We interviewed Barbara Elia, head of the financial department of ALDA – European Association for Local Democracy.
• What does your association do? What is your mission?
ALDA is a non-governmental organization dedicated to promoting good governance and citizen participation at a local level. It therefore focuses on activities that facilitate cooperation between local authorities and civil society. It has been active in the European Union and in neighboring countries since 1999, coordinating 14 Local Democracy Agencies (born in the Balkans after the war) and 3 operational partners.
The activities of ALDA help to increase citizens’ understanding and sense of belonging to the European Union and stimulate intercultural dialogue and civic participation. This is done mainly through four main pillars: citizenship, culture, education and volunteering; social issues; empowerment and employment of young people; health and environment.
• How is ALDA hierarchically organized? How many people make up your staff?
The operational staff of ALDA consists of 25 people and the Governing Board of 15 people. The office of the Secretary General and the office in charge of the Europe area are based in Brussels; the development, administrative, financial, logistic and communication offices are located in Vicenza; then there are the Strasbourg office, mainly dedicated to the Mediterranean area (North Africa) and to relations with France, the office of Subotica (Serbia) which deals with the Balkan area and the Skopje office (Macedonia), a branch of ALDA.
• What makes you a centre of European excellence?
We are undoubtedly one of the most important stakeholders in the field of local democracy, active citizenship and cooperation between local authorities and civil society. We also have a very developed network throughout Europe.
• What kind of partners do you work with?
We collaborate with European institutions, local authorities, non-profit organizations.
• How long have you been welcoming trainees? In which areas? From which country have you welcomed so far?
For such a long time! I do not remember accurately but at least for 10 years.
So far we have welcomed many trainees, mainly Spaniards and Germans, in the administrative / financial area and also one in the communication office.
• Which are the tasks assigned to them? What can a trainee learn from you?
With regard to the financial / administrative department, the trainee usually joins the accounting colleague carrying out the following tasks: inserting and filing invoices, support in financial reporting of projects, accounting of banks, secretarial activities.
Here, a trainee can learn a lot: flexibility, autonomy, meeting deadlines, team work, multitasking. Fundamental skills that will then help him/her to juggle the world of work.
• How do you organize the placement and the “follow-up” of the trainee?
Usually the first day we provide the trainee with a general overview about who we are and what we do. Then he is trained by an expert colleague in the field and he/she is assigned the first simple tasks. Generally, there is always a supervisor and a couple of briefings are made too. We work single shift, with a short lunch break that most of the time the trainee spends in the office with other colleagues.
• How do the other colleagues react to the trainee? How do you get on with trainees from Europe?
Relationships with colleagues are always good and in some cases the trainees have offered input on certain topics that have proved to be interesting and useful for us. They are obviously a bit inexperienced as regards the organization of work, but they know how to use all the necessary IT tools very well. Overall, therefore, we have always had very positive experiences with European trainees. For young trainees in Vicenza the international and very informal environment of ALDA is often considered an incredible opportunity for personal and professional growth … in a funny context!
• Does your staff speak English? Do you think it is possible to organize traineeships only in English at your association?
We all speak English (also French and some Spanish), a fundamental language to communicate with our European colleagues and partners. It is therefore absolutely possible to organize traineeships only in English at our association.
• Tell us something funny that happened to you!
As I have already said, the experiences have always been positive, but one particularly impressed me. Last year, a trainee wrote for each of us a personalized phrase on a note that he then gave to us at the end of his traineeship. It was a very nice and appreciated gift!
Interview: Federica Perazzolo, Eurocultura