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Summer 2013 Blog - Sahra Mirbabaee

Sahra Mirbabaee is spending ten weeks in Leipzig, Germany working at Fraunhofer MOEZ.

August 7, 2013

I’m in the home stretch of my time at Fraunhofer and there is still so much to do. In the past few weeks I’ve been having meetings with the change management project group which is full of intelligent people like Chris, the lead of the project who is a Ph.d candidate as well as Jeanine, Zhenia, and Sören who are completing their Masters at the University of Leipzig. Together, we have talked and researched different aspects of change management and have been working through rounds and rounds of feedback and drafts. The process is lengthy, but it will ensure thorough results.


Sahra with her supervisor, Anett.

Reinforcement, my phase, has proven to be challenging to alter for small and medium enterprises, since not much literature has been written for this sector. But generally, the current state of sustainable organizational change remains bleak. For example, McKinsey took a survey and “asked European financial institutions to assess their own large scale transformations, fewer than 40 percent rated their program as successful as they would have liked over the long term.” Many of these shortfalls can be attributed to the leadership of the change initiative. A recurring example is a CEO presenting a change initiative, but then delegating the process to management, and this has led to discourage the desire to participate in the change initiative. Instead, a CEO must show investment in the process from beginning to end. By this reasoning, I included the CEO to hold a Town Hall meeting in which the change initiative can be discussed and even celebrated by the end of the process. My action plan includes questions and statements to make at these town hall meetings and this is just one example of the type of work my action plan includes.

This sort of human resources work is incredibly important for energy companies at the moment because of the widespread change and competition to globalize in Germany at the moment. And as one of the world leaders in renewable energy programs, Germany is working to spread its reach among new territories. All in all, I’m finding this work really rewarding as well as incredibly practical.

As far as life in Leipzig, I’m having a great time. The other night, the other interns and I visited Auerbach’s Keller, the famous wine bar where Goethe wrote Faust I that dates back to the 1400’s. I’ve also spent a lot of time exploring the city’s surrounding parks, and found a nice spot to read, but the mosquitoes haven’t been too nice to me. I had a little bit of a scare when a mosquito bite on my arm swelled up to the size of a tennis ball (no exaggeration). It was the talk of the office because of its abnormal size and gruesome dark color. My co-workers were so concerned and it was sweet of them to help me find an English speaking doctor (Thanks Gritt, Kristina, and Nicola!). It turns out, I’m allergic to German mosquitoes! Who would have thought? But I won’t be dealing with the allergy symptoms much longer as my time in Leipzig is coming to a close. All in all, I’m sad to leave this city, but more than that, I’m sad to leave the great friends I have made in these past two months.
July 12, 2013

I’ve been getting really caught up in work and life in Leipzig. I’m currently busy with my action plan for Sustainable Reinforcement. The process has pushed me to read literature from different fields and to find an effective combination of business practices and human resources. I like the idea behind the task because instead of providing change management that is general and vague, Fraunhofer is trying to provide a concrete program to institute successful organizational change. My task on sustainable reinforcement must be specific in its measurements, yet flexible in its application. Each energy company has different organizational structures, and we must be cognizant of that when developing this program.


Sahra working on her action plan for Sustainable Reinforcement.

I’ve really been enjoying working at the Fraunhofer office and meeting so much of the staff. Everyone here is always friendly and wants to hang out after work which I appreciate so much. One of my most memorable experiences was a picnic at Clara Zetkin park with a group of new friends. We talked and ate until it got dark, which to me, was a signal to go home, but for my German friends, the lack of vision was no problem at all, and we stayed for as long as we could talk and eat bread. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve also become more confident with my German. I have ordering food and basic conversations down, but it’s such a shame that I still have trouble pronouncing my favorite bread, Kürbiskernbrötchen.

These next few weeks will be full of work since I must finalize my action plan and provide supplementary files for the project. I’m working to make it the best that I can because I really want it to be implemented into the final product for globalizing energy companies. Here I go!

June 18, 2013


Breakfast at Lukas Bäcker.

I don’t know where the time has gone, but I’ve already been in Leipzig for over two weeks.  I’m proud to say that I am now a bike owner and can finally take part in Leipzig’s bike life. Every morning, I hop onto my new (to me) bike, get into the city by 8 am, have a very German breakfast consisting of bread, cheese, and meat, and I get into work at 9 am. Most days, the other interns and I go to the university cafeteria for lunch which is conveniently located across the street from our office. I can say with confidence that I have probably eaten more meat and potatoes in these past two weeks than I did in the entirety of last semester. And the bread! Ahh the bread is sensational. I’m debating whether I should pack my belongings when I come back or just a suitcase full of bread.


The city of Dresden.

