YMCA goes to Brussels

Vydáno dne 09. 03. 2016 (2671 přečtení)
I talked to Ilenia Ventroni, a young, charming and dynamic lady born in Sardinia and a newly appointed Advocacy, Project and Fundraising Officer of YMCA Europe in Brussels, about her previous work in European institutions and her very fresh experience from YMCA movement.

Welcome to the Czech YMCA national office, we´re happy to have you here. Is this your first visit to Prague, Ilenia?
Yes, very first, and I´m heartbroken, I didn´t have enough time to see it. This is really my kind of thing, I like history, the city is really beautiful, the glimpse I´ve seen. I´m definitely going to come back, now I´m here only for work, and I´d love to come back for touristic purposes.

What´s your story, where were you born, what did you study, where did you work?
I was born in Sardinia, a big island in Mediterranean sea, in the biggest city in Sardinia, and I lived there until I was 21, I did my first studies there, I studied law, much before that I was in a lot of youth groups, I´ve been in Scouts, I´ve been doing musical theatre for 12 years, since I was 9 until I was 21. Also I´ve done some sports and I think I have been really lucky in what I was up to, there was no YMCA sadly, so it is my interest to spread YMCA even more even to my island. Then I moved to north of Italy for my first Master´s degree, I did that in Trento, near the Dolomites, and then I went to the College of Europe where I continued with European studies. Before that I went for 1 year to France for Erasmus, that´s where I discovered European policies and laws. Then after College of Europe I went to Maastricht for 1 year, I did there a very normal job, worked for Mercedes-Benz. And after that I finally had my dream to go to work in Brussels, in European policies, first of all I worked in the European Parliament for nearly a year, working for an MEP, that was really interesting I learned a lot about the decision making process and then I worked in two consultancies. In one it was more focused on advocacy, and the other one was more focused on projects, in the second one I was a project manager and a project evaluator, and I enjoyed it a lot. But I really wanted to work for an NGO that could reflect my values a little bit more and it´s not easy though, because it is very competitive in Brussels it is not easy to find an NGO to work for. But finally I saw there was dream opportunity with YMCA, so I went for it and I´ve been very happy ever since, you know you want to do something what you believe in and what motivates you and this is a very motivating job.

How much did you know YMCA before?
I had an idea, I knew what they did, but in Italy it is not that big and in Sardinia it did not exist. I never had the first time experience, I knew for example the sport centres, I knew them from the US, and maybe also I knew family centres but I´m not sure. Yeah, that´s what I knew, and the more I know the more I like it.

Could you now tell us precisely what your responsibilities and functions in the YMCA Europe office in Brussels are?
The very long title of the job says The Advocacy, Project and Fundraising Officer. So first of all Advocacy – I´d raise the profile of YMCA in Brussels and I try to influence laws, that can help us out to develop as an organization and also that can bring more resources towards us. I know it is sometimes difficult to imagine Brussels as an effective place but it is actually where a lot of laws are made and where a lot of decisions are taken. That can create resources we can apply for. What I like there is to get the Commission, the Parliament to know us and to give out priorities in a very short and easy and practical way to these institutions so that we can actually push for some laws to be done in a certain way. So that what we believe in and what we need is delivered at the European level. I´ve seen in with my own eyes in the Parliament, sometimes NGOs coming over and giving two or three priorities and informal amendments to the MEPs and to tell them this is what we need for our NGO, and if you vote for this remember you should vote like that. I´ve seen these amendments becoming a law because the MEP decided it was a good idea, they could make them look better, and these became good things for the NGOs, and I think we should definitely give this opportunity to YMCA as well. And it´s something you can only do in Brussels, sadly, because, there it can be so personal, so direct, doing it from far away simply does not have the same impact, sadly. I mean Europe is big and it should be possible for every citizen to access it but it´s good to have our agent in Brussels to make it happen.

