Mette Laursen: "The Belgian Embassy has become my second home"

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European Business Summit

Mette Laursen moderates a debate at a European Business Summit. © Mette Laursen

Did you know that the FPS Foreign Affairs has a network of ‘Advisors in Economic Diplomacy’? Right now, they number 114 and each is employed at one of Belgium's 53 diplomatic and consular posts around the world. These advisors make it easier for us to access a country's economic, as well as political and cultural environment (see the box entitled ‘Advisors in Economic Diplomacy’).

But what does that mean in specific terms? We had the opportunity to talk about this with Mette Laursen, who, from her base in Denmark, has worked as an Advisor in Economic Diplomacy for Belgium since 2018.

Margrethe Vestager

"As a consultant, you need to be able to connect with venerable and knowledgeable figures of all kinds," began Laursen. "And to do that you need a network, which in my case, I've been pretty successful in developing. After all, I trained just about every policymaker in Denmark (see box on Mette Laursen). I also worked for Ernst & Young and at the Danish Ministry of Finance, I worked with Margrethe Vestager with whom I also studied Economics at university. The fact that Belgium invited me to become a consultant certainly has to do with my large network."

For the sake of clarity, Margrethe Vestager is none other than Denmark's EU Commissioner for Competition Policy and Digital Agenda, who in the past has put tech giants such as Facebook and Amazon through the mill. She is also the Executive Vice-President of the European Commission.

Laursen furthermore believes she is able to bring proven credibility to the table. "The Belgian embassy has confidence in what I provide." She also has a good relationship with Belgium. “Many of my closest friends, Margrethe Vestager included, have moved to Brussels and I also travel there often myself. Not only Belgium, but Brussels is important when it comes to understanding how to be European in this day and age. I go there on a regular basis to discuss the future of Europe with European CEOs."

Who is Mette Laursen?

Mette Laursen is the founder and CEO of LinKS, a unique company specialising in ‘Executive Education’, in other words, providing training to leaders and executives. LinKS achieves this by means of a partnership with the Wharton School in Philadelphia, USA, with which it has an exclusivity agreement for Scandinavia. The cream of Danish and Scandinavian CEOs and politicians followed a training course in Governance there. By utilising her network, Laursen also organises advisory sessions on relevant topics, such as cybersecurity.

Laursen is, in her own words, also a ‘female Viking warrior’, for whom empowering women is high on the agenda. This is reflected in the fact that she brings together an impressive panel of women in leadership positions each year on International Women's Day on 8 March. LinKS also directs a group of influential businesswomen, many of whom received training from the company itself.

Mette Laursen has also been Global Ambassador for BLOX, a national and international gathering place in Copenhagen dedicated to sustainable urban development, for the past 5 years. "How we organise our cities is going to be one of the biggest challenges," she explains. "That is actually something that I discuss with all of the embassies, but the Belgian embassy is always at the top of the list." BLOX is funded by Realdania, the world's largest foundation in the field of the built environment (cities, towns, villages, parks...). Its aim: to improve the quality of life for all through the built environment.

Laursen is also a welcome guest at events such as the European Business Summit (EBS) in Brussels. This organisation brings together businesspeople and politicians to reflect on pressing issues. The patrons of the EBS include H.M. the King of the Belgians and the Belgium's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hadja Lahbib.

Princess Esmeralda at the Karen Blixen Museum

Laursen does however add a footnote to her job title: Advisor on Economic Diplomacy. "Though it makes reference to 'economic' diplomacy, in reality it's much broader than that," she explains. “It goes without saying that some topics are of a purely economic nature. For example, energy policy gets a lot of attention, which is something that Belgian companies are very interested in. Denmark also has the largest renewable energy fund! But my role can also be purely cultural, such as contributing towards a beautiful concert."

One of the things that Laursen herself looks back on with great pleasure is a Women's Day event she organised at the wonderful Karen Blixen Museum. Karen Blixen was a popular Danish author whose works include the well-known Out of Africa. She was also a pioneer in the area of women's rights, environmental awareness and the rights of indigenous peoples.

