Before coming to the Brandt School, I worked for eight years at the Central European University in Budapest. I find topics on development and social and labour market policies fascinating. My normative trigger is to find out how to eradicate atrocious forms of poverty and exorbitant levels of socio-economic inequality.
There are many reasons why I came to the Brandt School. First, and arguably foremost, the Brandt School has one of the most diverse student bodies I have ever seen. Having students from all cardinal points of this globe means not only inspiring conversations at lunchtime; it also means challenging your own ideas constantly. I think it is an underappreciated fact in the ‘West’ that people, countries and world regions mutually learn from each other. Instead, the typical assumption is that rich countries show poor countries the way ‘how it is done’. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ancient Mexican farmers gave us the basic genetics of the tomato, the chili, the vanilla bean. There is a serious argument that the Prussian, aka Weberian, model of public administration – the core and the pride of German efficiency – is actually a copy of Chinese administrative traditions, smuggled to Europe by Jesuit monks. Learning happens in all directions and the Brandt School is the place for this kind of experience.
I see the Brandt School as a ‘petri dish’ for new ideas on conflict, entrepreneurship, development and international and global public policy. Rather than having big principled (and quite frankly ideological) discussions of whether it is markets, states, local municipalities or NGOs that should engender change, we look at what works under what circumstances and why. In this sense, we are both pragmatic and more than interdisciplinary. We not only give different perspectives on a policy problem separately (e.g. the economic, political science, or sociological perspectives). Rather, we look at the combined and simultaneous influence of all these dimensions. For instance, we look at how the social and cultural embeddedness of markets makes people sometimes do the opposite of what simple economic theories would tell us. Or we learn how politics and economics need to be combined to understand why often seemingly sensible reforms backfire spectacularly.
The Brandt School also bridges theory and practice, but not in the sense of ivory tower academics who need to be grounded by practitioners. That’s a myth. Forcing academics and practitioners to talk to each other is all about cross-fertilization and challenging professional deficiencies. Academics very often develop and test theories that are irrelevant, too abstract or too simplistic. Practitioners often use and apply biased theories of the world without even realizing this. The Brandt School forces us to rethink our intellectual priors and to really find out what works why and when.
Finally, the Brandt School attracted me because it is small and flexible. We like to think of it as a ‘boutique’ institution that perhaps offers a less comprehensive list of courses and activities than larger policy schools, but that offers great courses, taught in innovative ways. Being small also means that the Brandt School maintains an intimate flair, where students, faculty and staff know each other. Last, but not least, the Brandt School is located in the beautiful city of Erfurt with its medieval charm and excellent modern infrastructure. Through the ages, Erfurt has served as a hub between East and West, North and South. That’s why it suits the Brandt School so well.