Magdalena Morgese Borys, a PhD graduate from 2009, recently became Head of Unit in a newly created Task Force at the Secretariat General of the EU Commission. In an interview with Magda, we talked about her 10 years of experience in the European Commission, as well as about her interest in health and nutrition that led her to become a certified nutrition coach.
You graduated in 2009 and became a Post-Doctoral Researcher at University La Sapienza in Rome. Two years later, you worked as an Economist at the Directorate General for Economic and Financial Affairs of the European Commission. How did you get this position?
While I have enjoyed doing research and especially teaching, I have realized that what I am most interested in is economic policy. I considered various international organizations, including the European Commission. As I passed the concourse to become a permanent official at the European Commission, I thought I would give it a try.
Through a former colleague at the ECB, I learned about an opening for an Economist at the Directorate General of Economic and Financial Affairs (DG ECFIN). I was successful in getting the job as a desk officer working on Spain. It was a very interesting period in the midst of the global financial crisis, which made the work very exciting. And here I am 10 years later.
You’ve been in the European Commission for more than 10 years. Can you tell us more about your work there?
I have found the work at the Commission very rewarding both in terms of substance but also in terms of working with an international team of professionals. The first few years I worked on the Spanish desk, where I was responsible for producing quarterly macroeconomic forecasts and monitoring the financial sector developments.
During the financial assistance programme, I got to advise the Spanish authorities together with economists from the IMF, ECB and ESM on setting up a ‘bad bank’ – asset management agency to manage and dispose of problematic banking assets. Working closely with other international institutions and the Spanish authorities from the Central Bank and the Ministry of Economy has been a great learning experience.
For a couple of years, I also worked on a team assisting the Eurogroup (composed of the Ministers of Economy and Finance from the euro zone countries) in taking decisions with regards to the financial assistance to Greece.
The last few years I have moved into managerial positions; first as a Deputy Head of Unit and eventually as a Head of Unit, the position I hold currently. I enjoy managing people and cultivating team spirit, so this has been a rewarding transition for me personally. I still get to use my economic skills although most of my time is actually spent providing direction and coordinating the work of my teams.
What are the biggest challenges and opportunities you see in your work due to the pandemic?
My current job is actually due to pandemia. I became a Head of Unit in a newly created Task Force at the Secretariat General of the EU Commission to manage the Recovery and Resilience Fund, over EUR 700 bn within the Next Generation EU. I am responsible for Italy and Denmark and also have a horizontal responsibility to coordinate the European Semester – an annual cycle of economic policy coordination.
In order to make available grants and loans under the RRF, together with my team, we were responsible for the negotiations with the Member States to agree with them on a package of reforms and investments over the next 6 years to ensure not only an economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis but also to lay the foundations for solid economic growth in the future.
As part of the RRF, Member States are required to devote at least 37% of the overall funds received towards green investments and a minimum of 20% towards digital transformation. Now that we have agreed to very ambitious plans, I feel great responsibility for proper and timely implementation of what was agreed. This is especially a challenge with the Italian plan, which is the largest one at over EUR 190 bn.
The challenges have been in particular related to virtual working arrangements. I still cannot believe that we managed to negotiate these huge plans under immense time pressure without ever meeting in person the members of the team nor the counterparts from the Member States. While working from home also has some advantages, I am grateful for the opportunity to work from the office a couple of times a week, which allows me to touch base with people on my team and my hierarchy.
What has influenced you the most from your CERGE-EI studies?
If I have to pinpoint just one thing, I would say analytical thinking. These were not my first studies but I really felt that apart from getting first-class training in quantitative methods, the CERGE-EI faculty put a strong emphasis on developing our critical thinking.
I find this very useful these days; understanding of economic modeling and its advantages but also limitations for economic policy; quantitative skills and a deep understanding of how to read, use, and apply statistical analysis
Now we will switch to a different topic – health and nutrition. Apart from economics, you are a certified nutrition health coach and you have your own Blog. What was your path to this profession like? And what are your recommendations for having a healthy life?
As much as I enjoy my job, it is hard sometimes to see the tangible effects. I have been looking for an activity that could complement my life in this respect and where I could have a more direct positive effect on other people. I have always been interested in health and nutrition and enjoyed experimenting on myself and advising family and friends on lifestyle choices. I thought why not make it more official.
After some research, I settled on becoming certified with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City, which provides a one-year online course in health coaching. This has led me to start my own company where I work with individual and group clients helping them to optimize their health and nutrition. With my current job, time is scarce but I continue with group coaching on the weekends.
It is difficult to give one general recommendation but I would say it is important to understand your body and figure out what works for you – be it lifestyle, nutrition, and probably life in general. We are all different and what works for one person may be actually quite detrimental for somebody else. And breathe …. breathing techniques, meditation can do wonders to manage stress and allow you to be the best version of yourself.
This year, CERGE-EI celebrates 30 years of its foundation. In your opinion, what is the strongest message CERGE-EI gives to its students?
Congratulations on the 30 years! That’s a big milestone and I am happy to see CERGE-EI maintaining its focus on academic excellence and providing quality education to its students.
I think striving for excellence, despite its relatively small size, makes CERGE-EI very unique. I came out of the program, which was hard work, feeling confident in my skills and the high quality of education I received at par with well-respected universities in the world. That allowed me to compete on the job market with the best students from other European universities.
Being a relatively small institution has some clear advantages and one of them is a strong sense of community. The availability of CERGE-EI professors to discuss and guide the students in their research was something I have never really experienced before. The same goes for the associated professors and alumni, who have always been available to help out. I have very good memories from my time in CERGE-EI and still keep in touch with many of my classmates.