In the 22 years, Anne Christensen has been heading Danida Fellowship Centre, she has been able to seize opportunities and turn the tide in times of crisis. She has managed to maintain a sound basis for the study stays of thousands of foreign students in Denmark. Read the article in Danish.
By Jesper Heldgaard, translated by Kate Girvan
Danida Fellowship Centre no longer limits its responsibilities to the 600-1000 foreign scholarship holders on study stays in Denmark each year. The centre has taken on the administration of Danida’s support to development research and has also set up an alumni network of former students. As a result, the number of staff and the level of activity are greater than ever.
Culture shock on her return to Denmark
“We were looking for a director with solid and practical experience from countries like those our students come from, and Anne had that experience after her many years in Lesotho and Kenya,” explains Holger Bernt Hansen. As chair of Danida Fellowship Centre’s board in 1997, he played a role in recruiting Anne Christensen as the director of the centre, with its staff of ten and yearly scholarship budget of DKK 120 million for students from Danida’s priority countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
After a good number of years in top management positions in Africa, the new director had to get used to Danish work culture.
“For years, I’d been used to the boss being the decision maker and once the decision had been taken, that was that. Then I joined a Danish work place with a very flat structure where most things were decided around the lunch table. Everyone was asked for their opinion about everything. So, there were a few areas where my staff and I had to make adjustments in order to get along. Fortunately, we got on track quite quickly,” Anne Christensen remembers.
Cuts, new conditions – and a lifeline
In 2002, Danida Fellowship Centre’s budget was cut by 50% and in the following years Danida (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) presented the centre with new conditions, such as more or less dropping the many courses held in Denmark and replacing them with courses to be held in the South. Those were tough years, but then the centre was thrown an unexpected lifeline.
When the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had to make staff cuts once again in 2008, they decided to let Danida Fellowship Centre take over the administration of Danida’s support to development research and so “one employee and 19 boxes” were sent to Danida Fellowship Centre, as someone put it.
”The decision came quite unexpectedly and at a really opportune moment, and it has turned out that merging the capacity building programmes in the South that we were responsible for and the development research programmes was a very smart thing to do,” says Anne Christensen. Five people are now employed at Danida Fellowship Centre to administer research activities and they deserve praise for ensuring stability and continuity for researchers and their partners.
New challenges and yet another lifeline
The downturns for Danida Fellowship Centre were not yet over, however. New cuts in Denmark’s development assistance reduced the scholarship budget to DKK 40 million a year. There was even a year when it was as low as DKK 27 million. Then, in 2015, the new government decided to move Danida Fellowship Centre’s administration to Holbæk in spite of the centre’s protests.
Once again, Danida Fellowship Centre was thrown a lifeline in the form of a new venture. In 2017, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided that the scholarship budget should be put back up to DKK 60 million per year and that the programme should cater for the new Danida supported local authority collaborations in low-income and growth countries. Danida Fellowship Centre seized this opportunity, too.
Ambassadors for Denmark
In spite of the many upheavals, Danida Fellowship Centre’s role has remained unchanged.
“It is our job to provide a safe and supportive environment for our course participants and for our students and researchers from the low-income and growth countries that Denmark partners with. We must be their “home from home” so that they get the most out of their stay in Denmark on both a professional and a personal level,” stresses Anne Christensen.
The innumerable statements made by the more than 20,000 students from 120 countries who have passed through the centre show that their stay in Denmark made a deep and often positive impression on them. Many of the former students act as ambassadors for Denmark when they get back home. Danida Fellowship Centre has now got this organised by setting up an alumni network that includes all of the former Danida fellows and also national alumni networks in eight partner countries so far, the first of them being in Ghana and Vietnam.
Time to go – and time to be seen
”I am handing over a Danida Fellowship Centre in fine fettle and ready for my replacement. I will soon be 66 years old and therefore I think that it is now time to go. I will miss all my good colleagues and all the many students from a multitude of countries. I will also miss being “put to use” and I will be ready to assist if ever anyone needs a person with my experience for a short project,” says Anne Christensen who will not, however, miss the current and growing demand for a director’s visibility in public life.
”I have endeavoured to raise Danida Fellowship Centre’s profile and strengthen our communication about what we do. Putting myself in the spotlight is not my cup of tea and therefore it is good to be making way for a new director.”