Léonie van Tongeren, IBEI alumni 2008-2009
Name and Last Name: Léonie van Tongeren
Master studied at IBEI: Master's in International Relations
Current working company, position and city: Special Assistant to the Regional Director for Europe at Open Society Foundations in Barcelona (Spain).
1. Why did you choose the IBEI Master’s in International Relations?
I came to Barcelona mainly for personal reasons, but I was also very interested in the very international and bilingual character of the program offered by IBEI. I also really liked that there were so many optional courses to choose from, which made it possible to really tailor the program to my interests.
2. What is your experience at IBEI?
It was an intense year, but the quality of teaching was generally very high and I learned heaps of interesting things. But more than anything, I had a wonderful time and got to know some really great people, some of whom are still amongst my best friends.
3. Describe your career path since graduating from the IBEI
After finishing my masters at IBEI I did a traineeship at the Directorate-General for Justice, Freedom, and Security of the European Commission, where I was involved in the management of the European Integration Fund and European Refugee Fund. I then returned to Barcelona where, after a short period working in the private sector, I worked as a researcher and assistant to the presidency of the International Catalan Institute for Peace. In 2013 I joined the new European office of the Open Society Foundations, working on their flagship project on the European elections. In 2014 I became a project coordinator and in 2016 I was aligned into the role of Special Assistant to the Regional Director for Europe.
4. What is your professional experience (your current position, your main functions)?
I provide direct and high level programmatic support to Open Society’s Regional Director for Europe, mostly handling projects in relation to developing and managing strategic elements of the Open Society Initiative for Europe and ensuring strategic advice and follow-up. I also still do some grantmaking (mainly in relation to strategic partners or work that cuts across several of our thematic portfolios) and am getting increasingly involved in our advocacy work. At the Open Society Initiative for Europe we endeavor to strengthen the rights, voice, and democratic power of society’s least privileged groups, and make democracy work better for all in Europe. We support organizations that channel active participation in democracy by majorities and minorities alike, and that uphold open society values, particularly in places where the rollback of civil and political rights is most severe.
5. Is this more or less what you pictured yourself doing after the master programme?
Honestly, I had never thought about working in philanthropy. But I am very happy to have ended up at the Open Society Foundations, as we do very dynamic work and I get to meet really inspiring people all the time. It is also a real privilege to be able to support progressive civil society which is facing so many crises at the same time.
6. What advice would you give to current students who want to follow this career path? / Some advice to future IBEI students?
Most IR students tend to think about working for governments, international organizations or businesses, or NGOs, but keep in mind that working at philanthropic institutions can be really interesting as well - particularly at major funders in the field of human rights and democracy. Private philanthropy has the independence to persist and to act on its principles (it is not subject to funding, elections or news cycles) and it can often make a real difference.