From French intern to new colleague

Reeleaf’s newest consultant had yet to officially graduate, but already made such an impression during her internship that we did not want to let her go. With a base in international relations at the local level, Lisa Mangattale brings a relevant perspective – and she is already starting to get grounded in Utrecht. ‘I really like the Dutch way of life,’ she says between the final touches of her thesis. ‘Of course there are some little things that appeal a little less to me as a Frenchwoman, like the food, but I’ll get over that,’ she jokes. ‘I feel very blessed to have found my place.’

Lisa studied international relations at the University of Rennes 1 and did an exchange year at Radboud University in Nijmegen during the 2019/2020 season. When the pandemic broke out halfway through, there was little left of an enjoyable student life, yet she really liked it here. This made her very motivated to come to the Netherlands again for her internship this year, and while googling, Lisa stumbled upon Reeleaf’s website.

Concrete applications

Upon completing her graduation thesis (title: The use of European project consultancies in Urban Innovative Actions: a study of French and Dutch urban authorities), Lisa sees the future with confidence. Even before she graduated properly, Reeleaf offered her a job, which she accepted. ‘The internship was a way for both Reeleaf and me to see if we were a good match, but of course I hoped I would be able to stay. For someone from France who does not yet speak Dutch – well, a bit – it can be quite difficult to find a job here. So I’m very happy with how it turned out.’

Why Reeleaf? It is a small team where you can learn a lot from your colleagues, says Lisa, an organisation where lines of communication are short and you really get to know the company. ‘That is very valuable when the theory you have learned is quite far removed from the concrete applications within an organisation like Reeleaf. Of course, it was also nice that Reeleaf has several projects running in France and even employs a French senior consultant, Jacques Schibler, who became Lisa’s internship supervisor.

External consultants

The topic for her thesis presented itself during the internship, during the first half of 2022, in which Lisa was involved in supervising two trajectories within Urban Innovative Actions (UIA). This is an EU programme that focuses on funding innovative, unproven and therefore risky ideas for solving urban problems. Think of challenges in the field of employment, migration, demography, water and soil pollution. Very diverse and therefore incredibly instructive, Lisa found.

She researched the nine UIA projects in the Netherlands and the nine in France, with Reeleaf being involved in three of the French projects. Why do municipalities choose to hire external consultants (or not)? The research included a survey and interviews with project managers, a Reeleaf consultant and an employee of the UIA programme secretariat. This was interesting for Lisa not only from an academic point of view, but also, of course, as a prospective consultant. The pitfalls of consultancy that she also learned about – such as letting the information gap between the consultant and the organisation supporting it become too big – are then equally instructive. ‘If you are not careful, you work alongside each other, or it becomes your project instead of theirs and misses the impact it could and should have.’

Specific expertise

Lisa is currently working on three project applications: two under Interreg North Sea Region and one under Interreg North West Europe: “The projects deal with different topics such as sustainable tourism, flooding measures and heat stress in cities, but my work is fairly similar: refining the project idea, having contact with (potential) project partners, aligning the planned activities with the programme rules, and so on. I also work on a UIA project, where I take care of financial management and checking the costs incurred for reporting.” 

Working at Reeleaf has given Lisa a much more positive outlook on the work of consultants, especially in an area where a lot of specific expertise is needed, such as cross-border European projects. ‘There are some differences between the Netherlands and France, but not very many. Outsourcing is generally a bit more common in the Netherlands, but in my research I did not see that difference. There is a lot of development in that area in France. My research only has a small sample, of course, but you can see that French local governments have a lot of need for consultancy, because they have less experience with European projects there.’