By Hannes Tordengren
Some summers are meant to be special. From that sunny evening in the mountains around the Carpathians when I proposed to my girlfriend in the summer of 2014, and from that dark November night in Stockholm, when I was told that I had been chosen as one of the Wallenberg Fellows, I realized that the summer of 2015 would be special. The spring required preparations for my upcoming wedding in the country-side back at my home town of Vellinge in Southern Sweden as well as getting ready for my American adventure: applying for visas, applying for internships and finding the courses I want to study in Georgetown. And then I was suddenly there. The humid heat of Washington welcomed me to the town of lobbyists, politicians, international organizations and think tanks. Soon the event invitations started pouring in: seminars on the Greek debt crisis, the policy challenge posed by Russia, the financial markets role in attaining growth and many more.
I started my work at the Peterson Institute of International Economics, working for Prof. Anders Åslund, senior fellow at the institute and previous advisor to both the Ukrainian and the Russian governments, as well as a professor at Georgetown University. My main project was assisting in the writing of a book on “How to fix Europe”, going through the latest evidence on the state of Europe’s economy and which areas need to be reformed in order to come back to growth. Soon it became clear that the world of think tanks is a quite peculiar environment: it is a reputational field, where you use your name and your network, and use it to reach out and make a difference in real decision-making. It is like a practitioner’s version of Academia – a place to delve into deep intellectual thought, but with a constant need to “popularize” your knowledge and reach out to the public and shape the debate.
In the middle of this, it was time to yet again do a transatlantic journey, going home to get married. The silence of the calm farm landscapes in Skåne stood in deep contrast to the buzz of the U.S. capital. Before I had time to reflect further upon the matter, I was back on an airplane, now a married man.
The Wallenberg International Fellowship Program does not only entail an internship and a semester of studies at Georgetown, but also aims at offering leadership development of its participants. All six of us admitted to the program are at a critical phase in our lives: our time at the university is going towards its end, and we need to figure out where we want to go next. To help us along that path, we took part in a leadership seminar at Stockholm School of Economics with Markus Wallenberg, the reason we are here in the first place. In Washington, we all participated in individual career coaching sessions to develop a better understanding of what we want to accomplish with our careers. During fall, we will meet leaders from different fields, broadening our understanding of leadership as well as offering us a possibility to gain valuable contacts for the future.
For me, these few summer months have inspired me to think deeper about what really matters in life and how to structure my search for a work-place where I can make a difference and be true to my ideals. Has this program made me a leader? Not yet, but it has allowed me to broaden my perspective on leadership, forced me to understand my own ideals better, and put me in an excellent environment to learn from inspiring people.