Student spotlight: Caroline Assad (Executive MPA 2020)

Caroline in a bright red-orange turtleneck in front of a purple background.

This executive master’s student brought extensive experience working in the civil society and education sector with her to the programme.

Caroline Assad is a two-year Executive MPA student who started her studies in fall of 2020 and is currently specialising in leading innovation and managing change. As Executive Manager of the Berlin-based non-profit WIR MACHEN DAS, Caroline brought her experience as a leader in the civil society and education sectors with her to the programme. Read our interview below.

Please tell us more about yourself and what you were doing before you joined the Executive MPA.

I grew up in Egypt, and then I came to Berlin to study educational sciences. Then I started working a lot on issues related to education and migration, such as segregated schools in Germany and how children with a migration background can get better participation chances in the German education system. I also worked on international cooperation projects involving educational programmes in Sudan, Oman, Egypt and was evaluating educational programmes and contributing to studies with UNICEF. About three years ago I started getting into the cultural sector, in political and cultural education. Now I’m the manager of WIR MACHEN DAS, a non-profit organisation that wants to strengthen the culture and art of diasporic communities and people who live in exile. We have different projects at the intersection of migration, the arts and culture.

Why did you choose the Executive MPA?

First of all, I wanted not only to gain more managerial skills but also to understand more of how this world of policy works, how to translate our experiences from civil society to the policy world and address problems on a structural level. I was also curious about other disciplines and areas where I could work in the future, and I felt a bit clueless not knowing exactly what I wanted to do. I’d done different things but didn’t feel like I had a very clear focus. And now I also started a fellowship at More in Common next to my work, which is more data-oriented and also about migration. We’re analysing data on the attitudes in German society towards migration and migrants as a whole. Data analysis and data science is also something that I have learned more about at Hertie.

What has been your favourite course so far and why?

I think my favourite course has been Johanna Mair’s “Social innovation and entrepreneurship” because it's a lot about civil society organisations and non-profit management.  I felt like so many things came together in this course: impact evaluation, impact orientation – what does social innovation mean and how can we as civil society organisation address problems on a systemic level? It covers issues of management when organisations transcend the first start-up stage and then professionalise and fund non-profits. I thought it really spoke to me in my current role.

I even took an MPP course “Crises in the 21st century” with Wolfgang Merkel from the WZB, which examined different local crises such as the so-called migration crisis, climate crisis and pandemic. We looked at how different democracies have responded and when certain crises can transcend or weaken a democracy.

How have your professional goals changed since starting the programme?

One thing that really helped me was to come to terms with the possibility that I might be a so-called “generalist.” In a coaching session with Anna von Behr from the Career Development team, I was telling her that I’m interested in many things, and my problem is that I don’t feel like I want to give up one thing but also worry that I need to be more specialised. I was really interested in data and impact evaluations but didn’t want to give up my work in the cultural and education sectors. Anna told me one could be a generalist and focus on certain areas, and I feel like that was the most important lesson I’ve learned. It hasn’t really made me change my career focus, but it has made me feel more comfortable about how things are going and more courageous in pursuing opportunities.

How have you been able to adjust the programme to fit your schedule and your interests? How is the workload?

The good thing about the Executive MPA is that each course is around three days, very often on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Saturdays I already have off, and I’d already talked to my employer who agreed that it would be good for my job to do this Hertie programme. I’ve been able to adjust my schedule, and the professors are also usually very understanding that we have a lot of work, so they give you also enough time to do the assignments and pre-assignments.

The workload is perfect, I would say, because I also wanted a challenge and wouldn’t have liked it if it was too easy. I was looking for something with a certain level of difficulty where I want to be neither overwhelmed nor underwhelmed. Even though most weekends I am doing something for class, be it readings or working on an assignment, it’s totally doable.

What has been the most surprising thing about your cohort and what have you learned from your classmates?

The most surprising thing is from how many different disciplines and areas of work they come. And what I have learned is to respect how we just have such different ways of thinking about how we approach a topic. I learned to appreciate different ways of looking at problems and challenges in the world. There are people from international development, from business, from the education sector, from foundations, from government – just the different modes and logic used when approaching an issue are so diverse. I feel I learned more to value the different ways one could approach a problem.

What is your favourite thing to do in Berlin?

In the summer what I love the most is swimming. I go to the public swimming pools. The cool thing about Berlin is its truly high-quality swimming pools that are inexpensive to visit and so well taken care of. I love it so much, so I go almost every day before or after work.


Apply to the Executive MPA programme by 15 August!

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