Among all the elec­tions, del­e­gates of Spring Ago­ra Kraków have the del­i­cate task to elect the next leader of our organ­i­sa­tion. One of the two can­di­dates is Matis Joab, for­mer pres­i­dent of AEGEE-Tallin. The 28-year old brings to the elec­tions skills, a strong focus on locals and Net­work man­age­ment and the goal to reduce bureau­cra­cy in AEGEE. Matis: “Mak­ing AEGEE grow AEGEE must be the num­ber one pri­or­i­ty”. Get to know him bet­ter with the inter­view below!

Eri­ka Bet­tin: Can you please intro­duce your­self? How did you join AEGEE?
Matis Joab: I’m 28 years old and I’m from Tallinn, Esto­nia. I joined AEGEE four years ago. At first I did it just to go to an SU, because I missed my Eras­mus days in France. Then I dis­cov­ered what an amaz­ing organ­i­sa­tion it is and the poten­tial it has to make people’s lives bet­ter and give invalu­able expe­ri­ences. At the time, my anten­na was quite inac­tive. Coura­geous­ly, but only bare­ly being kept alive by two board mem­bers. I helped to organ­ise already the sec­ond local activ­i­ty I attend­ed. I became the pres­i­dent of my local after being a mem­ber for less than six months while con­vinc­ing sev­er­al oth­er fresh mem­bers to join the board with me. Just a cou­ple of weeks ago, I hand­ed off the pres­i­den­cy of that local, now very much alive and kick­ing and more impor­tant­ly also grow­ing. (Matis smiles)

What did you do beyond AEGEE, what are your pas­sions?
Dur­ing those same four years, I was also con­stant­ly work­ing full time as a con­sul­tant, a project man­ag­er and sales man­ag­er in dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies. I final­ly fin­ished my bachelor’s stud­ies and got my master’s degree in Man­age­ment. Between all that I some­how also found the time to have many awe­some adven­tures, make scores of friends and have a lot of fun. My pas­sions are trav­el­ling and meet­ing new peo­ple, but also chang­ing people’s lives for the bet­ter, as corny as it sounds. When peo­ple whom I’ve recruit­ed to AEGEE or who have par­tic­i­pat­ed in the events I’ve organ­ised, tell me what a life-chang­ing expe­ri­ence it’s been, that’s what has always kept me moti­vat­ed in AEGEE.

What is your vision for AEGEE?
My vision of AEGEE is a vision of a large, diverse and grow­ing organ­i­sa­tion that has a sig­nif­i­cant pos­i­tive impact on the soci­ety around it. An organ­i­sa­tion that helps the young peo­ple of Europe keep faith in the ideals of democ­ra­cy, diver­si­ty and uni­ty, even in uncer­tain times. An organ­i­sa­tion where the mem­bers dare to dream big, but also turn their dreams into real­i­ty. An organ­i­sa­tion that gives peo­ple expe­ri­ences and skills that help them keep hav­ing a pos­i­tive impact on the world long-long after they retire from AEGEE.

Often, can­di­dates for Pres­i­dent have quite some expe­ri­ences in Euro­pean bod­ies, giv­ing them a good under­stand­ing of the inter­na­tion­al lev­el of our asso­ci­a­tion. How­ev­er, some would argue that too much expe­ri­ence can cause inflex­i­bil­i­ty and being led by rou­tine. How do you view that, and do you think your main­ly local ori­ent­ed expe­ri­ences will bring a change to this?
I think it is very impor­tant for the CD as a whole to have a good mix of both Euro­pean and local lev­el expe­ri­ence. Look­ing at the oth­er can­di­dates for CD, Sec­re­tary and Finan­cial Direc­tor — Euro­pean lev­el expe­ri­ence def­i­nite­ly won’t be lack­ing. But I believe a fresh per­spec­tive and expe­ri­ence from out­side AEGEE as well will pro­vide a lot of val­ue. If elect­ed, I would work to keep the needs of the locals and the net­work firm­ly as the pri­or­i­ty of the CD and all the Euro­pean Bod­ies. Ulti­mate­ly, the locals are the heart and soul of our asso­ci­a­tion. Every­thing that can be achieved at the inter­na­tion­al lev­el of AEGEE depends on the locals and how healthy and numer­ous they are.