What is your typical day like, can you describe what task do you usually spend time on?
Well, I come in, I scan emails, to see if any of the national movements has any need or a national YMCA who contacted me to ask about any call for proposals that match their ideas, and I also scan myself – the opportunities, the calls for proposals that could match to the ideas that people might want to do. Recently I sent over a communication to everybody, an interesting project that we could work on together with the Scouts. At the moment I am registering us to be able to meet the institutions as well, so later on I´ll go to meet the Commission, the DGs, Directorate Generals that deal with the themes we work on, and meet also the members of the European parliament that are relevant to us. Also I´ve been recently helping some movements to draft their project proposals. And also I´ve been meeting in the building we are in, there are many NGOs that work like us, for example the Scouts or the European Youth Forum where we are very active. So I´ve been working in the European Youth Forum in the Networks where we keep informed on the current topics about advocacy and the EU policies that are coming through for this year, and also we keep informed about the opportunities that might come around for projects. So there is lot of reading, writing and responding.

Are there any problems you deal with?
It is quite early to say, but sometimes yes, at the moment I would like everybody to know that this resource exists in Brussels so I would like people to get to know it, and then I have a lot of Skype calls with national movements, so they see me, talk to me, and tell me what they need. Now it´s mostly me taking the initiative, talking to people and trying to find the resources for them.

How much flexible are you in deciding what tasks to do and when? You work on your own and it seems you can be quite independent in taking decisions.
Well, I always consult with Juan, the Secretary General, and also with the YMCA Europe office here in Prague, there are so many of us so it is always good to check. If it´s ok, if there are other priorities, that might conflict, there is a constant contact with Juan and Eva here. Not only because I´m new and there are years of experience they have, but also because they take the important decisions anyway. So the pro-active action I take is to find opportunities but then the decisions to take them up is up to the national movements and the other decisions about advocacy and the line to take with the institutions is an act of YMCA Europe. So I can draft things but then the things are sent around and will be decided upon by the movement. So from that point of view the initiative as I try to do, the annoying, the boring part and then the executive part belongs to the executive of the movement.

What particular skills or talents do you think are essential for your job?
Well, organizing, planning is everything. That´s the good thing about being in Brussels that things get planned ahead a lot and you work in cycles which are very very long so the opportunities to decide what to do in next 6 months and next year are all there. Yeah, writing down, filling in your calendar in a very precise way, it´s fundamental. And also talking – I talk a lot, especially in the advocacy part you need to be effective. You need people to understand your point, and also you need people to understand who you stand for. So I hope I will be a decent business card for the YMCA and the institutions will understand what we stand for.

What do you like most about YMCA movement, what makes it different or special to you?
I really like a lot the sense of empowering that is given to young people. Literally, any young person. In other movements you need older people, leaders to go somewhere and do something. What I like about YMCA is that although it is a complex organization, the most fundamental is that it is accessible and it feels inclusive to me a lot. I also like the kind of activities in YMCA, these are what people do everywhere in the world, but YMCA creates a safe space and a healthy environment to do that. That I think it´s priceless. It´s what many people don´t have so I´d love to spread this as much as possible.

Is your work linked anyhow to the strategy of World YMCA?
Well, definitely, because there is always an eye kept on the work of World YMCA in sense of priorities and everything. But only in the sense that we are a part of it, and we always keep in that perspective and it would be interesting to see if we could work on our project in global perspective in the future.

What cheers you up in your office?
Well, music, I like to sing a lot. I like to go to my choir and just sing everything out.

What about your plans now, you´re going back to Brussels, what are you up to then?
I´m going back to my office with a lot more knowledge and a bit more of priorities. Because I also talked with the office here in Prague, so there are some extra things that I could do and many more ideas. I will keep getting in contact with national movements and collect their needs plus I will finalize the subscription to the Transparency Register so that we can access the institutions. So I´ll start my round of meeting the institutions and also most probably I can put down a list of priorities that we have and we can now bring to the institutions and circulate them around. So this is the way how YMCA Europe can have their input on that by what they´ve heard from national movements. Of course the first approach with the institutions will be a lot more general about what our priorities are and what we´d like to see and then during the year, according to different timings of decision making in Brussels we can actually operate on certain tasks. Well, Ilenia thank you very much for the time you spent with the Czech YMCA and also for your deep interest in our activities and priorities. I wish you best of luck in your challenging work and I am looking forward to meeting you again! Let´s keep in touch!

Za rozhovor děkuje Iva Šípková, zahraniční sekretář YMCA v České republice, foto: Šárka Čiháková

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