I’ve also been reading a bulk of articles about the context of my research topic. Germany established Energiewende in 2011, which can be translated to Energy Transition in which all companies are required to phase out nuclear energy by 2022 and adopt new practices to reduce GHG emissions by 80% by 2050.  As a result, German companies are being forced to restructure their businesses to align with this new legislation. Fraunhofer has realized that there is a need to provide guidance for this transition as well as future ones, so the Energy and Social Dialogue Department is working on creating a guide for these enterprises to not only institute change, but institute sustainable change, that is, change that lasts.

Specifically, I’m looking at E-on, the largest energy provider in Europe and evaluating how the Energiewende is effecting its productivity, and what we can propose to help ease this transition to renewable energy. I’m looking at the people side of change, called change management that works to uncover techniques that can be used to get employees not only equipped for change, but also to participate in the process. Thus far, I’ve learned that any successful structural change in a company is correlated to the efforts and style of the leader. I’ve been using the ADKAR leadership model for change in which the steps are titled: Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement. It is up to me to determine the techniques to achieve these outcomes and I’ll have to maintain extra focus on reinforcement since it’s the key to sustainability.


Sahra at the top of Völkerschlachtdenkmal.

My weekends have been filled with so much culture. On Saturday,  the other interns and I went to Völkerschlachtdenkmal, which is a monument for the defeat of Napoleon in Leipzig which then exiled him to the island of Elba. The monument was eerily beautiful and huge. We tirelessly climbed the narrow spiral staircase to the top and saw an amazing view of the entire city. It was especially interesting for me because on one side I saw nuclear energy plants in the distance and when I walked around to the other side I saw large wind turbines, it was like a spectrum of the past to the future. The next day we went to Dresden, the capital city of Saxony, which was left in ruins after World War II. The renewed architecture was beautiful and the history was rich. I’m hoping to travel to many more cities in my time off, but for now it’s time to work!

Auf Wiedersehen!


June 7, 2013

Hallo aus Leipzig!

It has been close to a week since I arrived in Leipzig and I am thrilled with the different experiences I’ve had so far. On Monday morning, while looking for the Fraunhofer building, I ran into another intern, Danny who is a Master’s student at Johns Hopkins University in the International Relations Program. Together, we searched the building and climbed the stairs until we finally found the Fraunhofer office, which happened to be on the top floor. When I arrived I was welcomed by Urban, who along with my advisor Anett (on business trip that day) are the head of the Energy and Social Dialogue Department at Fraunhofer MOEZ. Urban introduced me to Therese, his research assistant, who is working towards her Master’s at the University of Leipzig in the International Energy Economics Program and she became my unofficial tour guide for the day. She showed me the ropes of the office and took me around the city to run various errands while narrating the beautiful history of the city.


A church in Leipzig, Germany.

Leipzig is in Eastern Germany and was once under control of the Soviets. Interestingly, you can still find some architectural monuments around the city that serve as reminders of the occupation. The most captivating area I have seen yet is Augustusplatz, where according to Therese, is where all the student protests are held (remind you of somewhere?).

Augustsplatz’s main building rests on the site of Paulinerkirche, a church that was destroyed by the communist regime in 1968. As a way to commemorate the church, the University designed an auditorium in the space that pays homage through its architecture with pointed arches and rose window accents to an otherwise modern design. The church is an outstanding building that symbolically represents the city as a whole – an elegant mix of old and new.

The city also has an ideal transit system. Leipzig has a tram servicing the city center and the surrounding suburbs as often as every ten minutes, as well as a large and beautiful train station that takes visitors to larger cities around Europe. But besides the rails, Leipzig’s biggest triumph is its high number of bike users. In and around the city, everyone bikes, and when I say everyone, I don’t mean all the college students, I mean many people from many different groups, children and elders, male and female, etc.  But it’s not just a coincidence that so many Leipzigers bike, its that the facilities on the streets for cycling not only make it easy, but also make it safe. By making bikes a priority, greenhouse gas emissions are less of an issue due to fewer car users, and it encourages a healthier society.

On Wednesday night, Therese invited Danny and me to dinner with her friends. This was my first real German meal and company, and I have to say, it was great. I don’t even know what I ate, but I loved it. We stayed for hours, getting to know each other better and talking about the differences and similarities in our cultures. During dinner Therese explained to me that Leipzig was under flood watch because of the unusually heavy rainfall the region experienced in the past two weeks (climate change, anyone?). She told me that she, along with her friend, went down to the dam and began to lay blocks with thousands of other people to increase the height of the dam as an effort to prevent the flood. The picture was so inspiring to me, so many people of different backgrounds and experiences overcoming previous conflicts and coming together to save their city. There haven’t been many times where I have heard of such a scene and fortunately Leipzig is safe, but many cities further East have suffered damage.

As far as work, I have been deep in reading through many different academic journals and articles. Anett has been guiding me with questions and literature to help develop my research on sustainable change management in energy companies which I’ll be presenting at the end of my internship. I’ll be writing more about it once I’m further along with my research, so be sure to check back in!


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