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Leadership lesson with Stephanie Ghislain, Political Affairs Manager at Eurogroup for Animals

How did you get into public affairs, and what initially drew you into that field?

I stumbled into public affairs quite unexpectedly. My career started in the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, mainly focusing on security and defence under the previous Belgian presidency. However, during a period of political instability in Belgium, I found myself seeking alternative employment.

Through a series of fortuitous events, I landed a position in a consultancy specialising in EU-Asia affairs, which was one of my key interests when I was studying, and ended up delving deep into trade policy over six years. This hands-on experience shaped my understanding of public affairs, emphasising its importance and intrigue, ultimately leading me to specialise in trade policy advocacy.

Why did you make the move to NGO, and what have you learned from it?

Early in my career, I recognised a profound desire to work for a cause that resonated with my values. After gaining invaluable experience in the private sector, particularly within trade policy, I felt compelled to redirect my efforts towards a more purpose-driven path. The opportunity to join an NGO focusing on animal welfare aligned perfectly with my values.

Transitioning to the NGO sector highlighted the competitive landscape and unique challenges within the nonprofit sphere. Yet, the intrinsic motivation derived from working towards meaningful change outweighed any challenges, reinforcing my belief in the transformative power of purpose-driven work.

How do you see the role of public affairs evolving?

The evolving landscape of public affairs is characterised by a shift towards strategic advocacy and increased collaboration. Traditionally, public affairs focused on technical expertise and lobbying efforts. However, as societal dynamics change, organisations must adapt by embracing advocacy strategies that resonate with broader audiences. This includes leveraging digital platforms, grassroots movements, and coalition-building to amplify their impact. Furthermore, with political polarisation on the rise, navigating diverse political landscapes and engaging with stakeholders across the ideological spectrum has become imperative for effective advocacy.

What key quality does public affairs leadership need today?

In today's complex and interconnected world, effective public affairs leadership necessitates a balance between inspiration and expertise. While inspirational leadership motivates and rallies support, it must be complemented by substantive knowledge and expertise. Leaders must adeptly navigate the intersection of passion and pragmatism, ensuring that advocacy efforts are both compelling and well-informed. Additionally, the ability to communicate complex issues clearly and engage stakeholders across diverse backgrounds is paramount in driving impactful change.

What do you think leaders can do to drive diversity and inclusion within the public affairs industry in Brussels?

Promoting diversity and inclusion within the public affairs industry requires proactive measures, starting with hiring and mentoring practices. Leaders must actively seek out diverse talent and create inclusive environments where individuals from varied backgrounds feel valued and empowered. Mentorship programmes that foster professional growth and provide opportunities for underrepresented voices to thrive are essential. Additionally, promoting diversity in thought and perspective ensures that advocacy efforts reflect the richness of diverse experiences and viewpoints.

How do you think AI will impact the public affairs industry? What benefits do you predict, and what concerns or challenges do you foresee?

The advent of AI presents both opportunities and challenges for the public affairs industry. AI has the potential to enhance efficiency and effectiveness in tasks such as data analysis, monitoring legislative developments, and campaign targeting. However, concerns arise regarding AI's role in generating deepfake content, which could undermine the integrity of public discourse and pose reputational risks. Additionally, ensuring transparency and mitigating bias in AI algorithms are both critical to harnessing its benefits responsibly.

How do you expect the European elections will impact your role?

The upcoming European elections are poised to influence advocacy strategies and political dynamics significantly. While the core mission remains unchanged, shifts in political landscapes may necessitate adaptive approaches to engagement and coalition-building. As political ideologies evolve, maintaining coherence in advocacy efforts while engaging with diverse stakeholders becomes increasingly complex. Moreover, post-election dynamics may require heightened scrutiny of political actors and strategic alignment with broader civil society movements to advance advocacy goals effectively.

Posted on 07.05.2024

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