We are nearing the end of this strange and special year, 2020. Time to reflect on the status quo. 20 people with links to Ghent University were selected at random. They tell us what 2020 meant to them, what they will carry over to next year and above all: what they hope for in 2021.
Kurt Boelens graduated from Ghent University in business psychology in 1987. After running an HR consultancy service for 30 years, he joined Oostkamp district council in April 2018, in charge of the cluster Life & Social. This switch was no coincidence. He had already been involved in the care sector, directing a number of organisations and with his strong social commitment, for the last 20 years. When Kurt realised he got more energy from his social directorships than his existing job, he chose a new job with significant social commitment.
What did 2020 mean to you?
“Huge challenges for the local council. When the Flemish or federal government took decisions that they were unable to roll out entirely, it was usually down to the local councils to find a solution. What do those decisions mean to us as a council and to citizens? What’s allowed and what isn’t? How should they be enforced? With each new change, we had to take action, support everyone involved and get people up and running. When the obligation to wear a mouth mask was first mentioned, there weren’t any mouth masks available. Fortunately, our district has a very ‘switched-on’ mayor, and we’d decided ahead of the government to purchase and distribute mouth masks among local residents. It was a mammoth task to arrange the distribution, but we managed.”
Who do you most admire at Ghent University?
“There are actually lots of famous people I admire, but I’m not sure which ones are from Ghent University (laughs). If I look at people in my discipline, two names spring to mind. Dirk Buyens is a prominent figure in the Belgian HR industry. He is currently decan at the Vlerick Business School, which is no surprise to me or his other fellow students. When we were students, Dirk was the man who often stood at the front of the class and literally left the professor scratching his head. He inspired me when reorganising the council’s internal procedures. By looking at what someone does well, you give people a desire to do their job and they are motivated to evolve along with the organisation. Secondly, I choose professor Frederik Anseel. Someone with a strong international reputation. These are two people who have the courage to innovate and stray from the well-trodden path in HR.”
Last year was like no other, but it was also filled with warmth. We supported each other and shared in each other’s ups and downs. Now this is your chance to thank everyone who was there for you. Not in the usual way, but with a virtual projection of your best wishes onto the Book Tower.
What did you personally accomplish this year?
“I get energy from the social role I am now playing. In that way, 2020 was a fantastic year, however crazy it may sound. As a local council, we have been able to do an incredible amount to support the local population. When you are successful it gives you a tremendous sense of satisfaction. And from a non-professional perspective: I became a grandfather for the second time in April. When we were allowed to form a small bubble three weeks later, the decision was easy. I was finally able to cuddle my grandson (laughs). It’s only when it’s not allowed that you realise how upsetting it is.”
Of which accomplishment are you most proud?
“The greatest challenge lay in responding rapidly and repeatedly to the latest rules and regulations. A recent example: on Friday, the government said that swimming pools could re-open on Tuesday. This was achieved thanks to motivated employees who were already busy preparing the pool on Saturday morning. You can only act that quickly when you get people involved and explain things properly.”
What will you carry over to 2021?
“After the lockdown we very soon launched the platform 'Oostkamp helpt' (Oostkamp helps), which we used to activate a whole team of volunteers. We noticed people’s tremendous solidarity. These days, we live in a very individualistic society. However, in times of crisis, you see a wave of solidarity, and, as a council, we encouraged and structured this using the platform. It gave existing volunteer activity a real boost. Our greetings cards activity for residential care centres was adopted by clubs, local associations and individuals. I think this solidarity movement, along with volunteer work to help in resolving local needs, is a real achievement. I hope that we will continue to enjoy this support for many years to come.”
What do you hope for in 2021?
“I am really sociable (laughs). So I hope that we’ll be able to have more contact with family and friends, without the screen, next year in the ‘new normal’. I have two brothers. I saw one of them ‘live’ in September, and I haven’t seen the other since March. That is unbelievable! I also hope that we hold onto the benefits of the year’s enforced changes in 2021. Such as the advantages of online activity: working from home, no unnecessary travel, not all stuck in traffic at the same time …”
Imagine you could return to 1 January 2020. What would you do?
“I’m not someone that reflects on the past, I’m more of a positive and optimistic person living in the here and now. If we’d known at the council what was coming before it happened, then we might have reacted more quickly and efficiently at times. But anyway, given the context I think we can be proud of what we did.”
What do you wish other people at Ghent University in 2021?
“Be happy with what you have and realise that things can be just as good with less. That’s one of the debacles in our society: everyone wants more, or to beat their neighbours, we cram our children’s diaries full, … Which means it ends up being too much. Less is more, an important message to remember when bringing up children and from a social perspective.”
20 people with links to Ghent University were selected at random. They tell us what 2020 meant to them, what they will carry over to next year and above all: what they hope for in 2021.