Board Life: what does a ‘special interest board member’ do?

Picture above: Geoff Thompson with his wife and parents at the BEM awards ceremony

Next summer RYEurope will have a big turn over of board members as several positions open for our member representation to be elected. The position of special interest board member is still a new one, currently in the second mandate with Anja Mager from ZSPM. The position is both interesting and challenging and here to tell us a little bit more about what the position really is all about, is Geoff Thompson, RYEurope Alumni, previous special interest board member and recent recipient of the British Empire Medal (BEM).

  • What was your position on the board of Rural Youth Europe?

Officially, my title was ‘board member for special interests’ which, as the name may suggest, could cover a broad range of topics depending on the issues being raised by our members at any given time.

  • What did the role involve?

During my time, the member organisations of RYEurope requested that the organisation take on a larger role in youth advocacy at a European level and to have a ‘stronger voice’ on the important issues that our members were facing. In order to address this request, my role was to represent our members at the European Youth Forum and the European Structured Dialogue with Youth. These events brought together hundreds of passionate youth representatives from all walks of European life so that they could raise issues, collaborate on solutions, and then collectively advocate on behalf of all young people within Europe.

  • What was your greatest achievement while on the board?

Given the mandate that I was set by our members, the achievement that I am most proud to been involved in was getting ‘Moving rural youth forward’specifically named as one of the themes within the European Structured Dialogue with Youth. This theme included the goal of ‘creating conditions which enable young people to fulfil their potential in rural areas’ and had targets such as: ensuring the provision of appropriate infrastructure, creation of sustainable and high quality jobs, delivery of high quality education, protection of rural traditions and cultures, greater involvement of rural youth in decision making processes, and promoting a positive image of rural life. Given that youth advocacy was a very new endeavour for RYEurope, this achievement greatly exceeded both my own and the boards expectations and demonstrates how RYEurope and our member organisations can successfully take issues from individual members and voice these concerns at a European level.

  • What challenges did you face?

The biggest challenge I faced in the role was recognising that rural youth represents a very small percentage of the total European population. At the events I was attend, rural representatives frequently made up less than 2% of the attendees. As such, ensuring our issues were a priority for other delegates was always going to be challenging. The lesson I learned was never to advocate for our own members, instead think about the other representatives and what they are interested in (it was most frequently the environment and sustainability) and show them how helping us to address our issues helps them to address their issues. In doing this, we were able to avoid being in competition with each other and were able to collaborate to satisfy both our goals.

  • Receiving a BEM is a fantastic achievement and honour, what was your initial reaction when you heard?

To be honest, I’m still having a bit of difficulty coming to terms with it. Initially, I was very surprised and humbled as I’m very aware that any big achievement is always the result of a team effort. In this instance, members raised their concerns to representatives, those representatives passed their issues on to regional board members, and the board members passed the concerns on to me. All I did was attend events, make new friends, enjoyed late night philosophical conversations about the world, listened to people’s concerns, and repeated them in the hope that someone else might be listening to me. To receive an award for something I enjoyed every second of … well, it feels rather surreal and undeserved, so I try to just think of it as an acknowledgement of the great work being done by rural youth everyday throughout Europe.

  • Anything else you’d like to add?

Only my eternal thanks to RYEurope for the amazing opportunities that I have enjoyed, for the lessons I have learned, and the friends I have made along the way. I miss you all and hope our paths cross again soon.