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From role models to leadership: Alumni reflect on the Hertie School 20 years after its foundation

While praising the exchange of perspectives during their degrees, the panel also made suggestions on how to move forward in the future.

In the last 20 years, over 2,700 alumni from more than 118 countries have graduated from the Hertie School. They have taken their expertise to their home countries and beyond to address the complex socio-political and economic problems society is currently facing. 

On 8 November, the Hertie School hosted a panel with five alumni as part of the university’s 20th anniversary celebrations. What connected panellists Alejandra Leal Vallejo, Jeff Kwasi Klein, Damian Boeselager, Anne-Marie Kortas and Joseph Ayamga was the fact that they are all Alumni Achievement Award winners – a recognition the school awards annually to especially impactful community members. The panel was organised by fellow Hertie School alumnus and Alumni Council member Bidjan Nashat. Together they reflected on the Hertie School’s fingerprint in their journeys through life and made recommendations for the future of the community. 

The panellists at a glance

  • Alejandra Leal VallejoMaster of Public Policy (MPP) 2012, Alumni Achievement Award winner 2023, Director of Mexican mobility NGO Centrico

  • Jeff Kwasi Klein, MPP 2017, winner 2022, Co-Director Multitudes Foundation

  • Damian Boeselager, MPP 2018, winner 2020, EU parliamentarian for the party Volt

  • Anne-Marie Kortas, MPP 2014, winner 2016, policy adviser at Berlin’s Ministry of Integration, Labour and Social Affairs

  • Joseph Ayamga, MPP 2011, winner 2015, Country Director SEND SIERRA Leone


The discussion was moderated by Bidjan Nashat, MPP 2007.

Learning I: Defining a problem is half the battle

When reflecting on her time at the Hertie School, Anne-Marie Kortas, a policy adviser at Berlin’s Ministry of Integration, Labour and Social Affairs, underscored the importance of learning how to define a policy problem before going on to solve it. “What happens often in the public sector is that people demand solutions without fully understanding the problem,” she said, “and that makes it difficult to find a solution that actually works.” 

In a similar vein, alumnus Joseph Ayamga stressed the benefit of exchanging on different perspectives. Ayamga currently works as Country Director of SEND SIERRA LEONE, an NGO in development cooperation. In his view, leadership was more than “simply understanding the policy cycle to be able to get things done.” A big asset he took from his time at the Hertie School was the ability to learn from others, practise active listening and build up his network. 

Learning II: Threats to democracy mirror the local level 

Despite their positive notes, the panel also discussed that it was the Hertie School’s responsibility to react to the challenge of unequal opportunities as a threat to democracy. According to Co-Director of the Multitudes Foundation Jeff Kwasi Klein, this also meant that the school should start at its own doorstep. “Discrimination isn’t just microaggressions or individual actions, it’s structural discrimination that is deeply embedded in various sectors of our societies […]. That’s why it is so crucial that the Hertie School adopts a comprehensive understanding of how discrimination and inequalities constitute themselves.” 

Despite these challenges, Alejandra Leal Vallejo, Director of mobility NGO Centrico and National Coordinator of the Safe Mobility Coalition in Mexico, appreciated the way the university was open with students about its finances, student recruitment and the scholarships it offers. “This shows that we care about who is becoming part of the school and about how to become more diverse.” 

Learning III: Great role models achieve their goals through kindness

The panellists also took a moment to commemorate late Hertie School president Henrik Enderlein, who lost the battle against cancer in 2021. Damian Boeselager, co-founder of the European party Volt Europa and Member of the European Parliament, was especially impressed with the way Enderlein had shaped European policy debates and had brought France and Germany to the discussion table through kindness. “It’s really something I admire and I try to work towards by convening people to talk to each other,” he said. “For me this is an outstanding example of what the Hertie School did.”

Watch a live recording of the panel:

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