Bertelsmann Foundation takes stock of 25 years of reforms and announces focus on five areas of competence
Reinhard Mohn Explorer Foundation established to promote social entrepreneurs
In a move to gain more reform ideas from abroad, the Bertelsmann Foundation is establishing the Reinhard Mohn Explorer Foundation, which will be funded with one million euro per year. “We are seeking and supporting ‘pathfinders’ who recognize and respond to the need for social policy action and respond to it. We want to work with these social entrepreneurs at home and abroad,” explained Executive Board Chair Dr. Gunter Thielen at the press conference held in conjunction with the Foundation’s twenty-fifth anniversary. In addition to this, the Gütersloh think tank wants to develop new reform ideas, make them available to the public, and actively support their implementation in order to make them even more effective. This is why the Foundation is currently considering the possibility of founding a “knowledge transfer agency” modeled on management consulting companies.
Thielen talked about how, after 25 years, the Bertelsmann Foundation is undergoing some radical changes and developments. “Those who wish to reform society must also be able to reform themselves. Those who demand that policymakers and government officials be willing to learn must themselves be a learning organization, always putting their accomplishments to the test and developing new ideas,” asserted Thielen before the in comments that preceded the Foundation’s anniversary ceremony, the highlight of which was a speech by German Federal President Johannes Rau. The Foundation’s internal reforms will focus on reorganizing the previous nine content-specific divisions into five integrated areas of competence that reflect the society’s key problems of society.
“To further sharpen our focus and increase our influence on policymaking, we will concentrate in the future on the topics of education, employment, health, democracy and international understanding,” explained Thielen. Up until now, the Bertelsmann Foundation has been organized along functional lines, with different content-specific divisions dealing separately with comprehensive issues, such as schools. To achieve greater synergy, all of the Bertelsmann Foundation’s school projects will soon be handled on a cross-functional basis within the Education area of competence. “This channeling of knowledge within the Foundation will enable us to significantly strengthen our power for reform,” added Thielen.
According to Thielen, the future focus on the five areas of competence does not indicate a revision of or even a break with the Foundation’s previous work. Rather, the Bertelsmann Foundation, as an engine of reform for social development, will be building on its 25 years of experience. As an example, Thielen discussed the Education area of competence, which, as the nucleus of the Foundation’s work, will also figure prominently in the future. Here, all activities that have to do with learning will be brought together: from kindergarten and elementary school through to university and business-related further education. Thielen recalled the German Education Conference, organized by the Foundation in 1999 together with with the President of Germany at the time, Roman Herzog, Roman Herzog. He noted that the memorandum presented there, Zukunft gewinnen – Bildung erneuern (“Education reform – the key to the future”) is still a compelling response to the much-debated PISA study.
In the Employment area of competence, the Bertelsmann Foundation’s main focus is on overcoming the unemployment crisis. It will continue to work closely with the federal government, as it did in the Alliance for Jobs program. The Foundation supported a benchmarking report, which analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of German employment policies in an international comparison. The report will now be prepared every two years providing as important information for policymakers.
The Foundation’s efforts in creating the Health area of competence follow up on the 2000 Carl Bertelsmann Prize awarded for model solutions in Switzerland and the Netherlands. Five million euro have now been approved for this area to carry out projects that focus on greater competition, better incentive systems and more efficient quality management in the health sector. Financing and patient orientation, as well as the integration of outpatient and inpatient care, are additional themes that will be addressed in this area.
In the Democracy area of competence, the Foundation is drawing on its successful initiatives to reform governments and foundations. It seeks to improve the transparency of political decision-making and to encourage citizens to take on community responsibility. Increased volunteerism and involvement in founding more community foundations are part of this effort.
International themes will also have a higher priority in the Foundation’s work. The current focus on Europe will be developed further. Expanding the European Union, aligning its competencies and finances and discussing a common constitution are core issues within the International Understanding area of competence. Cultural projects such as “New Voices”, an international singing competition, are also designed to contribute to a worldwide cultural exchange. In the future, the Bertelsmann Foundation will make available 15 percent of its budget for projects outside Germany.
Since being established by Reinhard Mohn in March 1977, the Bertelsmann Foundation has spent over € 350 million on its charitable projects. What began with local projects such as the Gütersloh city library or the media project at the Evangelisch Stiftisches Gymnasium (a denominational high school) has long since taken on national and international dimensions.
With a budget of approximately € 70 million, the Bertelsmann Foundation is now Germany’s largest corporate foundation; it advises such bodies as the European Union, the German Federal Government, several state governments in Germany, labor and industry groups, and educational institutions of all kinds.
In connection with its anniversary, the Bertelsmann Foundation invited experts from around the world to Gütersloh to discuss how foundations can support the transformation process. Participants in the conference “On the Road to Democracy – Shaping Change” included Afghanistan’s Reconstruction Minister Mohammad Amin Farhang, former Polish Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Special Coordinator of the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe Erhard Busek, and former Sudanese Prime Minister Sadiq Al-Mahdi.