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An interview with Yvonne Mitschka

Alumna Yvonne Mitschka Photo: Stiftung Mercator

„London is an awesome and inspiring city“

Our alumna Yvonne Mitschka is a graduate of the CEMS Master’s in International Management (CEMS MIM) and the Master in Economics programme in Cologne.
In September 2016, she joined the Mercator Fellowship on International Affairs  programme for young professionals and university graduates. During the 13 months of the programme, her focus will be on “Strategies for energy-efficient cities in transition countries”. The Mercator fellowship is jointly run by the Mercator Foundation, the German Academic Scholarship Foundation, the German Federal Foreign Office and the Swiss counterparts, respectively.

Yvonne’s first work placement on the programme was at think tank WiseEuropa in Warsaw. She is currently on placement at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in London. In this alumni interview, she tells us about all the exciting things she’s learned and done and takes a look back at her time as a student in Cologne.


First work experiences

Yvonne, you’re currently on a 13-month programme run by the Stiftung Mercator foundation, during which fellows work in two to three international organisations, global non-governmental organisations, non-profit organisations and/or businesses. Where have you worked so far?

My first work placement was on the Energy, Climate and Environment Research Programme at the Warsaw-based think tank WiseEuropa. After that, I moved to the EBRD in London, which is a development bank that focuses on Eastern Europe and Central Asia. I came here in February and I work on the Energy Efficiency and Climate Change (E2C2) team.

What have you learned on the placements?

I’m lucky in that the two work placements complement each other, which means I get to learn and do a lot of different things.

At WiseEuropa, which has a team of about 15 people, I saw what it was like to work in a small organisation with short decision-making processes. My work there dealt with two very specific sustainability challenges facing cities. The first was how to integrate electric cars into car-sharing schemes; the other was how urban farming can produce food for city dwellers in a way that optimises resource use.

What does your second, current work placement involve?

At the EBRD, I’m helping to identify and prioritise urban sustainability challenges and to design and implement solutions. We do this through what are called “Green City Action Plans”, which give cities a three-step strategy with which to effectively tackle environmental problems and improve quality of life for their inhabitants. The areas we work on include, for example, public local transport, energy efficiency in public buildings, street lighting and waste and water infrastructure.

A course we did in a military base on topic “Safety and conduct in crisis regions” was quite challenging for me.

Nightfall in London Photo: andyreedobe /

Typical days at work and challenges

Describe your typical day at work at your current placement.

My job is very dynamic and diverse. The Green City Action Plans are developed by a number of actors, working together. For example, consultants, city council staff and employees from various departments of our bank. I support their work through project management tasks and feedback on various sections of a city’s Green City Action Plan. I also evaluate the development of sustainable investments made by the EBRD and prepare documents for discussion and presentation at a variety of events. 

What do you like in particular about the work?

I’m gaining a lot of additional expertise in a short amount of time as well as getting an idea of how the bank works. Above all, however, working in a team with people from different countries and with different specialist backgrounds is an incredible privilege. The make-up of the team – from the Turkish engineer to a New Zealander specialised in political dialogue on energy efficiency – reflects the interdisciplinarity and the international relevance of our E2C2 team at the EBRD.

Where there any special challenges you had to cope with?

Yes, obviously, there were loads of them! There are various practical challenges involved in organising work placements in different countries. On top of the placements, it’s the seminars we attend on a regular basis that have a real influence on me. Every three to four months, we meet up with our Mercator Fellowship deans and those in charge at the Stiftung Mercator foundation and the German Academic Scholarship Foundation. Then we attend courses on topics relating to international affairs and personal development. The Bundeswehr course we did on “Safety and conduct in crisis regions” was quite a challenge for me. It included a series of practical exercises, including one on correct conduct at checkpoints – in the middle of a forest with temperatures way below -10 degrees!  

Could you envisage yourself working in a crisis region then?

That would completely depend on the region, the nature of the crisis, the task to be performed and how long I’d be there.

I think London is a great place for professionals to set up their own international network – especially when they’re starting out.

Photo of the Mercator class of Yvonne Mitschka. The photo was taken during a visit to the Federal Foreign Office in September 2016 in Berlin.

Photo: Stiftung Mercator

Once-in-a-lifetime experiences

Let’s get back to your experiences so far on the Mercator Fellowship programme. Is there one thing that sticks out in your mind?

The Mercator Fellowship programme provides once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to do new things and meet new people. On a general note, I really enjoy meeting up with the other 23 fellows on a regular basis. Our group, which brings together a wide range of experience and backgrounds, has a strong sense of community. Apart from that, our discussion with TV anchorman Claus Kleber during our kick-off seminar in Berlin in September 2016 sticks out. He has oodles of charisma and was very genuine in his description of his work, the challenges currently facing journalists and how he deals with them. Every time I see him on the news now, I can’t help smiling to myself!

