Sec­ond time around: Net­Com Can­di­date Ele­na Panagopoulou already tried to get elect­ed as Net­work Com­mis­sion­er one year ago. In the end, the for­mer board mem­ber of AEGEE-Athí­na mem­ber was not elect­ed in a very com­pet­i­tive field of eight can­di­dates. Now, with many new ideas and plans, the 26-year old gives it anoth­er try at Ago­ra Kraków.

Gun­nar Erth: Ele­na, how would you describe your­self in five key­words?
Ele­na Panagopoulou: Enthu­si­as­tic, spon­ta­neous, deter­mined, eclec­tic and neophil­i­ac — I always crave for nov­el­ty.

You already ran last year for Net­Com, but did not receive enough votes. Why should this time more peo­ple should vote for you? How have you improved your knowl­edge or abil­i­ties since then?
Ago­ra Enschede was a very intense event for me, where I stood before the Ago­ra and tried to explain why I believed I could serve the net­work and instill my vision into the locals. Many peo­ple I didn’t know came after my pre­sen­ta­tion to con­grat­u­late me because they felt inspired. For me that’s a tremen­dous feel­ing, no mat­ter the dis­ap­point­ment of not get­ting elect­ed. I have to note also the com­pe­ten­cy of the oth­er can­di­dates, prob­a­bly some of the most dif­fi­cult elec­tions for the Net­work Com­mis­sion in the recent his­to­ry. In this sense, I was con­fi­dent and still am that I am a per­fect match for the posi­tion. Because I com­bine the two most impor­tant traits that an ide­al can­di­date should pos­sess. Knowl­edge and gen­uine inter­est for fos­ter­ing the locals. I care for the locals, and this can be proven by the joy and enthu­si­asm I have worked with them through Human Resources Com­mit­tee.
I have been work­ing on cre­at­ing a plat­form for active­ly help­ing locals on human resources relat­ed issues, but this can be broad­ened into includ­ing a whole fos­ter­ing pro­gram for locals and a way of col­lab­o­rat­ing with each oth­er.

Which locals would you like to take care of?
Work­ing with locals is such a unique expe­ri­ence and can be dif­fer­ent on every occa­sion, a whole new chal­lenge. In this sense I would hap­pi­ly work with any local, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing that some­times an “out­sider” can bring a new per­spec­tive and view­point into a local’s real­i­ty; it can be ben­e­fi­cial. About the Greek locals and the locals that share with them a geo­graph­i­cal prox­im­i­ty, and usu­al­ly con­sist an area, I would be more than will­ing to take the chal­lenge. In Greece we face many chal­lenges for sus­tain­ing and devel­op youth NGOs, which comes as lack of vol­un­teer­ing cul­ture and sub­se­quent less oppor­tu­ni­ties for fund­ing and tak­ing a spot in uni­ver­si­ties’ lives. I do have great ideas of how to fos­ter and make Greek locals stronger, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing that they have been neglect­ed recent­ly.

The net­work is shrink­ing. It’s impor­tant to found new ones. Where in the area would you help seed­ing con­tacts? Please name some cities and explain why they would be your first choice.
I am ambiva­lent to this argu­ment. I do feel that we could seed new locals, but on the oth­er hand I strong­ly believe that a net­work should expand as long it is already strong and thrive. Our pri­or­i­ty should be the fos­ter­ing and the devel­op­ment of the cur­rent anten­nae and most impor­tant­ly, the under­stand­ing of the rea­sons that this shrink­ing takes place. Why is the net­work shrink­ing? Why are we los­ing mem­bers and many anten­nae mul­func­tion? Because we don’t have a prop­er brand­ing and because most of the times we lose the point of what we aim as an asso­ci­a­tion. We need to find and pro­mote our Iden­ti­ty. About the found­ing of new locals, I could speak about Greece. Some inter­est­ing options would be the tra­di­tion­al uni­ver­si­ty cities. Refound­ing a local in Cre­ta would be nice, like Her­ak­lio or Cha­nia. Fur­ther­more anoth­er good option would be found­ing locals in Thrace, a region on the north­east­ern part of the coun­try, in prox­im­i­ty to the bor­ders with Turkey. This is a fas­ci­nat­ing region, with many stu­dents and a diverse cul­tur­al back­ground, where real­ly amaz­ing con­fer­ences, and even case stud­ies could take place.

AEGEE needs more Euro­pean projects and the­mat­ic con­fer­ences. Which top­ics would you sug­gest and moti­vate locals to turn into events?
We are always so proud of what AEGEE can tack­le, from soft skills edu­ca­tion and employ­a­bil­i­ty to Euro­pean inte­gra­tion, and break­ing down the stereo­types and cre­at­ing a more equal and just envi­ron­ment. So the pos­si­bil­i­ties are end­less. Every local has its own iden­ti­ty and has to face dif­fer­ent real­i­ties. Every project and the­mat­ic con­fer­ence should be planned in this way, in order to ful­fil the mis­sion of the anten­na as a youth NGO, which will serve the needs of its mem­bers and the local com­mu­ni­ty. It’s always most effec­tive to think Euro­pean and act local­ly. That’s what makes AEGEE unique. We are a net­work of unique and diverse anten­nae and cities, and whether we can have an impact should be deter­mined on the amount of the impact each one of the locals make in their city.

