Three questions for chairman and CEO Aart De Geus as the Bertelsmann Stiftung begins celebrating its 40th anniversary.
For 40 years, the foundation has been trying to help everyone be part of society, in keeping with its motto "Inspiring people. Shaping the future." What would you say the foundation's role is within the overall framework that includes policy-making, civil society and the public arena?
We address the opportunities people have to participate in six areas: the economy, education, health care, culture, social affairs and democracy. These areas reflect the concerns of our founder, Reinhard Mohn. Four megatrends also play a key role: globalization, digitization, social inequality and demographic change. At the Bertelsmann Stiftung, we try to understand these trends with all of their impacts, interdependencies and challenges.
Globalization and digitization are greatly affecting people's ability to participate, for example in the economy, in education and in health care, to name only a few areas. Together with our 350 employees and with support from academic experts, we look for solutions and best practices while engaging with all relevant players such as community groups, trade associations and the media. As an independent foundation, we have many possibilities for carrying out research and experimenting. Yet our proposals are ultimately only meaningful if they are adopted by others. Introducing them into the public debate is part of our organizational DNA.
Through its work, the Bertelsmann Stiftung would also like to help people feel more optimistic as they face the future. Which projects do you use and which topics do you address to make people in Germany, Europe and the global community more optimistic?
A feeling of optimism is important, but so is the realization that we are actually doing quite well these days. I don't agree with the idea that, in the past, life used to be much more certain and people were more optimistic. During the post-war years, because of the reconstruction efforts, there was undoubtedly greater consensus about society's basic values, and maybe even more hope. But it is not true that there are more rational reasons these days for being afraid. Every age is unsettled by some form of uncertainty. Today, however, we know to a much greater degree and in much greater detail what is happening in the world. Our job is to ensure that people can become more a part of society once again.
Part of the foundation's DNA is not only to respond to current trends, but also to achieve a long-term impact. Is the foundation currently responding to the refugee crisis in Germany and Europe? If so, through which projects?
We think about how we can integrate refugees into society as part of the work we are doing in almost half of our more than 60 ongoing projects. There are eight projects that aim to improve the refugees' situation in very concrete terms. Let me give two examples: One project is working with Germany’s Federal Employment Agency to recognize refugees' skills. It is enabling advisory organizations, job centers and employers to determine if someone has informal qualifications that would allow them to work in a hospital, for example, or in a technical field.
The second is called Singing with Refugee Children and is part of our Music Education program. Music is a language that everyone understands. When young children sing together in school, enjoying the pleasure that music provides, then it is an emotional form of integration that is of considerable value.