In 1675, Isaac Newton wrote the following note to a fellow scientist: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Today, Newton’s words are used as a metaphor, describing that the knowledge and understanding gained by those who have gone before us provides the foundation for our own progress. Building on prior work doesn’t make our own achievements less valuable, but encourages creativity, innovation, and development to take effect. It is with these thoughts in mind that I assume the responsibility as chairwoman of the ESA Executive Committee, thanking all members and the committee for their trust.
I had just moved back to Europe, when I attended my first Annual General Meeting (AGM) in 2013. With a background in journalism and a degree in organizational psychology, I was truly alien to almost everyone attending. I survived because Silvia Gil, then with SGL Germany, took me under her wing and showed me the ropes. In 2016, with only a little more experience under my belt, I was approached to become a member of the ESA Executive Committee. Because of Mark Neal’s apparent commitment to a progressive and learning organization, I signed on.
Looking back over the past few years, I feel that we have made great progress in growing up as an organization and in becoming more professional. Our key issue remains our appeal to current and potential members—our added value if you wish. Opinions on our effectiveness to actually add said value are as numerous as our members themselves. In early 2019 we gathered nearly 30 ideas for organizational growth, five of which emerged with the strongest merit to the members and the organization as a whole:
- engage young minds
- build platforms to share our knowledge
- create a more interactive AGM
- accelerate divisional topics
- develop environmental conscious initiatives
I am happy to report, that COVID-19 didn’t slow down our effort to create an ESA Knowledge-Base, where our wide-ranging expertise is easily accessible, nor our attempt to establish a full-time technical director to support divisional topics. Fortunately, this position is now competently filled by Ralf Vogel.
We have taken deliberate steps to shake the image of being an “old boy network”. Although younger members attending an ESA meeting for the first time might still feel as alien as I did in 2013, we are successful in seeking and encouraging participation from new and unexperienced members and attendees. For this effort to flourish, we desperately need:
the commitment from seasoned members to draw in those who will be the future leaders of our industry; to develop more creative and innovative programs that will continuously engage these young minds, and an enthusiastic “next generation” that’s willing to step up to the plate.
Interactive formats gained momentum at the AGM in Lisbon in 2019. The Plastic Pollution Project is a result that emerged from one of the collaborative workshops there and from our aim to take the responsibility of environmental issues seriously. To keep this momentum going, we need support and input from all our members.
We are an organization that thrives on personal interaction and networking opportunities. During this past AGM, held online on October 21, 2020, we could provide very little of that genuine spirit. But as an organization, we can’t ignore current events. Covid-19 has a solid grip on our everyday lives. Initially, we may have hoped that it would not affect Europe, our home countries or our families to this extent. However, as reality sets in, lock-downs and restrictions tighten, we come to understand that this “new normal” is not just passing through. We can’t say for certain, what the future holds, nor can we be sure that a vaccine will fulfill our hopes for a swift return to normality.
Due to the pandemic, some of our plans were put on hold as well. Yet, we entered these extraordinary times with great ideas and real results for positive growth. I’m confident that next spring, we’ll pick up the speed right where we left off.
Simone Wilson, Chairwoman, ESA