I spent the day last Wednesday being shadowed by a young man called Michael, as a participant of JA Europe’s Leaders for a Day programme. The concept is that a young aspiring entrepreneur follows a leader for a full day and tries to benefit from the experience by taking in as much valuable information and mentorship as possible.
JA Europe, who runs the programme, is Europe’s largest provider of education programmes for entrepreneurship, work readiness and financial literacy. This year, participants included but were not limited to a European Commissioner, Members of Parliament, and C-level executives from some of the biggest corporations in the world.
Most daunting was my realisation that our role as the leaders of the day, was not to be passive and let the young entrepreneur ask about everything that was in their interest. Our responsibility was rather to spend the day doing as much as possible to help make this youth, a leader of tomorrow. The protagonists as such were not the leaders, but the young, eager minds.
It was my second time participating, so I planned my day a little differently to last year, where my day was non-stop pressure, meetings, and chairing a panel at a conference on the Digital Single Market.
This year, I wanted Michael to benefit from the things that Brussels has to offer as the centre of European Union politics. We started the day in the office and had a long talk getting to know one another. Michael’s driving force, like most people at the age of 18, is a generic thirst for success. My job was not to focus his attention to a specific sector or approach to attaining success, but instead to make him aware that he will need to find his path and make all the necessary effort to follow it to the top.
An hour later we met with one of New Europe’s reporters, Irene Kostaki, who talked to Michael about the life of a journalist. The unpredictable and long hours, the importance of the human interaction element, and the need to be diligent in finding reliable sources of information before you synthesise all the information through the art of storytelling.
The next stop was the press room of the European Commission headquarters, where we watched Vice-President Jyrki Katainen talk about putting up defences for the EU’s trade. While it would have been interesting for Michael to experience the Off the record technical briefing that ensued, we followed the rules which dictate only accredited journalists can be in the room and left for lunch.
We had lunch with a policy advisor in the European Parliament, and spent most of the time talking about the merits of Estonias E-residency, and the tax regime there (a flat 20% for corporations, and a most interesting provision that allows companies to pay ZERO tax for money that is not taken out of the company!)
After eating a fabulous large steak cooked to perfection at Arion Restaurant, we made a quick stop at the office and left for the European Parliament. The Parliament is a like an amusement park for anyone involved in EU politics or policy. We crossed paths with countless heavy hitters, including HRVP Federica Mogherini, before we found our way to the first of two events we would catch a glimpse of Together – A new direction for a progressive Europe – Stand up for our future! The event, organised by the Socialists and Democrats, was packed beyond expectation. Next stop, was a panel discussion on terrorism, this time, organised by the European People’s Party. It was important that Michael be exposed to varying political perspectives. The discussion on terrorism was very interesting, but as I sat next to Michael, I wondered what messages he was receiving and internalising from the speakers. With the surge of populism in Europe, I wondered whether the messages of the speakers – which were for the most part sound, coherent, and tackled the very real problem of security in our societies – were being listened to in their entirety, or in emotional snippets. The time was now 6:30pm and we were already late for the JA cocktail that would end the day, finding all leaders and youths in the room. It was wonderful to see all these people smiling, the leaders feeling the had accomplished to forge a connection and change the life of another human being, and the young entrepreneurs, overwhelmed and largely in disbelief at what the real world looked like from the top.
It’s not as easy as they thought, but the one thing they all now know for certain, is that they too have the tools to one day get there.