Anto­nis Tri­antafyl­lakis from AEGEE-Cluj-Napoca is one of the best-known peo­ple in AEGEE. Not only because of his work as Acad­e­my Speak­er or mem­ber of the Sum­mer Uni­ver­si­ty Coor­di­na­tion Team. You can basi­cal­ly meet him at every cor­ner of the Net­work and he knows AEGEE inside out. Now he wants to put his knowl­edge and skills in the ser­vice of the Youth Devel­op­ment Work­ing Group (YDWG) – as its new Speak­er.

Gun­nar Erth: Anto­nis, how would you describe your­self in five key­words?
Anto­nis Tri­antafyl­lakis: Insight­ful, adven­tur­ous, inno­v­a­tive, inclu­sive and flex­i­ble.

How come you applied for coor­di­na­tor of the Youth Devel­op­ment Work­ing Group, although you haven’t been a mem­ber yet?
Pri­or expe­ri­ence as a mem­ber would have been use­ful, but I can com­pen­sate it with a lot of oth­er­wise rel­e­vant expe­ri­ence: I was among the orig­i­nal pro­posers of the Focus Area, co-facil­i­tat­ed the devel­op­ment of the first relat­ed Action Agen­da objec­tives and con­tributed to the sec­ond ones, was among the ini­tia­tors of the Inter­nal Edu­ca­tion task force and have a lot of expe­ri­ence in inter­na­tion­al youth work train­ing and non-for­mal edu­ca­tion — one of the main means for imple­ment­ing the agen­da. More­over, I am hap­py to work exten­sive­ly with the cur­rent Work­ing Group mem­bers on a thor­ough knowl­edge trans­fer and towards the imple­men­ta­tion of the next objec­tives.

Accord­ing to your pro­gramme you want to focus on the recog­ni­tion of soft skills inside and out­side of AEGEE. Can you tell us how you imag­ine pre­cise­ly the exter­nal recog­ni­tion of soft skills? Will AEGEE mem­bers get recog­nised diplo­ma?
I am not in favour of diplo­mas, as they are not ful­ly com­pat­i­ble with the prin­ci­ples of non-for­mal edu­ca­tion – mean­ing: learn­ing for the sake of learn­ing. Cer­tifi­cates can be use­ful, the AEGEE-Acad­e­my offers cer­tifi­cates after each train­ing event explic­it­ly men­tion­ing the skills devel­oped, which is more prac­ti­cal than a diplo­ma. But if even insti­tu­tion­al cer­tifi­cates like the Youth­pass, based on the eight key com­pe­tences frame­work of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, are vir­tu­al­ly ignored in the labour mar­ket, what can AEGEE do? That change requires a cul­ture shift that doesn’t hap­pen overnight. But col­lab­o­rat­ing with insti­tu­tions and organ­i­sa­tions for advo­ca­cy and with local com­pa­nies for a needs-based skills devel­op­ment may get us there faster. It may seem far-fetched, but con­sid­er­ing we already take part in rel­e­vant prac­tices of the Euro­pean Youth Forum and we have net­works to uti­lize, it looks more real­is­tic and promis­ing if a more strate­gic approach is fol­lowed by a moti­vat­ed group.

At which insti­tu­tion exact­ly and how do you want to lob­by for this recog­ni­tion?
AEGEE is already an active mem­ber of umbrel­la organ­i­sa­tions like the Euro­pean Youth Forum and LLLP, which have rel­e­vant prac­tices in advo­ca­cy we can con­tribute more strate­gi­cal­ly to. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion has recent­ly adopt­ed the “New Skills Agen­da” and has already pro­duced results we can take advan­tage of. We can utilise and pro­mote inter­nal­ly the revised Europass in a way to “put AEGEE in our CV” and make the results vis­i­ble; and we can research and show­case the impact of AEGEE by work­ing with our alum­ni that have found or cre­at­ed their jobs as a result of their expe­ri­ence in AEGEE. These two steps are rel­a­tive­ly easy to imple­ment, prac­ti­cal and can be direct­ly used for advo­ca­cy, using the insti­tu­tions’ own tools in a way that has the impact they want to have.

Are there oth­er youth or stu­dent asso­ci­a­tions that man­aged such an exter­nal recog­ni­tion?
The Euro­pean Youth Forum comes to mind again. They’ve released stud­ies and a pol­i­cy paper show­ing both the “skills mis­match” and the relat­ed skills devel­oped through vol­un­teer­ing in youth organ­i­sa­tions. Now they’re fight­ing strong­ly for qual­i­ty intern­ships. We are an active mem­ber of the Euro­pean Youth Forum, already work­ing with them in the field. What we can learn from that is that it’s fea­si­ble, but I believe we should be more strate­gic with con­crete actions and make those more vis­i­ble.

