|Naturefriends talk: Henk Schaaf | President of NIVON (Naturefriends NL)|
On November 2016 Henk Schaaf took office as president of Naturefriends Netherlands. In our conversation, Henk talks about the reasons for his involvement with Naturefriends and his ideas for the future of the organisation.
What made you get involved with Naturefriends now?
Henk Schaaf: I was asked to be active in the Rotterdam division (1200 members) of NIVON Naturefriends. In no time I was elected as the local secretary and later I became vice-chairman. In our own NIVON center we have organised a lot of activities in the areas of nature and culture. For instance, there was a crowded festival at the ninety year anniversary of the Rotterdam NIVON section.
In an attempt to meet other members I visited a national assembly of all divisions. A member of the board who was responsible for communication retired and I mentioned that would be be interested in this function. Some months later I was elected as a member of the national board. Since then, we try to make NIVON more visible and known. Free publicity, presence on fairs, a restyled magazine, et cetera. But more important are the special campaigns: children free of charge as guests in our accommodations; vouchers to get a free midweek stay; actions to save energy and much more.
With a lot of diverse experience in journalism as well as in politics, you have an excellent basis for mastering the complex tasks as head of one of the largest Naturefriends’ organisations. What are your personal priorities for the next years?
Henk Schaaf: Thanks to my forty years of experience as a newspaper reporter and ministerial spokesman, it’s easy for me to approach the press or government authorities. So I could invite a prominent Dutch politician to make a key note speech at the NFI Congress in October 2017. And we had a conference at the Ministry of Social Affairs for getting financial support to organise short holidays for children of poor parents. Accepting the presidency I delivered my intentions: in the next few years I like to promote the international contacts, we will re-erect NIVON Young, we shall discuss great issues and take up a strong position.We don’t need to write new copious and detailed statements. No, we prefer executing concrete actions and preparing practical solutions. Our volunteers see the results. NIVON Naturefriends is in the winning mood now. We lost thousands of members in the last ten years. For half a year now we see an uplifting curve. A thousand members more! NIVON undergoes a revival.
In many countries, people still perceive Naturefriends mainly as a leisure-time and sports organisation. Political work is of different importance to the various national organisations. What are your ideas on Naturefriends' political work?
Henk Schaaf: NIVON was one of the members of the Fair and Green Deal and made a successful attempt that NFI members and NFI as an organisation should join. Some months ago, NIVON joined the National Energy Committee. This interest group presented a plan with proposals about a society without fossil materials and asked the Dutch parliament to adopt it,according to the ‘Paris’ agreement. First of all, NIVON is a friendly meeting place, a spot for adult and social education and recreation too. NIVON isn’t a political club, but many things we do, can have political meanings. In discussion and projects we want to make people aware about climate change, but also about peace problems, nuclear weapons and the future of a democratic world. Our core values are: “NIVON = honest, green, social and tolerant”. We share the ideal of a society based on freedom, justice and solidarity, democratic socialism. Is that political or not?
With more than 350,000 individual members, the international Naturefriends network is one of the largest NGOs worldwide. A common understanding of our core values, such as solidarity and global justice, unities our network, but it is a difficult task to fill these values with life and make them perceivable for the single member. In your opinion, how can these challenges be met in the future years?
Henk Schaaf: As I said: be aware, discuss, be active on many platforms. Be a part of national and international initiatives in the field of durability. Writing a declaration of principles every three years is nice to the inner circle, but not interesting to the outer world. My advice is: be practical. Then the members will understand what we’re doing, because the approach is recognizable and not theoretical.
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