3 years of working with Stiftung Mercator — some personal highlights

For the last 3 years, I worked with Stiftung Mercator‘s Digital Society program as an advisor. My mandate there is coming to a natural end point — I was brought on to help with the early stages of the program, and stayed because there was more than enough to do. By now, the program runs smoothly, the team is top notch, and it’s time for me to step back. Needless to say it’s on the best terms and I’m sure we’ll work together in some constellation or another in the future.

Three years is a long time, and a lot happened during that time, but/and I wanted to share just a few personal highlights.

Projects & Activities

I tremendously enjoyed the various types of projects and activities I was involved in. From high-level strategy to the day-to-day of polishing documents for the board or talking through the day’s challenges, it was a good mix. We worked on a broad range of issues including digital rights, strengthening democracy, digital transformation, platform accountability, AI, government digital services, inclusion and diversity, civil society, and many more.

A stand-out for sure was when we planned what became Agora Digitale Transformation (website, my blog post), a new digital policy think tank. You don’t get to plan a new think tank from scratch every day, so this is a fond memory. From early concept through research involving many dozens of expert interviews with policy makers, researchers, civil society and practitioners all the way to approval from the foundation’s board, seeing this all come together was really quite something.

One stream of work was the meta level of how funders can better support civil society. A lot of that was shared internally, but just recently we also published a report that touches on some of these themes (publication page, PDF , my blog post). That felt like time well spent.

My personal favorite, though, continues to be the personal one-on-ones (what I sometimes refer to as sparring) to probe and improve on ideas and strategies, and just explore what’s next and how to get there.

Learned a lot

I’ve never been the type that just sits there and pundits away, I’m always keen to learn as much as I share along the way. Luckily, the team here was the same and so I had the opportunity to learn a lot myself.

Deep dives brought some topics more into focus for me, I met a bunch of new folks, and being at the funders table for so long, I got to learn a lot more about different approaches to civil society funding. And of course, due to the somewhat unusual mandate I come in on that allows me to see everything from the day-to-day work of the team to the various leadership levels all the way up to the board, I got to deepen my understanding of the dynamics and decision-making in philanthropic foundations further.

A big Thank You!

To the whole team, from program managers to senior management, a huge thank you for the welcoming culture, trust and openness in all our interactions. (I’m not naming everyone individually because I know not everyone enjoys a public shout-out.) It wasn’t just a professionally constructive three years, it was also a true pleasure on a personal level.

I’d be amiss not to express my gratitude to Carla Hustedt specifically. When we first started talking, I was still recovering from a serious burn-out and getting back on my feet. Carla was unfazed by the dark circles under my eyes and brought me on board, a gesture of trust that meant the world to me on a personal level. Our working together quickly evolved into a friendship, too, and we’ve been working well together ever since. Thank you, Carla!