Exchange with a diplomatic undertone

Middle East Working Group
The "Horizonte" project connects German companies with experienced academics from Iraq, Iran, Jordan and Lebanon. © Getty Images/FatCamera

Every contact is invaluable: true to this maxim, the ‘Horizonte’ programme enables professionals from Iran, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon to spend time work shadowing with German companies. This year’s visit had to be exclusively conducted in a digital format – although the exchange was still a success even under these conditions.

Many sectors consider the Middle East to be a decidedly lucrative, yet at the same very volatile market. All the more invaluable then for western companies to have local contacts who are aware of their requirements. These contacts can in turn learn from their insight into how German companies operate, which is exactly where ‘Horizonte: Opportunities for the Future’ comes in. This programme places excellent professionals from four countries in the region with German companies, to give them an insight into the working methods and structures in Germany. ‘The coronavirus meant that on this occasion we faced the special challenge of having to host the entire project online', explains project manager Nina Hoferichter from the Goethe-Institut. ‘So unfortunately we were only able to offer work shadowing places to a total of five people. But these went extremely well; both the companies and the professionals were very enthusiastic.’ Five other interested parties were also able to attend the online training that are an integral part of the work shadowing programme.

Positive feedback

Despite this year’s restrictions, the feedback from all sides was outstandingly positive. ‘We had a very dedicated group that made a superb contribution’, Hoferichter reports. ‘The flat hierarchies in German companies made the biggest impression on those involved in the work shadowing. They weren’t used to supervisors being interested in their opinions and accepting suggestions from the workforce.’ Their communication via the internet also ran smoothly: ‘We used video conferencing to conduct the individual meetings and completed related tasks on our computers’, states Peyman Alidoust from Iran who is currently working in the German Embassy in Tehran, and learned about the project via the Goethe-Institut’s social media channels. ‘I can certainly say that this time was very beneficial to me, above all given the many new contacts I made – with whom I’m still in touch.’ Architect Yara Al Manaseer agrees: ‘Work shadowing wasn’t possible in my sector, unfortunately, so I was only able to take part in the training programme and all the events’, explains the Jordanian. ‘But that still enabled me to make some good friends from different countries. It really was fantastic to interact with people from other cultural backgrounds, and that benefited us all a lot. In any event, I now know that we would support each other if the need arises. That’s a great feeling.’ Anwer Dheyaa Mhmood from Iraq would also recommend ‘Horizonte’ to others. ‘This programme was a new and beneficial experience for me. In particular, it provided me with an outstanding opportunity to practice speaking German with native speakers and others learning the language – until now I’ve been learning it in isolation.’

The programme does however also demand quite a bit from the participants. Alone the language, intercultural and management training sessions, including the ‘German in your profession’ course that was in part developed for ‘Horizonte’, took a lot of time, and on top of that comes the work shadowing. ‘I dedicated a full month of my time to preparing for the programme', admits Alidoust, ‘otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to take part.’ Albeit the team at the Goethe-Institut does try to support each contributor as individually as possible. ‘Even the companies find it difficult to manage the work shadowing’, Nina Hoferichter emphasises. ‘They do after all have to make a member of staff available as contact person. A clear plan of activities for their guest has also to be produced. That’s often more onerous than you might think. Although this year all our companies informed us that they have seen many benefits from the project.’

Those involved in the work shadowing need to suit the company

More than just the five professionals could in principle have enjoyed work shadowing within a company – yet several factors worked against this. ‘We did in fact have more interested companies, but we weren’t able to fill the positions with suitable candidates’, says Hoferichter. ‘The profiles simply have to be a match, otherwise such work shadowing isn’t expedient from our perspective.’ Mhmood also felt that online work shadowing seemed difficult in certain sectors: ‘I didn’t unfortunately get a work shadowing place through the ´Horizonte´ programme, since it’s difficult to work at a distance as a civil engineer.’ Hoferichter interjects by saying ‘In 2021 we were nevertheless able to include a financial services provider, an orthopaedics manufacturer and a research institute, among others.’ And how many professionals applied? ‘Around 100’, Hoferichter replies. ‘The number is usually much higher, and I assume this will also be the case in 2022 – that’s when the programme should take place face-to-face again.’

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