Two years in YEE – from volunteer to board member

Author: Paola Lupi

Does everyone remember the summer of 2020? It was a memorable time in history: COVID-19 had proven to be a virus capable of lasting more than a few months and countries like my own (Italy) experienced the shock of the absence of tourists, noise and crowded beaches. It was a very memorable time but, in a more concrete way, a completely uneventful one. Nothing happened. Nonetheless, looking back now, that summer represented the beginning and the end of a lot of things and joining YEE will remain the event that changed the trajectory of the two following years.

In the past 24 months, I spent in YEE I went from volunteer to board member and was part of many projects, as well as the delegation to COP26.

From the team working skills and leadership opportunities I will always be grateful, but the most extraordinary thing for me was to watch YEE grow and change before me, and be a part of it all.

The beginning – long zoom calls and endless slack threads

I joined Youth and Environment Europe in August 2020, after seeing a friend post about it on social media. Being passionate about the environment and coming from months of isolation and little social contact with people who were not my immediate family, I immediately looked up the YEE website and applied the same day I saw the open call. The ripples that action would have in the following years weren’t apparent immediately, but joining the Advocacy Working Group as the Liaison Officer on Green Europe was instantly a great challenge.

When I joined, the AWG was a team of 5 to 7 volunteers who focused on specific areas of environmental protection and governance and supported YEE’s work in advocacy. Within my role, I supported the creation of relationships between YEE and other European-based networks working on environmental and climate questions. Overwhelmingly, however, the AWG was about teamwork and team building. As a part of one of the first initiatives to enlarge the YEE team, we worked on a series of projects together, getting to know each other through long zoom calls and endless slack threads.

At the beginning of the zoom era, we organised countless webinars and tried to create a space from young people for young people to learn more about the climate crisis and engage with people their age from across the continent.

To summarise it in a word, it gave me hope.

Seeing and getting to know so many people my age who – while feeling the same anxiety and fear for the future awaiting us – kept fighting and coming up with innovative ideas to bring the movement forward made me hopeful and gave me strength.

In my first year at YEE, I learned a lot about communicating with your team and relying on one another as well as focusing on our strengths. It was thanks to projects such as Climate of Change, a series of 4 webinars that the team co-led and co-organised, as well as being a part of the Board of Generation Climate Europe and understanding the works of a coalition and getting to know other remarkable young people in the continent. As we all came from different backgrounds and had different needs and availability, I also saw that the “youth” that politicians refer to as a single and homogenous body of people is much more diverse – and more resourceful – than what most expect.

The board – building bridges with European organisations

Moving from the Advocacy Working Group to the Board, a year after I first joined, was a very meaningful transition. The YEE Board is a team composed of volunteers representing its member organisations and acting as part of the leadership of the organisation. Within my role as External Relations Officer, I kept working around similar themes as I did as a Liaison Officer, continuing to build bridges with European organisations and enlarging the scope of our network.

Being part of the leadership team, however, gave me another set of skills and experiences which are extremely valuable. Going from being part of the advocacy working group to the advocacy team, and helping manage the AWG helped me understand the work of our staff members better and the technical processes that keep the organisation afloat.

I valued the opportunity to represent YEE in different forums and work with yet another team, through the Board. It also allowed me to ask bigger questions: what is the role of an organisation like Youth and Environment Europe? What clear and direct impact do we want to have? How do we want to see our organisation grow, in 6 months, or 5 years after we’ve left it? It helped me question whether all partnerships are good partnerships, prioritise our next steps and draw a big picture made of many small details. A purposeful dive into a lot of things I was never great at, making me try my best for something greater than just me.

The growth – adapting to change

While these experiences and the personal growth I was able to gain from them are countless, the most memorable thing for me has been watching the organisation grow, take up more space and roles within the European youth environmental movement and represent more and more voices. From sending a delegation to COP26 to developing a funded environmental law program to hiring more staff members for its growing needs, YEE has demonstrated its ability to adapt to change and keep producing quality content.

The advocacy working group has grown too, by adding more portfolios, such as that of energy. New people meant new ideas and a larger scope. Being part of this crucial moment in YEE’s history is and will continue to be a privilege, as I am sure that from the sidelines I will continue to see it grow and change. With COVID no longer determining much of our interactions and travel I look forward to seeing before I leave, YEE adapts and changes to a world back to in-person events in Grenoble, France, and to conclude my experience with my first-ever in-person General Assembly.

Youth and Environment Europe gave me a lot: hope, skills, and so many people who I now call friends. Now, I look forward to seeing what it can give other young people and all the change it will certainly contribute to creating.

On my side, I am ready to take all that YEE gave me and build on those opportunities. Most of all, I am ready to dive into my future studies and adventures knowing that there is a lot out there for people my age to work on, achieve and be passionate about.