Ques­tion from the Net­work: How are you going to com­pen­sate for your lack of Euro­pean Lev­el expe­ri­ence and the lack of knowl­edge of the Euro­pean Bod­ies?
I would not say I lack knowl­edge of the Euro­pean Bod­ies. As a long time active and curi­ous mem­ber, I believe I have a rea­son­ably good overview of the Euro­pean Bod­ies, their func­tions and work­ing for­mats. I do of course lack direct expe­ri­ence of work­ing in them. How­ev­er, I bring to the table a lot of a expe­ri­ence of the local lev­el and of Euro­pean event organ­i­sa­tion. This gives insight into the strug­gles and suc­cess­es of the kind of rel­a­tive­ly small and mid­dling anten­nae that make up the major­i­ty of our net­work. I believe that will be valu­able in find­ing a path to growth in both thw num­ber of anten­nas and the num­ber of Euro­pean Events they organ­ise. I also bring a lot of man­age­ment and organ­i­sa­tion­al expe­ri­ence from out­side of AEGEE. I have worked full time for a total of six years in the pri­vate sec­tor, in posi­tions with respon­si­bil­i­ties relat­ed to sales, project man­age­ment and exter­nal rep­re­sen­ta­tion. I have seen the strengths and chal­lenges of both small com­pa­nies and huge inter­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions. I have expe­ri­ence of being in inter­na­tion­al teams for high-pres­sure projects and also coor­di­nat­ed the work and com­mu­ni­ca­tion of sev­er­al divi­sions and exter­nal con­trac­tors at the same time.

Sev­en peo­ple who some­times do not know each oth­er or nev­er worked togeth­er, liv­ing and work­ing in the same envi­ron­ment. Sev­en dif­fer­ent ideas on how things should be in AEGEE and new ideas on how to change it. The task of a Pres­i­dent is to lead the pack and the direc­tion of the board of direc­tors. What is your pri­ma­ry con­cern in lead­ing the team? What is your lead­ing style?
My approach would be to take the ideas of all the CD mem­bers, includ­ing my own, and per­haps even more impor­tant­ly take the ideas of the net­work and mould them into a coher­ent pro­gram. I would make sure every­one gets to have their say, but also that a deci­sion is tak­en once all the rel­e­vant argu­ments have been heard and avoid unnec­es­sary stalling and inde­ci­sive­ness. I would also make sure the team would also have enough moti­va­tion­al and social activ­i­ties togeth­er to blow off the work stress and keep good inter­per­son­al rela­tions. I would do my utmost to achieve a friend­ly, cre­ative and pro­duc­tive envi­ron­ment at the AEGEE House.

Con­nect­ed to the pre­vi­ous one, what will be your approach to solv­ing con­flicts?
When peo­ple are pas­sion­ate and striv­ing toward big goals, con­flicts are inevitable. Indeed, some­times they can even be pro­duc­tive. As long as they are con­struc­tive and imper­son­al: Con­flicts debates of ideas, debates that don’t descend into ad hominem and attacks on char­ac­ter. When con­flicts do become per­son­al or destruc­tive rather than pro­duc­tive, they have to be dealt with. In my expe­ri­ence, the first and most impor­tant thing when medi­at­ing a con­flict is to stay calm your­self and not to take a side, even if you per­son­al­ly have a clear opin­ion. It’s impor­tant to calm the peo­ple down, talk­ing to both sides indi­vid­u­al­ly if nec­es­sary. Then to find the real root of the prob­lem, as some­times cer­tain argu­ments are sim­ply prox­ies for an actu­al source of annoy­ance. Then the prob­lem needs to be solved or man­aged as best as pos­si­ble. At the same time also appeal­ing to com­mon goals and shared val­ues, to get peo­ple to remem­ber of the things that unite, rather than divide them.

