Meet Botond Feledy: European Leadership Programme (ELP) Manager and Secretary for Leadership


Q: To kickstart this interview, share with us something interesting about you.

An interesting fact is that I moved back to Brussels for the third time in my life. I worked in the European Parliament right after the enlargement, later I joined a small corporation and now – with JESC and ELP – I am on the NGO side. So actually it is quite encompassing to see Brussels from the view of all the different players in a row: Public, corporate and NGO. 

However, I am also grateful to have found my once-future wife in Brussels: we met in the Parliament for the first time! Since the seven year of our marriage, we are parenting three amazing – and very dynamic – kids. So was it interesting for me as well to realize how much I missed LEGO in the last 20 years.

Q: What do you think has changed in Brussels?

Not the public works. But joking aside, the ambiance of the corridors of the European Institutions has shifted, of course. Old and new member states have had 15 years to get to know each other, and most of them have managed to fit into the culture of Brussels. However, some fault lines are clearer today than in 2004. Somehow, it was less painful for me to see the EU fighting its way through the 2008 financial crisis than it is now where it is challenged by Brexit, by third countries like China or Russia, and at some points even by its ally in Washington. I also feel a momentum to assist the dialogue between Central European member states and the rest. 

Q: How did your path to Leadership training start?

It is indeed a task of humility. I have seen so many great leaders from up close – and I also tried to learn from the mistakes of those appointed leaders who did not act like leaders. Leadership in this sense is definitely something very pragmatic. Simply, it cannot remain theoretical. I have had my experience starting with being a scout, to being an International Visitor Leadership Program fellow of the U.S. State Department. Last year I was nominated to be a Marshall Memorial Fellow of the German Marshall Fund. However, now I am charged to structure and organize an innovative leadership program at JESC, and I am truly glad to bring in these diverse experiences from religious organizations, international NGOs, EU institutions and of course my higher education experience from SciencesPo and other schools.

From the left: Peter Rožič SJ, Franck Janin SJ and Botond Feledy, from the Graduation Ceremony of the first cohort of ELP fellows at COMECE, Brussels

Q: Tell us how you first got involved with the Jesuits and JESC.

Jesuits in Hungary – my homeland – were only allowed to return after the fall of the Iron Curtain, unlike in some other Soviet satellites, where they were not completely prohibited. Of course, they were very visible as they were not exposed to the chicaneries of the Communist secret services, so in a way they were very much present in renewing the voice of the Church in Hungary in the nineties. Personally, I was recruited by the Provincial of the Society in Hungary in 2012 to lead the transformation of the Budapest-based St. Ignatius College. We have built up a Central European network of such special colleges – where we offer talent management, spirituality and community life for university students. This was how we met with Father Rožič: He was about to launch two similar colleges in Slovenia. Since he has become the director of JESC, it was very appealing to join his team and to take over the management of ELP. 

Q: One of the four apostolic preferences of the Jesuits is to accompany young people in the creation of a hope-filled future. What do you find most challenging in training young people to face the current and future situations of Europe and of the world?

My professional background is in international relations, with a focus on the stability of cyberspace and the toolbox of foreign policy in dealing with cyber security. As a lecturer at different universities, I encountered the young generation in several countries in Europe. I must say that they usually have an excellent understanding of our current challenges and options. Some of my students have already created great initiatives, corporations or networks. They are up and coming. What such a training as ELP may offer is on-the-ground experience, insight, simulations and exercises. To prepare young professionals to face tough decisions and to have the courage to stand up for their values and vision. To feel the social responsibility we all bear, despite the truly fragmented – and often online – realities in which we are living. We are breaking bubbles and dismantling prejudices to prepare the youth for the beautiful mission of leadership. It is not the fancy side of it, quite the opposite. It is difficult to find ourselves in leadership positions, which demand  sacrifice and our devotion. 

Q: What would you tell someone who is thinking about being involved or joining ELP?

The European Leadership Programme that we have dreamt at JESC is targeting young professionals with a few years of experience after obtaining a graduate degree. It is strictly Brussels based, but we invite candidates from EU member states and from further abroad. It is a complex programme, where the learning segment is just one of five segments. Politics of Brussels, immersion into the social reality, personal coaching and community life make it a whole. It is a catalyst to find out how Brussels functions. We hope that alumni of Jesuit schools working in town will contribute as much as our high level guest speakers or the personal coaching and spiritual accompaniment that our Fellows may opt for. This is a programme to complement any EU studies or International Relations degree, but we have had candidates from medical studies or engineers. Our mission in Europe needs people of various profiles, and the more interdisciplinary our discussions are, the better. Imagine that a fellow with a background in health services is talking to a fellow from IT to discern the ethics of our digital age. This is exactly what we aim for; building bridges over professions, over traditional fault lines so as to give momentum to fruitful dialogue based on facts and applied values that  have characterized the Society of Jesus for so long. 

Q: What is your next step?

It is a long discernment to see how to best develop ELP. First of all, we are always recruiting candidates of excellence, and at the same time we are looking for our potential new guest speakers and professors to offer the Fellows insights. We are searching for corporate and NGO partners for traineeship placements, as all Fellows are required to have a traineeship during the programme. There are plenty of ideas to follow up on and Alumni to reach out to, however. Should anyone have any further advice or comment, I will be at their disposal.