Teodor Lange Experience at FNF Beirut
Who are you? (Where do you come from and why did you look for an internship with FNF Beirut?)
I am Ted Lange, a young entrepreneur with a background in chemistry and business. (So, I encourage everyone with a non-typical background to apply to FNF!) Right after finishing university in Germany at the Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf and in the US at the University at Albany, I kind of got sucked into academic research and the business world. But, in all honesty, I was always missing something. It was only when I started my own company in Canada and got involved with the German Young Liberals that I figured out what I really wanted to do in life: empower people, especially entrepreneurs. There is always a political perspective to entrepreneurship. As FNF Beirut has a track record of working with founders, e.g. Creativity in Crisis or the development of the educational game Mayrig, I applied with the intention to fill my knowledge gaps. And, as I had never been to the Middle East before, I decided to jump into the deep end.
What were the two most important/exciting/interesting things you worked on while being with FNF Beirut?
I truly enjoyed supporting the development of the educational game Mayrig. The project was based on a collaboration between FNF Lebanon and Syria and local game developers from Mad Mushroom Games. Here, I could really experience the potential of Lebanese youth and, at the same time, the novel and out-of-the-box approaches that we use at FNF Lebanon and Syria.
The second experience that I will never forget was an event we organized in collaboration with the NGO Mishwar. For two days, children of Syrian refugees from the North of Lebanon came to Beirut. During an arts exhibition, they got the chance to share how they perceived the things that happened in their young lives. I don’t really think that one can understand what these kids were going through – at least I can’t. However, it still moved me deeply when the kids just grabbed my hand, energetically pulled me to their art, and described their drawings and photographs to me. The caption under one particular picture showing a smiling approximately four-year-old girl, will certainly stay with me for the rest of my life: “She was happy because I was taking the picture. And, it’s a nice feeling when you bring happiness to others.” It opened my eyes as I understood that these kids are only looking for happy and peaceful lives. They don’t ask for anything more. They deserve it. Every human deserves that. I really wish they will find it. Dirk Kunze, Head of Office of the FNF office here in Beirut, gave a short speech at the event and made me truly understand the impact FNF’s work has: “It’s these small events that have a great impact on people’s lives.” And, he was right, I really saw the hope and happiness in the children’s eyes.
What was different in Lebanon and Beirut and the office from what you expected before you came?
I have never been to the Middle East before and I have also never worked with a political foundation before.
First, I was surprised, in a very positive way, when I started spending time with locals in Beirut and experienced the vitality and soulfulness of the Lebanese. The people in this country have suffered more than enough, experienced war, faced political challenges and the economy is also not doing particularly well, but they still refuse to not enjoy life in its fullest. I, for myself, have learnt a lot from these people developed a much more positive attitude towards the challenges I face in life. – Thank you people of Lebanon!
Second, before joining FNF Lebanon and Syria, I had a totally different picture of a renowned political foundation: I pictured white walls, separate rooms, hierarchies, mostly academic work accompanied by too much bureaucracy. FNF Lebanon and Syria is the opposite. It all starts with the fact the main entrance is a garage gate. Then, we all work in a big open space with a kitchen that is frequently being used. Communication paths are kept short and everybody, no matter if intern or Head of Office, is encouraged to bring their thoughts to the table.
Third, to be honest, I was a little bit scared of going to the Southern suburbs of Beirut as the Western media was planting this image in my head that if I went there, I would get into some sort of serious trouble. I had the irrational thought that people there are more evil than in other parts of Lebanon. The reality was quite different. On a sunny weekend day, my roommate – who previously lived in Dahieh for eight years – and I decided to go for a walk around the Southern suburbs. Yes, I saw the poverty and it was certainly not the nicest place to live in, especially taking into account that these people need to deal with power cuts for around 12 hours every day and the constant presence of the militia. But, first and foremost, I saw a place where people live, love, smile, cry, suffer, do grocery shopping, go to work. My relationship to media has certainly changed on that day. As I feel way closer to the people in the Middle East, I kind look at reports and articles more from a people perspective and I became more sceptical regarding the substance and judgments in the press.
Would you do this internship again? If so, what would you do different?
I am thankful for the experience and I would do it again, no doubt. But, there are a few things, I would do differently.
First, I would have tried to do the internship at an earlier point of my life. With two years of experience in starting my own company, having lived in multiple countries, and being 25, I felt slightly too old and a little too experienced for this type of an internship. Don't get me wrong, I was never standing in front of the Xerox machine or making coffee for hours, but my expectations of being able to have my own projects were just too high.
Second, I would clearly communicate what I expect from the internship prior to my time here. As an entrepreneur by experience and heart, I was really getting excited about the activities related to “Creativity in Crisis” and was hoping to really empower the local youth to start their own businesses and social initiatives. When I came here, for the majority of my time, I was working on our social media presence. I truly appreciate the transparency at FNF Lebanon and Syria. I understand and respect the commitment to sharing our work with region and the world. I just do not personally enjoy this type of work. So, in summary: Communication – both prior to and during your internship – is everything.
I got the offer to join the office more than a year before I came. I would not commit to do an internship that far in advance again. After graduating from university and finding your career path, things can change rather quickly. Therefore, I was in the unfortunate situation that I needed to leave Beirut earlier than I had expected which was neither fair to FNF Lebanon nor could I really learn and see what I wanted to. Also, within the period of one year, the office staff, the projects and therefore also the role of interns changed. In short, do not commit to an internship too long in advance.
What could my future career look like?
I graduated university in 2017. With a little more than two years of full-time working experience, I will move to Boston in August to earn a Master’s degree in Public Policy with a focus on empowering entrepreneurship. At the same time, I will support a German startup in exploring opportunities in the US market. This will keep me pretty busy for the next to 2-3 years. After that, I could really imagine coming back to FNF to support the foundation with building entrepreneurial networks around the world. I could also imagine working with institutions such as the German Accelerator that helps German startups to enter the US market or the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit which has recently posted interesting positions at the interface of global development and entrepreneurship. A third option would be to pursue a PhD at the interface of Public Policy, Entrepreneurship, and Data Science. In summary, I want to empower change-makers and liberal thinkers around the world.
Freedom means for me…
… to live in a world of equal opportunity for everybody that is based on a just system. My way to stand up for freedom is to open people’s eyes towards what they can achieve if they just try to do something outside of their comfort zone that will potentially lead to self-fulfilment and an improvement in the society.