And how much do you think the Net­work should be aware of them?
If it’s an hon­est and respect­ful con­flict of ideas or approach­es, then ask­ing the net­work for opin­ions and hav­ing a wider debate could be quite use­ful. Not to men­tion the prop­er thing to do in a demo­c­ra­t­ic organ­i­sa­tion. How­ev­er if it’s a con­flict between per­son­al­i­ties or if it gets per­son­al or too heat­ed, then the few­er peo­ple aware of it the bet­ter. See­ing too many per­son­al con­flicts can have an impact on the enthu­si­asm of the net­work and the moti­va­tion of peo­ple to apply for CD or oth­er posi­tions in the future. But also because if insults, accu­sa­tions or griev­ance becom­ing pub­lic, it can make the con­flict itself hard­er to resolve. It’s sim­ply human nature that peo­ple find it more dif­fi­cult to back down or apol­o­gise pub­licly than they do in pri­vate. Per­ceived pub­lic humil­i­a­tion can also sow resent­ment and the seeds for future con­flicts.

Ques­tion from the net­work: Based what hap­pened with­in CD55, how would you pre­vent res­ig­na­tions with­in the team?
Hope­ful­ly the approach­es out­lined above will help to pre­vent res­ig­na­tions.

Project man­age­ment, Inter­nal Edu­ca­tion, Net­work Man­age­ment, Exter­nal Rela­tions. If you would have to choose one main focus for your year in CD, what  will it be? And why?
All of them are impor­tant and I see that none of them are neglect­ed. But if I had to choose one then it would be Net­work Man­age­ment. I believe halt­ing the already ten-year long con­trac­tion of our net­work and get­ting AEGEE to grow again — in terms of mem­bers, anten­nas, events and impact — must be the num­ber one pri­or­i­ty of not only the CD, but the entire net­work.

One of the biggest parts of Pres­i­dent port­fo­lio is to deal with Exter­nal Rela­tions, both in the EU bub­ble and with oth­er NGOs, often coop­er­at­ing with them to advo­cate togeth­er. What do you think should be high­er in the advo­ca­cy process of our asso­ci­a­tion and with which NGOs and Euro­pean insti­tu­tions would you pair up to reach the result of a suc­cess­ful advo­ca­cy cam­paign?
The term of CD56 will coin­cide with the deci­sive stages of Britain’s exit nego­ti­a­tions from the Euro­pean Union. Mak­ing sure that the detri­men­tal effect of this event on youth and stu­dent mobil­i­ty is a as small as pos­si­ble should be a key pri­or­i­ty for AEGEE. In order to have any kind of sig­nif­i­cant impact on such a high-lev­el nego­ti­a­tion, AEGEE must work togeth­er with all oth­er Euro­pean and British youth and stu­dent organ­i­sa­tions and oth­er NGOs that are inter­est­ed in min­imis­ing the neg­a­tive impact of Brex­it for youths.

In case you are elect­ed, your CD will take over from CD55. Name one thing of their work you would like to keep work­ing on and one thing that you would imple­ment dif­fer­ent­ly. And why?
There are many worth­while ongo­ing ini­tia­tives from CD55. For exam­ple, con­tin­u­ing and devel­op­ing fur­ther the cur­rent direc­tion of pro­vid­ing more and high­er qual­i­ty train­ing to the net­work, in co-oper­a­tion with the Acad­e­my, HRC and Net­Com. One thing from the cur­rent CD’s Activ­i­ty Plan that I would imple­ment dif­fer­ent­ly would be the point about “Focus on the enlarge­ment of one geo­graph­i­cal area in the net­work”. The ini­tia­tive of an anten­na found­ing cam­paign itself is praise­wor­thy, although I unfor­tu­nate­ly haven’t heard about this one being imple­ment­ed yet. But I dis­agree about pick­ing only one geo­graph­i­cal area to focus on. Focus is often a good thing, but in this case, the most crit­i­cal resources for a suc­cess­ful found­ing cam­paign, near­by men­tor locals and moti­vat­ed mem­bers ready to par­tic­i­pate, are also some­what loca­tion-spe­cif­ic. Thus I would not see it as a prob­lem to have mul­ti­ple found­ing cam­paigns hap­pen­ing at more or less the same time peri­od, in dif­fer­ent parts of the net­work. AEGEE needs to take advan­tage of every oppor­tu­ni­ty to grow it can find.

