Veerle Joosen

Student Veerle Joosen is Youth Participation Promotion Officer

Character 7min. Sara Terburg

Veerle Joosen (21) is not at all into commerce. “Being a boss and driving a posh car, that just isn’t me.” She wants to do something useful in her future career. “To me that feels like taking responsibility. I want to contribute to society with my work.” In the public sector, where she works part-time, she sees plenty of opportunities to do so. “If I can solve problems and make people happy, I feel useful and contented.”

Text: Sara Terburg; portrait photo: Erik van der Burgt; other photos: Jules van Iperen

Veerle did an internship from October to December 2020 at the City of Waalwijk, conducting research into youth participation. Her most important recommendation, starting a youth ambassadors program, was positively received. It got her a side job, too: eight hours a week, she is the Youth Participation Promotion Officer. She set up and coordinates the program and selected the ambassadors.

At an early age

Veerle, a Bachelor’s student of Public Governance, was born and raised in the Central Brabant village of Waspik in the municipality of Waalwijk. At the moment (middle of May 2021), she is busy finalizing her Bachelor’s thesis at Tilburg Law School. Being mindful of her direct environment is something that she was taught from an early age. “I was brought up to care for nature. My dad likes to go bird-watching and my mom is an avid gardener.”

Young people know what they want

Great impact of Covid-19 on young people

She applied for an internship with the City of Waalwijk because she firmly believes in the importance of youth participation. “Adults who make youth policy think like adults. Young people know very well what they want. Therefore it is important to involve them in the dialogue.” This is particularly important at this time, corona time. “The impact on young people is great. We should bear that in mind. Fortunately, increasingly many municipalities do so.” One of the City of Waalwijk’s ambitions is structural attention for youth participation. Veerle’s internship was about the question of how this could be done effectively. “I explored the ways in which youth participation was organized in Den Bosch and The Hague and what the municipalities in the region around Waalwijk were doing. I have also conducted interviews with residents of Waalwijk, with active and non-active young people. One of them has become a youth ambassador this year.”  

 Glad they took my advice

Her advisory report met with enthusiasm from policy-makers as well as the alderman responsible. Yet, she surprised that she actually got to execute her own policy. “My advice was to have a municipal executive lead the youth ambassadors program, someone with an affinity for young people. I was thrilled that they adopted my recommendations and even more when they asked me to set up the program as well!”

Heads brimming with ideas

Youth Participation Promotion Officer

Since her start as a Youth Participation Promotion Officer in the middle of January, she has achieved a lot. “The youth ambassadors are really enthusiastic. In the beginning, they were unsure what was expected from them. They wanted to do a lot and their heads are brimming with ideas.” This resulted in various working groups that discussed subjects like safety, education, poverty, culture, inclusiveness, and sustainability. She gives an example: “The municipality is drafting a local prevention agreement. It was the youth ambassadors’ task to get a clear picture of what actions would have to be included to increase the health and safety of young people.” The ambassadors talk to different youngsters to collect a broad variety of opinions. “For instance, the education working group has observed that, for many young people, the transition from primary to secondary education is difficult. So this group is committed to addressing this issue. The ambassadors do what they are good at: some do field research, others write recommendations, others still want to be involved in executing policy.”

Veerle Joosen Jongerenparticipatie

I want to see the local government in action

Veerle Joosen

Political party member

Veerle is active herself as well, as a party assistant at the local political party GroenLinksaf. “At university, I learn a lot about international governance, but I also took the Comparative Local Governance course. I am active because I want to see the local government in action.” Applying at the party office was scary. “I was afraid I would not be able to handle the work, but they were excited that such a young person applied.” In the meantime, she has become quite skilled at her work. “I write news stories and content for the social media and keep the website up-to-date. When I see all the things I am doing now, I can say I have really grown in my work.”

Academic skills

Her studies have largely contributed to this self-confidence. “I have developed my personal and academic skills. I learned to think critically and discovered what I'm good at.” One course that she found really interesting is History of Government and Public Institutions. “A fascinating course, taught by Inge Van Hulle. She took us on a journey through the history of various kingdoms and the Roman Empire, for example, and showed how these institutions came about and how they operated.” She opted for the Bachelor of Public Governance because, from a young age, she has felt connected to the world around her. “News about problems in the world affect me. The urge to get involved, to make something better, something small or large, is getting increasingly stronger.” The public sector is a good place to start. “It’s where decisions are made that really impact society. Moreover, I find political and social relations and power relations immensely interesting.”  

The urge to get involved is getting increasingly stronger

Another gap year

After her Bachelor, she is going to take a gap year. “My plan to go traveling fell through, as a result of corona. It doesn’t feel right. So I am exploring different activities. In any case, I want to gain work experience and figure out what I want to specialize in and through what Master's degree.” She is not sure whether she will be taking a Tilburg University Master’s program. “I find Global Sustainability Governance really interesting, but human rights and philosophy as well.” After she had completed her pre-university education, she also opted for a gap year. “The number of programs available to me was huge. If I had not taken that gap year, I might have chosen a completely different program. Whereas Public Governance is the thing for me.” In this year, she lived on Hawaii for a while. “I took an English course; I wanted something to supplement the Cambridge English course I took in high school.” This period brought her a lot. “I learned to become more self-reliant. I know that I can look after myself. Moreover, I had a great time, exploring the island, getting to see the mountains, the sea, the jungle. It’s a beautiful place.”

Knowledge, skills, and character

In the Tilburg Educational Profile, knowledge, skills, and character are central. Veerle can point out these three aspects in her studies and development. “The literature from my studies, on the CLEAR model and policy transfer, were really useful during my internship. With the CLEAR model, you can determine how a target group can participate and the theory on policy transfer shows the importance of including the local context.” In recent years, she has gained a lot of experience with academic writing, a skill which came in handy when writing the advisory report to conclude her internship. “For me, skills also involve the competencies that I continue to develop during my internship and now in my side job: organizing and leading brainstorm sessions, collaborating with young people and supervising the youth ambassadors, but also presenting and conducting interviews.”

Veerle Joosen Jongerenparticipatie

I have long avoided being in the spotlight like that

Veerle Joosen

Presenting her advisory report to the Municipal Executive went well. “I have long avoided being in the spotlight like that. I always delegated presentations to fellow group members. But I did want to learn, so at one point, I just did it. It continues to be stressful, but still I’m OK in front of a crowd.” One of her personal internship goals was becoming more self-reliant. “That was successful. I had to think of an approach, make a schedule, and set up the program. Sometimes that was difficult, but I handled it well and I found it a very instructive period.” Where she will be in ten years’ time? “I’m in a quandary. A high position, good career, and hard work do appeal to me. But on the other hand, I like peace and quiet. Part of me prefers to be in a nature environment.” However things may turn out in the end, at the moment she is fully committed to self-development. “I’m a sensitive person. In a public environment, that can be an asset, as long as you are in control of your sensitivity. I’m working on that. I do sports, I have an allotment, and I try to meditate every evening.”

The benefit of internships

An internship is a regular component of the Public Governance Bachelor. “Because of corona, it was more difficult to do an internship. Some students opted for the alternative of taking an additional course. I’m glad I decided to do the internship, even though I did not work in the office at the town hall very much in those three months. An internship gives you the opportunity to build a network outside the university and for me it even resulted in a side job!”