The con­cept for Net­work Meet­ings changed this spring. How would the pro­gramme of the per­fect Net­work Meet­ing look like?
Unfor­tu­nate­ly I haven’t had the chance to attend the new ver­sion of the Net­work Meet­ings this spring and I sup­pose we can­not tell how effec­tive it is. But as a firm believ­er of mak­ing changes and try­ing new things, I wel­come the ini­tia­tive. I do like Net­work Meet­ings, they are a mar­velous place to exchange ideas, to learn and to bond with oth­er AEGEEans. Usu­al­ly through Net­work Meet­ings new col­lab­o­ra­tions begin. And that’s the point I would like to change. I would want to intro­duce a plat­form for giv­ing the locals the oppor­tu­ni­ty to col­lab­o­rate. I want con­crete plans and activ­i­ties to be inspired and set into prac­tice, by the locals that are rep­re­sent­ed in a Net­work Meet­ing. For exam­ple, in a Net­work Meet­ing we could have as a top­ic Envi­ron­men­tal Sus­tain­abil­i­ty and Locals Sus­tain­abil­i­ty. So we could have ses­sions about the envi­ron­ment, and decid­ing into cre­at­ing a project between the locals that they par­tic­i­pate in, or even more in the spe­cif­ic area. This project could run until the next Net­work Meet­ing of the area, where results and forth­com­ing actions can be held as long prepa­ra­tion for new actions in dif­fer­ent fields. It’s just an idea of how to make Net­work Meet­ings as a kick­ing act of involv­ing the anten­nae into project man­age­ment, which can ben­e­fit the net­work in so many lev­els.

Your pro­gramme con­sists only of six bul­let points with 25 words in total. This makes it very hard to under­stand your plans. Why didn’t you present a more detailed pro­gramme?
Peo­ple keep telling me that I talk too much, so I’ve cho­sen to be lacon­ic, as an hom­mage as well to my ori­gin! [she laughs, ed] Actu­al­ly I would like to thank you for the detailed inter­view. I hope I can shed the light and explain my view­point on quite a few impor­tant aspects con­sid­er­ing the net­work. So I have decid­ed to devel­op my pro­gramme, which you can find in my appli­ca­tion. Fur­ther­more, I would encour­age you to approach me through social media, e-mail or in per­son dur­ing the Ago­ra in order to dis­cuss any point you find inter­est­ing or have any feed­back you want to give.

In your pro­gramme you men­tion the impor­tance of help­ing locals to find their iden­ti­ty. What does that mean?
Local’s iden­ti­ty is the direc­tion, the strat­e­gy that every local has decid­ed to fol­low, which serves its’ mem­bers beliefs, ideas and socio-eco­nom­ic and cul­tur­al back­ground of the city. This Iden­ti­ty is a cus­tom-made inter­pre­ta­tion of vision and mis­sion of AEGEE and should be reflect­ed into every activ­i­ty, project or con­fer­ence the local orga­nize.

Can you give two exam­ples of locals you know, explain­ing what’s their iden­ti­ty and how they pre­serve or strength­en it?
You real­ize that I couldn’t be sure which anten­na has devel­oped its whole activ­i­ty around its iden­ti­ty, sim­ply because, some­times even the anten­nae can­not real­ize that the way they are work­ing can be defined as some­thing as com­plex as iden­ti­ty sounds. But I can give you some exam­ples through my obser­va­tion. I have recent­ly asked a board mem­ber of AEGEE-Mosk­va, whether they believed that orga­niz­ing Transsi­ber­ian Dream for ten years is some­thing dis­tinc­tive for their iden­ti­ty, and they haven’t real­ized it. But in my hum­ble oppor­tu­ni­ty it is a great exam­ple of a Sum­mer Uni­ver­si­ty, with dis­tinc­tive cul­tur­al les­son, of a way on the wheels, of break­ing stereo­types, of under­stand­ing their diverse coun­try. Anoth­er exam­ple are locals who have become more polit­i­cal, orga­niz­ing con­fer­ences, speech­es, col­lab­o­rat­ing with oth­er asso­ci­a­tions. AEGEE is a polit­i­cal asso­ci­a­tion, but in many parts of the net­work this aspect is not con­sid­ered rel­e­vant and they con­cen­trate on oth­er fields. Oth­er prime exam­ples are AEGEE-Tori­no and AEGEE-Cagliari. AEGEE-Saler­no has recent­ly been orga­niz­ing such great events, col­lab­o­rate with the Franck Biancheri Asso­ci­a­tion, hav­ing con­cen­trat­ed on Civic Edu­ca­tion. Many locals do well. We should make these suc­cess­es more vis­i­ble. My dream is to give the locals the chance to reflect and dis­cov­er their iden­ti­ty. It’s the gold­en cir­cle all the way. Real­ize and know always the why. Why you orga­nize any­thing. Because it serves your Iden­ti­ty, your mis­sion in the ocean of NGOs.