Bureau­cra­cy in AEGEE is indeed a hand­i­cap that often pre­vents the Asso­ci­a­tion to grow fur­ther. Accord­ing to your expe­ri­ence, what do you think is the most urgent prob­lem in bureau­cra­cy, and how would you like to reduce it?
The most urgent prob­lem in too much bureau­cra­cy in a vol­un­teer organ­i­sa­tion is its neg­a­tive effect on the enthu­si­asm of the mem­bers. Too much bureau­cra­cy is usu­al­ly a case of “death by a thou­sand cuts”. Every sin­gle rule by itself is meant to serve a per­cep­ti­bly use­ful pur­pose, but tak­en togeth­er excess rules start to weigh an organ­i­sa­tion down. What’s need­ed to com­bat this is a strate­gic and con­sis­tent approach: in coop­er­a­tion with the oth­er Euro­pean Bod­ies and based on feed­back and dia­logue with the locals, I would find out which rules, reports and cri­te­ria are pos­ing prob­lems for locals or projects. Analyse whether the impor­tance of the rule, cri­te­ria or report­ing oblig­a­tion out­weighs the hin­drance and if the same aim could be achieved in some oth­er, less tax­ing way. Take appro­pri­ate action based on the con­clu­sions. I would also pro­mote the spir­it of the orig­i­nal jurispru­dence of the CIA: “Our rules should always ful­fil the con­di­tions of sta­bil­i­ty and flex­i­bil­i­ty at the same time: We must leave them unchanged as long as pos­si­ble and only mod­i­fy them if it is real­ly nec­es­sary.” Espe­cial­ly when it comes to adding new rules.

Since the lack of imple­men­ta­tion is one of the biggest prob­lems in our asso­ci­a­tion, think for a moment that you are in the Comité Directeur and all your ideas are fea­tured in the CD56 Activ­i­ty Plan. Pick a project you would like to imple­ment among those list­ed in your pro­gram and cre­ate a fea­si­ble time­line for it, explain­ing how you would like to do it.
I’ll pick the pro­gramme for decreas­ing bureau­cra­cy and enhanc­ing flex­i­bil­i­ty dis­cussed just above. As a time­line — Ago­ra Istan­bul would be the start­ing point for the dia­logue with the net­work out­lined in the pre­vi­ous answer. This dia­logue could con­tin­ue with dis­cus­sions and feed­back ses­sions at the autumn Net­work Meet­ings as well as online dis­cus­sion and feed­back-tak­ing. Reform and sim­pli­fi­ca­tion pro­pos­als based on this process would be devel­oped with the involve­ment of the affect­ed bod­ies, then for­mu­lat­ed and pre­sent­ed at Spring Ago­ra 2019.

Ques­tion form the Net­work: What do you as a can­di­date for Pres­i­dent of AEGEE-Europe think about the anten­na cri­te­ria pro­pos­al by the cur­rent CD?
I strong­ly agree with the direc­tion of the reform. The cur­rent exten­sive list of for­mal require­ments can seem very intim­i­dat­ing to any moti­vat­ed peo­ple look­ing to found a new local in their city and also to mem­bers think­ing of apply­ing for the board of a small local. Espe­cial­ly as these peo­ple might very well not know that cri­te­ria excep­tions are always pos­si­ble. There are some spe­cif­ic things I would like to clar­i­fy with the pro­posers. For exam­ple on the nature of these devel­op­ment plans and the changes to the Work­ing for­mat of the Net­work Com­mis­sion that is allud­ed to. I am very much look­ing for­ward to the Pry­ta­ni­um.

Writ­ten by Eri­ka Bet­tin, AEGEE-Verona

You can read Matis’s full can­di­da­ture here

Check also the interviews with the other candidates for CD56:

 

 

 

 

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