"I am strongly committed to women's issues and the Belgian embassy showed a lot of interest as well," Laursen says. "That's why I put forward the idea of bringing together 75 women in leadership positions at the Karen Blixen Museum on International Women's Day in 2020. The embassy then suggested inviting Belgium's Princess Esmeralda as well. During the event, I interviewed her. She came across as a true warrior who not only stands up for women's rights, but also for the rights of minorities. The women in leadership positions from Denmark who took part in the event really enjoyed it. In this way, we were able to showcase the Belgian monarchy as extremely relevant."

The initiative was genuinely extremely successful. The 75 women in leadership positions spent an entire day reflecting – together or in groups – upon how Karen Blixen's life mottoes are still pertinent to all of them as they plot out their own life paths and careers. Attending the event were women in senior positions at Google Nordics, Microsoft Denmark, IBM Global Business and numerous Danish companies and institutions. Margrethe Vestager also gave an inspiring discourse there.

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Impressions of the event on International Women's Day 2020 at the Karen Blixen Museum. Spoken commentary: Mette Laursen.

Brainpower

Laursen also mentions the working visit made by King Philippe to Denmark on his own initiative in 2021. “The King of the Belgians had already made a State visit to Denmark in 2017, but then he wanted to come back and see us again! The purpose of this visit was to study how exactly the Danish labour market works. I played my part in ensuring it was an engaging programme and, of course, that women were also included. But I also learned a lot myself!"

How much time she devotes to her unpaid position as an advisor is hard to say. “During the coronavirus pandemic, I spent less than the usual amount of time on it, of course, but sometimes it's quite a serious job. After all, as an advisor, you must always be available to get involved in matters of importance to Belgium. But I cannot express the amount of time I spend in hours. The fact is that I actually put in quite a bit of brainpower because I don't want to make mistakes. When Belgians come to Denmark, my aim is to make sure they find a good match, and that certainly is not a burden; I enjoy it. I find it tremendously inspiring to learn from other cultures and to interact closely with policy makers."

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European Business Summit

De Belgische ambassadeur in Kopenhagen reikt de medaille uit aan Mette Laursen. © Mette Laursen

Knight in the Order of the Crown

Mette Laursen's contribution has even earned her an honour. She has actually been awarded the honour of Knight of the Crown Order of the Kingdom of Belgium. "That is something I'm definitely proud of. Not many women in the world have been given the opportunity to receive such an award. For example, I sit on one of the management boards of the Danish royal family, but I haven't been given anything for that role yet," she says, laughing.

"The Belgian embassy has become something of a second home to me," she concludes. "Sometimes I come up with an idea myself, while at other times, the embassy puts forward the ideas. We work very well together. Anyway, from our Danish ‘monocultural’ perception, I find it fascinating how Belgium functions with its multiple communities and how Belgian diplomats deal with that complexity. In the end, they always manage to project their country externally as a single entity. Besides, sometimes I think I'm more a product of Belgium than a Belgian themselves."

Soon, on 16 November – this interview was conducted on 4 November – Laursen will already be heading back to our country. There, she will take part in a round table at the European Business Summit, along with Margrethe Vestager. The aim of the event will be to reflect on how the EU can best implement its strategic autonomy – on health, defence, energy, etc. - on a practical level.

Advisors in Economic Diplomacy

The task of the Advisors in Economic Diplomacy is to provide information to the Minister of Foreign Affairs via our diplomatic and consular missions and to give advice about all issues of an economic and financial nature or about opportunities for our country.

Becoming an advisor in economic diplomacy doesn't happen overnight. Our FPS expects them to have sufficient knowledge of Belgium's social and economic climate and also to be fairly knowledgeable about how our country functions. And, of course, they should also have a good understanding of the social, economic and financial affairs of the country in which they work.

Find out more on our website: Advisors in Economic Diplomacy