Emerging Arctic Leaders program: A great experience!

Each year the Arctic Frontiers conference organizers and Salt organize the Emerging Leaders program. Arctic Frontiers Emerging Leaders is an early carrier and mentoring program in the High North of Norway for young scientists and professionals with special interest in Arctic topics.

The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs offers financial support to the selected Dutch participant, as part of the Dutch Arctic strategy to promote research and international collaboration. This year Renno Hokwerda was selected. Renno Hokwerda works as policy officer for the Netherlands Polar Program. Following and managing polar research and developments is a core business of his. Held by the Dutch Research Council and five Ministries, the program’s key task is to fund state-of-the-art research and keep the field connected and informed.

As part of their participation in the program, the Dutch Emerging Leader is invited to write a small reflection on their experiences, in their own words. What follows are Renno Hokwerda´s thoughts and reflections from the 2020 Arctic Frontiers Emerging Leaders program:

©Renno Hokwerda

“Would you like to be the Dutch participant to the Arctic Emerging Leaders?”. ‘Well that can’t be true’ I thought, so I almost hovered the email into the spam box. Until I saw the sender: the Netherlands Arctic Centre, on behalf of the Netherlands Embassy to Norway and Iceland. Every year, thirty-odd young ‘leaders’ get the opportunity to travel through wintery Arctic Norway, on a tight schedule packed with lessons for life. I was the Dutch nominee. YES I WANT.

What a journey. Starting in Bodø, we travelled by bus and boat to Tromsø to attend the Arctic Frontiers conference. During the journey, we took part in discussions, group activities and there was an assignment. There was good food and equally good company. 32 strangers with 16 nationalities, locals and outsiders, extroverts and introverts.  

©Renno Hokwerda
Renno Hokwerda at Emerging Leaders Program

Bodø, 23 January, +2°C. We visited the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre of Arctic Norway where we attended lectures on safety and security. The hostility of the environment of the sea became apparent directly afterwards when we crossed Lofoten. At the end of the day, it was time for a skål! during the lovely Viking dinner.

Lofoten, 24 January, 0°C. After lectures on fisheries and aquaculture, we moved on to our assignment: create our shared Vision for the Arctic. To be presented to all diplomats at the conference in Tromsø. That was easier said than done. After hours of debating, we called it a day. Some of us decompressed in the sauna. Polar plunge included.

Lofoten, 25 January, -1°C. Due to the swell, we could not go out fishing. Instead, they got us installed on a RIB (rigid inflatable boat). A rib-breaking ride to the eagles was promised, and WOW, did they deliver that! Afterwards we checked in at the local theatre, where we presented our own Arctic career to each other.

Hurtigruten, 26 January, -5°C, wind chill -20°C. The last leg of the journey, yet we were not on our last legs. Preparations remained to be done, which meant that cruise time was homework time. Sorry tantalising sunrise, sorry mother-of-pearl clouds, sorry halo and scenery. The free afternoon in Tromsø was spent on resting and, once again, preparations. Except for few of us who, after the Emerging Leader reception and the opening ceremony of the conference, ended up in a minigolf tournament. The Netherlands won a gold medal.

Tromsø, 27 January, -3°C. The moment of truth. We presented an ‘Arctic Anonymous’ meeting to our special audience. Seven of us, representing seven nations, shared bright spots on the horizon. Then we got to our proposal: an Arctic Youth Council. To be in tandem with the Arctic Council, in order to make young voices heard. The presentation finished with a cartoon I made: All Arctic peoples holding up a ladder, on which a child screws in a new LED bulb in the sky. Precisely where Polaris sits. I was glad to focus on the cartoons; visuals are my way of leadership!

Cartoon on Arctic leaderschip
©Renno Hokwerda
Cartoon presented at Arctic Frontiers.

Tromsø, 28 January, -5°C. We checked-out, hugged farewell and parted one by one. But I stayed put. One week of backpacking through this stretched winter wonderland lay ahead. Skiing, hikes, a meet-up with a former teacher, and countless hours of riding the darkness. Enjoying the seabirds and waxwings, beautiful light conditions, fun company, storm and sleet and snow, and an appreciation of distance and isolation. I like this region. However, the weather was not my taste; too warm, close to boiling point (almost 0°C!). The only time I felt goosebumps was this one evening when green curtains had been dressing up the sky for hours. Suddenly, there was this explosion of colours. A dancing cloud of green, blue, pink and bright yellow: a crown above our head.  

The Emerging Leaders programme has given me a better appreciation of the North, but also of decision-making processes, different cultural understandings, Leadership and Leidenschaft. Hopefully, I can put these experiences to good use at my position at the Netherlands Polar Programme. Many thanks to the Embassy of the Netherlands in Oslo, Foreign Affairs, the Arctic Centre in Groningen (our own Dutch “High North”) and NWO Dutch Research Council. Also my sincere and warm gratitude to the organisers of this programme and the thirty participants that made this such a warm plunge. Tusen takk!

©Renno Hokwerda
The light in the north is a bless: from the aurora borealis and stratospheric clouds (mother-of-pearl) to late sunrises and stunning reflections of the sun.
Group picture - Arctic Emerging Leaders program
©Renno Hokwerda
Group picture