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YPARD and Me: A Fairy Tale and a Timeline

Machteld Schoolenberg was the first YPARD Web4Knowledge intern in 2011. Since then, her involvement with YPARD activities has incredibly evolved. At the occasion of YPARD 10 years celebrations, Machteld's story is a powerful means to show why and how much YPARD's work is relevant to its community of young professionals in agricultural development.

It’s ten years of YPARD, but for me, the five years I have engaged with YPARD makes for a nice fairy tale, an interesting time line and some take home insights.

Why YPARD and me are a match

Once upon a time there was a young girl who returned to the big city after finishing her masters in a small town. She traveled to far and exotic places and was more than ready and very eager to take her next steps into a professional career!

..thing is, she realized, the day you finish your studies is the first day of a growing gap in your resume. And although scanning through websites for vacancies and working with the odd job on the side was not so bad in the beginning, it wasn’t really how the girl had envisioned her future either.

Something had to be done! 

“I can’t just sit here waiting for jobs and a network to be handed to me on a golden platter!” she said, and went to the Wizard of Google for help: “Please, tell me how to find a network I want to be part of and how to find all those vacancies without scanning websites by hand. There has to be an easier way?”. And from that point onwards, the ball started rolling: from setting up Twitter and LinkedIn, to creating a custom-made Tweetdeck to meet her wishes.

“Now the second step”, the girl said, “is to get involved with an inspiring organization to keep my resume from being empty and keep myself from being bored, while still reserving time for earning my rent and applying for jobs”. And it started with this:

From egg to birds nest

It was a perfect match. In the following years, YPARD learned how to turn the little tweet birdie to rock like an eagle as thus:

  • in 2011, I cracked my egg as the first YPARD Web4Knowledge Intern : disseminating the YPARD news and opportunities on Social Media and the website, learning how to use Wordpress, Drupal, how to fine-tune RSS filters and how to write good web texts with the guidance of my YPARD big sister and friend Marina!
  • in 2012, I learned how to fly, as YPARD social reporter at the GCARD2 conference: writing blogs, live tweeting, and most important meeting other little birds with different feathers and shapes to learn from each other. Read my GCARD2 blogs: number 1, number 2, number 3 and number 4. (and I wrote a YPARD blog on ‘serious gaming’.)
  • In August 2014, I started the YPARD Netherlands chapter. Since the start in 2014, I've learned the value of active members, organized seminars with interesting partners and attended hot debates on food security, the future of youth in rural areas etc. And some challenges remain: How do I juggle time between YPARD and my job? How do I keep members active? Which organizations to link up with? How do I add value to what’s happening on youth & agri in the Netherlands and not duplicate what other organizations are doing? Definitely things to discuss with the other YPARD country reps.
  • In June 2014, I represented YPARD in the youth session at the Land, Lives, Peace conference in Caux, Switserland; read more.
  • In Dec. 2014, I was part of a expert panel tweeting for the International Year of Soils.
  • In 2015, 27th International Leadership Workshop for Rural Youth in Herrsching taught me about leadership styles, negotiation techniques, conflict resolution, and proved a new  moment to meet others. Others who are struggling with similar issues, with different issues but for the same causes and who have become new friends.
  • In Dec. 2015, I participated in the Global Landscapes Forum mentoring program. I was linked to a mentor (a senior researcher in my field) for the period of the conference, which had three main benefits: 1) I already had an opening to meet one senior in my field; 2) He could introduce me to his network present at the conference; 3) it gave me an extra nudge to be super prepared: who did I want to meet, which sessions did I want to attend, what did I want to get out of the conference? And currently, my mentor and me are actually working together on a project because of our meeting at the Global Landscape Forum!

To sum up, I have and continue to reap the benefits of being part of YPARD. I received guidance during my internship, extended my skills through training and experience, attended conferences, found a network that suits me, followed webinars, and received mentorship. Having these opportunities at an early career stage is tremendously valuable for a Young professional. And now in 2016, I'm happy to ruffle up my feathers and celebrate 10 years of YPARD!!!

Learnings and ambitions

People are pretty complex beings and especially our generation is extremely connected and aware about different opportunities and choices. This at times creates room for dissatisfaction. Our ideal career is often to devote our time on different activities rather than on one job. For me, the combination of YPARD work and my professional job makes my career an interesting one.

Looking back at these five years, what I remember and value most are the people I have met and the friends I found through YPARD. That sounds very much like a cliché but also from a rational perspective this is true. You can teach yourself most skills through online courses, webinars, practice etc., but only if you are inspired enough to work hard, and if there are others investing their time in sharing that information.

The importance of YPARD's work is also in the political reality that youth are so often talked about, but rarely allowed to speak for themselves. In agriculture especially, the link between youth’s decreasing numbers in rural areas and agriculture in combination with big issues like growing food demands, the impact of climate change etc., the importance of youth being involved and recognized in the political debate is huge.

However, in the next coming years, I think there are a few things we can work on. For instance, we can increase the contact between countries representatives to learn from and support each other in how to reach out to youth in our countries;  work on a vision and brainstorm concrete ideas on how to better connect with other organizations; and more so, how to better ’harvest’ the skills and knowledge in our network. (I'm thinking: co-creation; reading tip: "We Think" by Charles W. Leadbeater)

The most striking achievement of YPARD these last years is the fact that although we have been setting up new activities in rapid pace and YPARD remained true to its core objectives. Seeing from where we were when I joined, it’s truly admirable how much YPARD has accomplished: a mentorship program, webinars, very well represented regions, a huge network with ever growing number of social media trainees and much more. There still is a lot of work to be done, but I am confident we will get there! 

Celebrate YPARD 10 years with us; stay tuned at www.ypard.net/10years