In the focus: EYP Shaper – Jonas Dreger

EYP owes all its success to the tens of thousands of volunteers who have dedicated their time, energy and ideas to our organisation. As part of a wider effort to improve the recognition culture for volunteers’ work in EYP, the Alumni coordination group started a EYP Shaper Award – for the first time, alumnus Jonas Dreger (DE) was honoured with the award during the 2019 Alumni Reunion in Hamburg! Read more about Jonas’ impact on EYP and how the organisation shaped him. The call for nominations for the 2020 EYP Shaper award will be launched early next year.  

While everyone stepping into EYP shapes the organisation in their own way, few were involved in paradigm shifts in EYP as much as Jonas was. Jonas started EYP in 2001, was a member of the board of his National Committee – EYP Germany – between 2005-08, sat on EYP’s international board – the Governing Body – between 2008-10 and wrapped up his active involvement by presiding the Tallinn International Session in 2012. In the process, he inspired countless volunteers and developed materials and tools that are still in use today. For example, the Disney Method for Committee Work which he developed in 2007, and the Committee Work (and debriefing) guide he wrote together with Joanna Dreger (updated in 2015) are still staple resources for today’s EYPers. 

EYP is grateful for the passion and inspiration Jonas has offered EYP and for significantly altering the organisation, from inspiring individuals to developing policies and triggering paradigm shifts that have enabled EYP to offer a much more powerful and impactful learning experience to all young people stepping in our events. We asked him about his proudest achievement in EYP, how EYP has impacted him, and what his thoughts are on the future of EYP.

What are you most proud of having achieved in EYP? 

I have always been very passionate about how EYP identifies, nurtures and retains talent. 

When I started EYP, IS officials were individually invited by EYP’s international coordinator. There were no calls, no applications and no way of knowing why you didn’t get invited. There were no evaluations after the event, and no trainings in between. Today, EYP uses a much more professional and transparent system. People have rightful expectations for transparency as to why they are selected or not, and what they can do to make it in the future. I was very involved in creating that transparency through evaluation and recommendation structures, trainings that allow you to build the competences needed, and feedback which gives you a possibility for improvement in the moment.

Together with my colleagues on the Governing Body, we developed and adopted a competence framework which is still used today as the basis of evaluating individuals’ performance in our events; calls, applications, selection panels and feedback on their decisions were implemented after ISs; feedback and trainings were recognised as integral parts of the learning experience that EYP provides. I also contributed to the professionalisation of trainings in EYP and helped develop the concept of Trainings for EYP Trainers (T4ETs). Sometimes I led the charge, often I was a first follower or part of a broader movement – and I am convinced the reason why the organisational change prevailed is because of the many people involved in it.

How would you say EYP shaped you? Did EYP have an impact on your career or work? 

I was a boy from a small town in Germany and I think none of what I’ve done afterwards would have been possible without the confidence I gained in EYP. I would have also not succeeded in anything that involves speaking in English had it not been for EYP. 

I studied in universities abroad, I worked in big companies, I trained in the EU Commission. Today, I am a program manager at a multinational company, where I focus on sustainability. All these opportunities I got partly because of what I learned in EYP. 

On a more personal level, EYP has shaped me with regards to the way I interact with people, the way I reflect on interpersonal relations, on organisations, the way I interact in organisations. When you expose yourself to an organisation like EYP to the extent that I have and you dive into it, there is a lot that you learn just from the challenges that you overcome and the projects you’ve worked on. Depending on how much time you spent in EYP, you can get an exposure that for your age when you come into the workforce, is not comparable to many of your peers. 

However: while it may help to have EYP on your CV, I don’t think that’s EYP’s purpose. EYP is a school for life. It helped me to be very receptive to other people’s views and needs, to cope with different perspectives and interests. On top of that, you learn a lot about leadership and grow personally.

What is your favourite part of your EYP involvement?

You make friendships for life in EYP. My wife, my best man, the core of what I would call the circle of my friends are from EYP. So that is something that tops the list, for sure.  

What are your thoughts on EYP’s development and its role in today’s society? 

I am very encouraged by the growth of EYP. I think the role that EYP should and would play in the future is incredibly important in a moment where engagement with politics is challenged. We experience a weakening of democratic institutions through how our political discourse happens, by the way we engage with facts and through the lack of engagement with movements that try to undermine democracies. At the same time, we have major generational challenges such as climate change. 

In such a climate, EYP plays an incredibly important role in helping people understand that politics are not easy, but complex, and that the beauty of political solutions is in that complexity. Further, it plays a role in encouraging people to actually engage. That doesn’t have to be in the public political discourse, but just means not disengaging in the difficult debates with friends and family. The only way we defend our democracy is when we are willing to take on the tough arguments. And this starts in all our small families and friends circles. I do think EYP could be bolder in that regard. 

I am no leader in EYP anymore and I feel very encouraged that new generations took over. To them, my question would be: Would we do EYP the same way if we founded it today? Or would we say there are a number of things we need to rethink? Our way of teaching the youth, our methodologies, to prepare them for the type of debates they have to win as a generation? 

EYPers always have a tendency to talk policy solutions. Are we still enabling our youth to win the political debate they have to win in order to push the policy solution through? If I can’t win the public argument for the broader philosophical question, it doesn’t matter if I have a good policy solution. Every new generation needs to re-engage in its own way with modern political thought and philosophy, determine what makes a good policy, what makes a bad policy – from this understanding will flow what is required today, and the ability to engage in a debate with someone who fundamentally disagrees without getting lost in the noise. These are things that in my time we didn’t focus on. Should EYP today? I would be curious about what today’s EYPers think.