT: Does the rule “Work hard, play hard” also apply to the chair? Will we see a lot of you at the parties?
Marta: Being a Chair means more “work hard” than “play hard” and I don’t think it is possible to keep the balance here. For sure I would like to appear for few moments to talk with people more informally over the beer but I also know that good rest will hugely improve my performance as Chair the next day.