At the EPM the YDWG helped devel­op­ing ideas in the field of youth devel­op­ment. With­out refer­ring to the out­come of the EPM ses­sion, can you tell us your very own ideas how to put the pro­posed Men­tal Health objec­tive into prac­tice in a way that has a great exter­nal impact?
I am very hap­py about the top­ic, as it’s very impor­tant but high­ly neglect­ed! My focus would be on achiev­ing a health­i­er work-life bal­ance, start­ing from our vol­un­teer work in AEGEE. We could ini­ti­ate or pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ties for our mem­bers to share their best prac­tices and inspire each oth­er. Then we could gath­er their tips and tricks and cre­ate guide­lines for locals and bod­ies to imple­ment and share the results. Since I keep men­tion­ing advo­ca­cy, we can col­lab­o­rate with Men­tal Health Europe on that.

The same counts for the EPM objec­tive of employ­a­bil­i­ty: what are your ideas to cre­ate max­i­mum exter­nal impact?
I have already shared some ideas. Reports from var­i­ous insti­tu­tions men­tion “skills mis­match” as the main rea­son behind the high lev­els of youth unem­ploy­ment. Employ­ers want skills, the reports say, and young peo­ple have knowl­edge thanks to their edu­ca­tion but not the nec­es­sary skills. We can bet­ter show how these skills are devel­oped through vol­un­teer­ing in organ­i­sa­tions like AEGEE, by show­ing how they’ve already worked for our mem­bers. Have you seen the slides on “AEGEE’s Impact” in the extend­ed pre­sen­ta­tion of AEGEE, cit­ing the find­ings of a 2013 sur­vey? We can re-run that sur­vey with more peo­ple, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with our alum­ni, who have already seen the impact of AEGEE in their lives and jobs. That could pro­vide a clear proof of that impact in prac­tice.

You sure­ly have oth­er con­crete ideas for inter­na­tion­al youth devel­op­ment projects for anten­nae. Can you tell us two project ideas?
I like very much the idea of the “Youth Devel­op­ment Month” by the cur­rent YDWG! I would devel­op it fur­ther to include the ideas above. For exam­ple short work­shops on how to use the new Europass to put AEGEE in your CV and find­ing mem­bers that have ben­e­fit­ted from AEGEE in their jobs, inter­view­ing them to bet­ter show the impact of AEGEE in prac­tice – what about a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Faces of Europe? Anoth­er idea would be a long term project where locals would find com­pa­nies will­ing to work with young peo­ple, analyse their needs in skills and work on activ­i­ties that devel­op these spe­cif­ic skills on their mem­bers for a full year, match­ing the skills devel­oped direct­ly to the local labour mar­ket. The com­pa­nies would have to guar­an­tee some jobs or paid intern­ships in such a part­ner­ship, but that can be eas­i­er to achieve if they also sup­port the process with super­vi­sion and train­ing. This can only work through a strate­gic col­lab­o­ra­tion with oth­er bod­ies and locals inter­nal­ly, and oth­er organ­i­sa­tions, insti­tu­tions and com­pa­nies exter­nal­ly, with a long-term vision in mind.

You have been active in sev­er­al Euro­pean bod­ies. Some of them have seen hard times, espe­cial­ly the SU project and the Acad­e­my. Since both are relat­ed to youth mobil­i­ty: In hind­sight, what could you have done to increase the num­ber of Sum­mer Uni­ver­si­ties and Acad­e­my train­ing events, as well as the num­ber of appli­cants?
I have a dif­fer­ent view on that after my rel­e­vant work. Some­times less is more. Qual­i­ty is more impor­tant than quan­ti­ty. We keep ask­ing for more mem­bers and events but we for­get ask­ing why we’re doing what we do. I think one of the main rea­sons for our dimin­ish­ing num­bers is our recruit­ment. We keep try­ing to “lure” new mem­bers by pro­mot­ing cheap trav­el­ling and par­ty­ing and then expect them to change their ini­tial moti­va­tion and sud­den­ly become active cit­i­zens! Sure, it has worked in some cas­es, but it’s an inef­fi­cient strat­e­gy.

What would you sug­gest?
If for exam­ple you pro­mote SUs for the amaz­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for inter­cul­tur­al exchange and per­son­al devel­op­ment — instead of cheap vaca­tion — then you attract the tar­get group you want instead of hop­ing to con­vert it after­wards. I believe it’s ok to have less SUs in the mean­while if their impact is high­er. Once we regain a unique sell­ing point clos­er to our vision then our num­bers may start increas­ing again thanks to a pos­i­tive vicious cir­cle caused by the tar­get group we’ll be more suc­cess­ful­ly attract­ing like that. It may take years to achieve, but I don’t think it’s real­is­tic to hope for instant change, as it requires a cul­ture shift. Sim­i­lar­ly, there’s room for improve­ment when it comes to the pro­mo­tion of our train­ing events, but a major obsta­cle is also the fact that there is an over­lap with oth­er types of events and too many events hap­pen­ing at the same time which, cou­pled with the small per­cent­age of active mem­bers, doesn’t leave enough peo­ple for all events. We sim­ply don’t have enough active mem­bers and they also have a lim­it­ed bud­get and time to devote. This was incon­ceiv­able in the first Euro­pean Schools, as there was a cal­en­dar of events that didn’t allow over­lap­ping events. And this was a time when we had a lot more mem­bers. But it’s some­thing that will be imple­ment­ed again after the Ago­ra, thanks to hav­ing that dis­cus­sion in the inter­nal edu­ca­tion task force. I’m ok with small­er num­bers if the qual­i­ty is high­er and more aligned to our vision. What does this mean for the upcom­ing group? Once again col­lab­o­ra­tion and strate­gic plan­ning.

