"In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity," read the slide of Sanjeev Kumar, quoting Einstein during his guest lecture at a recent EU Academy two-day course. Seizing opportunity, it would become clear, was the theme of this season's workshop, scheduled amidst a global pandemic. Masks were on. Hands were slick with sanitizer. Participants were sat in neat, socially-distanced rows. Still, we showed up, ready to learn under extraordinary circumstances. Introductions revealed that some of us had arrived without clear expectations. I was neither sure of what I was hoping to learn, nor confident that I had sufficient background in EU institutions to make sense of the presentations. Thankfully, our trainers Marc-Olivier Herman and Joost Mulder, were flexible and dynamic, able to zoom in and out of specificity and adjusting to our understanding. Although many people had more experience than me, the workshop met our diverse needs, and we all walked away with new insights on how to succeed in our work. This program was my first practical introduction to lobbying for the public interest. My academic background is in human rights and humanitarian action, and I've spent the years between and after my studies working for a couple of dedicated but small civil society organizations. In nearly all of my positions, my colleagues and I would pour enormous energy into various policy reports and proposals that I suspect were read by only a handful of people. Sometimes we would write open letters or public appeals, but we'd publish them without precise ideas about when or to whom we should draw attention to our findings. The lessons from the EU Academy were enormously helpful, therefore, by teaching why advocates need to monitor developments and engage with policymakers during the entire EU policy cycle. The detailed information about advocacy opportunities within different EU institutions– how to wield your influence within them and spend your resources at strategic moments in the policy cycle – was an inspiring roadmap for making my organisation's voice heard at the EU-level. To absorb the detailed information about institutional structures, policy cycles, pressure points, coalition building, and communication strategies, we spent the afternoon of the second day in a multi-stage simulation, competing in small groups to influence policymakers to act in the public interest. The hands-on activity was a great way to integrate all of the information we had been exposed to from the previous two days while also having fun. I left the workshop feeling confident that I had gained practical tools and a theoretical understanding of why they worked and how to apply them strategically. I spent two days with capable, dedicated people who work every day to fight for the public interest. Now, I'm well on my way to having the skills to join them in making a difference.
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