Gütersloh – April 4, 2017. As a successful entrepreneur, Reinhard Mohn felt an obligation to give back to society, and he founded the Bertelsmann Stiftung in 1977 as a result. Through its diverse projects, the foundation addresses issues in the area of business, education, health care, culture, social affairs and democracy. Since its inception, it has invested approximately €1.3 billion in charitable projects. It is currently carrying out some 60 projects and employs about 380 people.
Using expertise to offset a loss of trust in policy-making and the media
Aart De Geus, chairman and CEO of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, emphasized that the Bertelsmann Stiftung currently faces considerable challenges in light of political and social upheavals such as Brexit and growing populist parties. "As a model, pluralistic democracy is being tested at the moment. We are experiencing both an explosion of information and an erosion of trust in policy makers, the media and the facts," said De Geus. Yet the future can only be shaped through expertise and an open exchange of viewpoints, he added, something that applies all the more in 2017, a year in which Germany will hold national elections and the Brexit negotiations will take place. "2017 will be a year of decisions for Europe. In order to overcome global challenges, Europe must work together to develop solutions. Europe's nation-states should use the EU, the only reasonable path, for moving forward in the 21st century," De Geus said.
Foundation's work recognized with ceremony and "Citizens' Day"
Assuming social responsibility, a principle adhered to by the Bertelsmann/Mohn founding family, is more timely than ever, as Liz Mohn, vice-chairwoman of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board, explained: "For four decades, the foundation has been a unique place where current problems have been analyzed and solutions have been developed and implemented. This would never have been possible without the dedication of many people. As a result, we want to use the ceremony on May 3 in the Gütersloh Theater and a 'Citizens' Day' on September 16 to come together with longtime supporters and project partners, with employees and members of our governing bodies, to look back on four decades of committed, successful and shared effort." The knowledge developed in the foundation is also used outside of Germany. The Fundación Bertelsmann in Spain, for example, supports the expansion of the dual vocational education system, thereby helping young people transition from school to work in Madrid, Andalusia and Catalonia. It is aided in its efforts by a network of 350 representatives from the business community, policy-making institutions and trade associations.
This year, the NEUE STIMMEN International Singing Competition celebrates its 30th anniversary. Some 13,000 singers have applied to participate in the competition to date, and many of its 115 prizewinners have gone on to become internationally acclaimed artists. For Mohn, music is a language that connects all people and transcends borders.
That is also true of music education. For more than 10 years, the foundation has been having an impact at "Musical Primary Schools" and child-care centers. "We want to continue making use of the valuable experience gained through our projects," Mohn said. In keeping with the motto "Music, Language, Participation," refugees in Germany are being given opportunities to engage with culture and acquire German language skills.
Germany must catch up when it comes to digitization
This year's Reinhard Mohn Prize is focusing on using digitization to help people participate more in society, as reflected in the motto "Smart Country – Connected. Intelligent. Digital." Brigitte Mohn, member of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board, explained: "In order to identify national digital strategies that have already been implemented, we took a look at how other countries are shaping digital change for themselves. Many are much farther along than Germany, which has some catching up to do in terms of political will and finding the courage to truly shape change." According to Brigitte Mohn, Estonia is the country others can learn from most, which is why this year's €200,000 Reinhard Mohn Prize is being given to former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. He will be honored at the award ceremony on June 29 in Gütersloh as a thought leader and key policy maker responsible for introducing and implementing Estonia's national digitization strategy in government, public administration and education. "We have to become faster and, at the same time, take a long-term perspective if we want to shape digital change and all of its impacts in a way that benefits everyone," Brigitte Mohn said.
Founders with good ideas even outside major cities
Approximately one year after being established by the Bertelsmann Stiftung, the Founders Foundation in Bielefeld can point to positive results. Initially there were only two start-ups, now there are 18. Jörg Dräger, member of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board, explained: "Start-ups fit in not only in Berlin, but also in Eastern Westphalia. Here everyone is pulling together and a vibrant ecosystem for founders is taking shape." At two practice-oriented academies, some 80 entrepreneurs were trained, five teams were developed over six months and the first €700,000 in funding raised. According to Dräger, the efforts have successfully combined the strengths of Eastern Westphalia as an economic region with the innovative power and agility of start-ups. "We want to help and retain the young talents in our region. We are training founders and networking them with established businesses," Dräger said. In a next step, beginning June 1 the "fully fledged" founders will move to the Pioneers Club located 300 meters from the Founders Foundation, where Bielefeld’s first commercial coworking space, 800 square meters in size, is being created.
About the Bertelsmann Stiftung
The Bertelsmann Stiftung is committed to ensuring that everyone in society is given a fair chance to participate. Its goal is to improve education, shape democracy, advance societies, promote health, vitalize culture and strengthen economies. Through its civic engagement, it wants to encourage others to support their own communities as well. A nonprofit organization, the Bertelsmann Stiftung was founded by Reinhard Mohn in 1977.