You wrote that you’ve become an expert in gam­i­fi­ca­tion. How can youth devel­op­ment in AEGEE make suc­cess­ful use of gam­i­fi­ca­tion? Can you give three exam­ples?
First, open badges are a cool way to raise aware­ness of what you’re learn­ing in your AEGEE events, in a way that can moti­vate you to get more, con­nect­ed to your own path in AEGEE. It’s an elec­tron­ic, ver­sa­tile, easy to use tool for recog­ni­tion. Sec­ond, events as sto­ry­lines in which you con­stant­ly devel­op by build­ing up on blocks of expe­ri­ences, instead of hav­ing arbi­trar­i­ly placed activ­i­ties. Imag­ine for exam­ple an SU as a role play­ing game in which the par­tic­i­pants are play­ing char­ac­ters that lev­el up with every activ­i­ty and show the con­nec­tion to the SU’s learn­ing objec­tives more clear­ly. I’ve already imple­ment­ed that as a pilot and there is a lot more in that direc­tion! Third, gam­i­fy­ing your entire path in AEGEE by gath­er­ing the skills devel­oped through attend­ing events is a frame­work that can poten­tial­ly be devel­oped by the YDWG in col­lab­o­ra­tion with oth­er bod­ies — the most rel­e­vant ones are already involved in inter­nal edu­ca­tion — and locals for the imple­men­ta­tion. It depends on a strate­gic col­lab­o­ra­tion between every­one involved but “strat­e­gy” and “col­lab­o­ra­tion” are clear­ly the key­words of my plan.

Additional questions from the network

Ques­tion 1: Will you still join the work­ing group in case you won’t be elect­ed?
I’d be hap­py to! This gives me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to say that I don’t see this as a com­pe­ti­tion and nei­ther should the Ago­ra. There’s no bet­ter or worse between the two peo­ple apply­ing for the posi­tion. We are both high­ly skilled and we are actu­al­ly friends and voiced our will­ing­ness to sup­port each oth­er. It’s up to the Ago­ra to choose whose vision they are more in favour of, but it’s whether that fits the over­all vision of AEGEE; it’s not a fight. I believe that’s the men­tal­i­ty we should have if we tru­ly believe in a bor­der­less Europe we can call home.

Eri­ka Bet­tin, AEGEE-Verona: In every WG there is a pol­i­cy offi­cer in charge of pos­si­bly draft­ing a pol­i­cy paper. Of course, you will have to dis­cuss the top­ic with the team, but what are some areas that can be tack­led when decid­ing on the top­ic?
I think the most ben­e­fi­cial thing for the pol­i­cy paper is to show­case real-life exam­ples of skills gained through vol­un­teer­ing in AEGEE and how they have result­ed in get­ting or cre­at­ing jobs, like men­tioned above. The pol­i­cy office can run the research in col­lab­o­ra­tion with our alum­ni and use it towards pol­i­cy rec­om­men­da­tions on an insti­tu­tion­al lev­el based on the impact on our mem­bers. These are my first thoughts, but obvi­ous­ly more ideas will appear once a group of moti­vat­ed mem­bers gets togeth­er and works as a team, which I’m excit­ed about, should I get elect­ed!

Eri­ka Bet­tin, AEGEE-Verona: You have already been a work­ing group coor­di­na­tor. Can you give some exam­ples of your achieve­ments? What we’re the things that you wish you would have done dif­fer­ent­ly? How would you imple­ment both suc­cess­es and fail­ures in your even­tu­al sec­ond term as coor­di­na­tor?
Thanks to the work of the Youth Mobil­i­ty Work­ing Group more mem­bers became aware of the real­i­ty of the visa process in East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries and many locals are still util­is­ing the renewed visa invi­ta­tion let­ters the group devel­oped. How­ev­er, I under­es­ti­mat­ed the time the group mem­bers had to put in and a more strate­gic align­ment to the vision and struc­ture of AEGEE. I now have the rel­e­vant expe­ri­ence to do this bet­ter, which is why I keep men­tion­ing the words strat­e­gy and col­lab­o­ra­tion. I know much bet­ter how AEGEE func­tions and how the dif­fer­ent bod­ies can col­lab­o­rate, and have a bet­ter idea of how the group’s work can relate to the vision of AEGEE, apart from being bet­ter skilled in man­ag­ing teams. I hope the oth­er answers can show the more strate­gic and prag­mat­ic approach.

Writ­ten by Gun­nar Erth, Gold­en Times

You can read Anto­nis’ full appli­ca­tion here