What do you think of London? Could you see yourself working there on a long-term basis?

London is an awesome, awe-inspiring city. Apart from the cultural and culinary diversity it offers, you meet a lot of inspiring, impressive people from all over the world – particularly through work. It’s also easy to get settled in even if you don’t have a British background yourself. At the same time, however, there are the high rents and full underground tubes – testimony to the city’s appeal. I think London is a great place for professionals to set up their own international network – especially when they’re starting out. Ultimately, however, the question of whether one can and wants to pay the cost of living here is something everyone has to decide for themselves.   

Could you outline what you will be working on during your time as a fellow? Why did you decide on that topic?

We already have a situation whereby more than 50% of the global population is living in urban regions. In addition, cities are responsible for two thirds of the world’s energy consumption and more than 70% of all CO² emissions. With around 70% of the world’s population set to be living in urban areas by 2050, it can be assumed that urban contributions to energy consumption and emission levels will rise further.  Experience has shown that there is high potential in transition countries (which are the focus of the EBRD’s work) to increase energy efficiency and environmental performance.

And, finally, I have a close connection to Poland – because of my family background – and a personal interest in it and other transition countries in Eastern Europe. That’s what prompted my interest in working on projects on energy-efficient cities in transition countries during my work placements.

Looking back, I’m really glad I chose that combination of Economics and International Management.

Students on the campus in Cologne Photo: Dustin Preick

Looking back: Studying the CEMS MIM in Cologne

You took Master programmes in International Management (CEMS MIM) and Economics in Cologne. How well did your studies there prepare you for your work on the Mercator Fellowship programme?

My work with Transparency International on my CEMS Business Project was the trigger for my idea to accumulate expertise in the climate/energy/environment field. On top of that, the programmes at the University of Cologne offer an extremely good way of learning to work in a flexible environment and harnessing that flexibility proactively in a manner that is beneficial for oneself and others. A sense of initiative and design aspirations also play a particularly important role in the Mercator Fellowship programme. 

Why did you decide on the subjects you chose?

It seemed only logical to me to follow up my Bachelor in Business Administration with a Master in Economics so as to gain a comprehensive understanding of the field. At the same time, I wanted to pursue my passion for international environments and collective, practical work, which is why I applied for the CEMS MIM programme. Looking back, I’m really glad I chose that combination of Economics and International Management.

What did you expect of your studies and were your expectations met?

Coming to Economics from a different field, the idea behind my decision to take the Master in Economics programme was to gain a broad overview of the various disciplines that make up the field. I also wanted to get a solid grounding in statistical data analysis and the software involved. Finally, the opportunity to gather additional international experience was very important to me. The large selection of electives and courses plus the international outlook of the WiSo Faculty as a whole and the CEMS MIM in particular meant that I could fulfil all three of those aims during my master studies in Cologne.

What experiences during your studies do you have fond memories of? Is there one particular experience you remember?

I really enjoyed all of the courses that took place on the top floors of the WiSo building – there’s no other view like it! Another particular highlight for me was when we presented the results of our Business Project. Transparency International invited us to discuss our findings at an expert workshop in Berlin. I felt that that was a wonderful way of showing us their appreciation for our work.

To me, Cologne is… the city with the warmest people and the nicest German accent!

Future plans and general advice for our students

How do you envisage your future career? Do you want to continue working in international affairs?

Internationality, interdisciplinarity and inspiration from values are key to the way I will choose to shape my future career.

Please complete the following sentence. “To me, Cologne is…

the city with the warmest people and the nicest German accent!

What general advice would you give our students? And what three tips?

I’m definitely too young to be handing out wisdom and I rarely claim to be sure of the truth. But I’d be happy to share three thoughts that inspire me and that everyone can interpret however they want. They are:

1.    Education is the ability to meet life’s situations.
2.    Build your story rather than your CV.
3.    Don't ask what you expect from life but what life expects from you.

Thank you for talking to us!

About Yvonne Mitschka:
Yvonne Mitschka studied business administration at the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management and the University of Auckland. Recently, she obtained a masters degree in economics as well as the CEMS Master’s in international management from the University of Cologne and the Warsaw School of Economics (SGH). She gained professional experience at KPMG in Munich and Santiago, as well as at zeb (a management consultancy) in Münster, the Embassy of Germany in Poland and the Climate Finance Integrity Programme of Transparency International in Berlin. As a Mercator Fellow, she deals with strategies for energy-efficient cities in transition countries.

Interview: Sarah Brender