Gavin McAlister, community projects officer at Your Housing Group, took part in the Young Core Leaders of Civil Society programme earlier this year. He reflects on his experience and why you should apply this year.
For 15 days spanning February and March this year I was privileged to be a part of the UK delegation to the Young Core Leaders of Civil Society programme in Japan, an international exchange facilitated by NCVO.
This is the 14th year in which the exchange has been held and it brought together staff from the voluntary and community sectors in Japan, UK, Austria and Germany to share best practice, and learn from experiences in each country. This year’s focus was on improving recruitment and retention to voluntary and low-paid posts in the sector in Japan, which faces the twin-challenges of an aging population and a less established culture of volunteerism.
Less sightseeing, more hard work
Open to young(ish) delegates (aged 23-40) the program aimed to bring our energy and expertise to bear on the challenges facing the sector in Japan, but by the end of a extremely enjoyable but challenging two weeks, a few of us weren’t feeling particularly youthful! Those two weeks are among the hardest I have worked in my life, but the hectic schedule and jetlag were made easier to cope with due to the warmth of the Japanese welcome and camaraderie among the delegates.
Based in Tokyo for the first week we combined seminars, institutional visits and meetings with Japanese Government officials, with occasional sightseeing when the schedule allowed. As packed days blended into one another and our jetlag stubbornly refused to budge, we were dispatched to the National Youth Centre for what proved to be the toughest assignment of the trip.
‘The Apprentice with sleep deprivation’
The NPO (non-profit organisation) Management Forum is regularly cited as the most challenging element of the exchange, and ours was to be no exception. Over three days delegates from the four countries had to work round the clock to produce a presentation and report for the Japanese Cabinet Office – think The Apprentice with added sleep deprivation and a language barrier thrown-in and you’re getting close. Through a combination of team work and blind panic we got there in the end though, and coming through the experience unscathed demonstrated that the group was ready for anything.
Week two saw us split into three groups based on our specialisms of working with older people, disabled people or youth, and dispatched to Kagoshima, Wakayama and Oita respectively to take part in the local program. Here the workload was balanced with more interaction with our Japanese hosts and we had the opportunity to dip into local culture, with the onsen (public baths filled by natural hot springs) being a particular favourite. After a night spent with a Japanese host family it was time to return to Tokyo for the closing formalities and before we knew it we were on the flight back to Heathrow from an experience we will never forget.
We’re brimming with new ideas
There was so much crammed into the two weeks we spent in Japan that we are still digesting what we’ve learned, but I know that I speak for everyone in saying that we and our organisations have benefitted hugely from the opportunity. Each of us returns from the exchange reinvigorated by the experience, proud of the work done by our sector and brimming with new ideas for the future.
We owe a massive thanks to the Japanese Cabinet Office, the Center for International Exchange, and to NCVO for providing us with this opportunity. The program is running again this year, and I’d advice anyone considering applying to go for it, as it is a genuinely life-changing experience.
Arigatou gozaimasu (Thank you)
NCVO now welcomes applications for this year’s programme. If you are between 23 and 40 years old and have at least three years’ experience in social activities involving elderly people, disabled people or youth, please contact Daniela Wulf or Kimberly McIntosh for more information.