You want to increase the col­lab­o­ra­tion between locals. What should locals coop­er­ate on exact­ly? And how can you fos­ter or opti­mise this col­lab­o­ra­tion?
You know the song lyric, “togeth­er we stand, divid­ed we fall”. I will speak now from per­son­al expe­ri­ence in my local and area. In recent his­to­ry there haven’t been any con­crete plans on how locals can com­mu­ni­cate and have joint events on sig­nif­i­cant mat­ters. The main rea­son I find this col­lab­o­ra­tion impor­tant, is that I am not the only one. Ele­na Efre­mo­va has want­ed to cre­ate a plat­form for her locals to col­lab­o­rate and learn about human resources, and that’s why she approached the Human Resources Com­mit­tee. Peo­ple need this plat­form, this strat­e­gy. First­ly because it is a won­der­ful way of cre­at­ing projects and fos­ter the the­mat­ic part of the asso­ci­a­tion and a way of help­ing weak locals. We could intro­duce a men­tor­ing pro­gramme between the area, of pair­ing stronger locals with weak­er ones. I dream of a place where locals are nev­er alone and can find mate­ri­als for work­shops, train­ers, ideas or fundrais­ing tech­niques, with­out hav­ing to ask the Net­Com. Locals should grow up. Net­Com is the sup­port­er, the par­ent who takes care of the chil­dren and help them to learn and to stand by their own feet.

You men­tion that HR relat­ed issues are the most prob­lem­at­ic area for anten­nae. Please present three con­crete ideas, which were already imple­ment­ed by oth­er anten­nae, to solve these HR prob­lems.
Lack­ing of mem­bers, insuf­fi­cient knowl­edge trans­fer, train­ing of the mem­bers: these are only three of the most com­mon HR prob­lems local faces. And what are the solu­tions that have been pro­posed in the past? For the recruit­ment prob­lem, the most com­mon solu­tion is to make a plan of what kind of mem­bers you want to recruit. Or in which places you seek for them. Some locals have intro­duced a pre­lim­i­nary peri­od for a per­son, in order to be eli­gi­ble to become a mem­ber. In this way they recruit­ed moti­vat­ed vol­un­teers. About knowl­edge trans­fer, a good solu­tion is to learn from oth­er locals who have already an estab­lished sys­tem, tricks and tech­niques. At last, the train­ing of the mem­bers and the lack­ing of knowl­edge pos­si­bil­i­ties, can be tack­led by estab­lish­ing local activ­i­ties, train­ing events and col­lab­o­ra­tion with oth­er NGOs on Euro­pean or local lev­el, send­ing mem­bers to their events.

Additional questions by the network

Ques­tion 1: Many can­di­dates, espe­cial­ly those for CD, men­tioned in their pro­gramme that they want to bring the the­mat­ic part of the asso­ci­a­tion clos­er to the locals, but yet you didn’t men­tion in yours any­thing relat­ed to that. What are your plans to do push local a bit to organ­ise local activ­i­ties relat­ed to the Action Agen­da and the Strate­gic Plan?
I do find the Strate­gic Plan quite rel­e­vant to the issues and prob­lems Europe and AEGEEans face in their lives. But as I have stat­ed, locals should under­stand the impor­tance of orga­niz­ing events — what­ev­er these events are — and the dif­fer­ence these events can bring in their lives as per­sons and as a local. It is again about iden­ti­ty. You can­not tell the locals to orga­nize any­thing, with­out explain­ing them the added val­ue of this act. You should teach the locals the vision and mis­sion, reflect upon it, under­stand why we have a Strate­gic Plan and an Action Agen­da. Make locals care and under­stand. If we do so, then the rest will come nat­u­ral­ly.

Ques­tion 2: What do you think about the anten­na cri­te­ria pro­pos­al pro­posed by CD?
I am quite skep­ti­cal and have many ques­tions. I do wel­come the idea of the “entry pack” as a sum of min­i­mum pre­req­ui­sites for estab­lish­ing a local and the effort to stick to legal clar­i­ty — some­times it has been tricky. But I do miss the expla­na­tion to many of the changes pro­posed. I find the pro­pos­al is lack­ing this rea­son­ing. About the month­ly reports, I have always found them dif­fi­cult to be analysed and to secure the con­sis­ten­cy and amount of truth in them. But I wouldn’t aban­don the prac­tice in once, espe­cial­ly if we haven’t come up with an alter­na­tive for a — let’s say — month­ly or bimonth­ly com­mu­ni­ca­tion between Net­com and local.

You can read Elena’s full can­di­da­ture here.