When we celebrated the 5-year anniversary of the Maastricht University Green Office in 2015, we asked a group of Green Office (GO) Alumni to share what they did after their time at the GO and how the GO experience had supported them on their journeys. The following points illustrate how the GO experience helped them thrive in their life after graduation:
(1) Acting towards sustainability: Besides gaining a conceptual understanding of sustainability, the GO experienced empowered the alumni to go from learning why its important to effectively doing something about it: from awareness-raising campaigns and educational projects, over lobbying and multi-actor engagement processes, to business cases and strategic policies. Hopefully GO alumni will increasingly apply the change maker competencies they learn in a GO to advance sustainability in other organisations they’ll work for.
(2) Boosting professional development: Next to reading and writing academic papers, working on concrete change projects together with students, academics and staff helped the alumni develop valuable professional skills. Those skills included project management, facilitation, leadership, stakeholder engagement, time management and collaborative communication. The professional development opportunities offered through a GO are also documented by a 2014 study, showing that GO employees significantly improved their “analytical, professional, innovative, and interpersonal competencies as well as an international orientation and environmental expertise”.
(3) Bridging the gap from studies to employment: A 2012 McKinsey report on education suggested, a significant gap exists between the needs of employers and skills of graduates. Demonstrating at least 12 months work experience in the GO was a critical reason why GO alumni got hired. Instead of finishing their studies with little or no work experience, GO alumni had a strong piece of evidence in their CVs that they know how to go beyond theory and make things happen in practice.
(4) Starting a social enterprise: The experience of working in an entrepreneurial initiative was a springboard for some GO alumni to set-up rootAbility. By developing the first GO, we learnt how to see an unmet social need as an opportunity to create a solution ourselves. Many young people are disillusioned by the hierarchical, bureaucratic and purely profit-driven employers and believe that they can do it better. We hope that the GO experience will inspire more GO alumni to create more purposeful, self-organized and authentic organizations like rootAbility, to help address social/environmental challenges.
(5) Gaining access to the GO network: Whereas the network of GO alumni is still relatively lose, alumni also mentioned that many work opportunities are shared within this network. For instance, I received an internship, leading to my current research job through a former GO colleague.
(6) Supporting personal development: The time during and after university involves a personal journey of trying to find one’s own purpose in life, trying out new things and learning from mistakes. The alumni mentioned that working in the GO offered valuable support of like-minded peers to guide them on this journey, to learn more about themselves and what they want to do in life.
All these points should be important to consider when thinking about starting or joining a GO. You can also refer to them to convince your university why a GO is not just good for the sustainability of the institution, but also for educating their students to boost their employability and become effective change-makers for a sustainable future. So let’s get to work and show them what we’re capable of!
By Tim Strasser, Photo: Green Office Maastricht, Participants of 2015 GO Alumni event together with members of the GO