We have been working to promote freedom, solidarity and goodwill – for 40 years. The official ceremony marking this anniversary took place on May 3 at the Gütersloh Theater, attended by the foundation's employees and by representatives of the social, political and business spheres. In his keynote speech, former German President Joachim Gauck looked back at the foundation's development – from the initial idea to today's "combination of think tank, sponsor and creative force." The event's program also journeyed from the past to the future when a range of music, from classical to modern, accompanied an LED-enhanced ballet by choreographer Flavio Salamanka of the Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe.
In her opening remarks, the vice-chairwoman of our Executive Board, Liz Mohn, recalled the foundation's beginnings and our founder, Reinhard Mohn. Throughout his life, her husband felt it was important to get involved on behalf of the company, his employees and society at large, she said. "My husband understood that he had society to thank for quite a lot. That is why he decided to establish a nonprofit operating foundation," Mohn explained. "And even today, the foundation is still contributing solutions to political problems and crises. We want to recognize cultural and ethnic roots and to preserve things as values increasingly disappear." In terms of the foundation's work, she said,
"In the future, we want to and we will: Inspire people. Shape the future – with our heads and with our hearts."Liz Mohn, vice-chairwoman of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board
Gauck congratulates the foundation
Guest speaker Joachim Gauck noted that, despite celebrating our 40th anniversary, we are anything but old. On the contrary, he said, "in the case of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, what we have is a vibrant, hard-working organism, one that is interested and active in many areas." As a foundation, we can often react more quickly than public institutions to social and political changes, he said, for example, when it comes to integrating refugees. The foundation's success story will continue in the future, Gauck believes.
"In keeping with the spirit of its founder, Reinhard Mohn, but also in view of the changes taking place in the world, the Bertelsmann Stiftung will continue to provide complex analysis, stimulate thought processes and offer solutions."Former German President Joachim Gauck
In addition to Gauck, other representatives of the political, cultural and social spheres offered their congratulations. From former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde and current German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to musician Peter Maffay, the foundation's supporters sent video messages expressing their best wishes.
Learning from the past, for the future
The ceremony was not only an opportunity to celebrate what we've achieved, but also to ask what the future will bring. Our chairman and CEO, Aart De Geus, emphasized how important people's fears of the future are – whether they stem from Brexit, populist movements or developments in Turkey. "Where are we to find the courage to look optimistically toward the future?" he asked. The answer, he said, is by learning from the past. It, too, was not always rosy, but we managed to overcome it all the same. De Geus noted that his grandfather died as a result of the Second World War and his father never trusted Germans.
"Yet as I have seen, war can result in peace. Dictatorships can become democracies. Division can become unity. And acquaintances can become friends."Aart De Geus, chairman and CEO of the Bertelsmann Stiftung
The foundation wants to help shape the future, De Geus said, using facts to combat ignorance, and practical solutions to overcome feelings of helplessness. "We want to provide courage and give strength," he affirmed.
What would the younger generation like from us?
What do young people want for the future? Which issues should we address? The trainees at Bertelsmann expressed how they feel both in a video message and live onstage. Their wishes ranged from more support for Europe and more equitable opportunities to efforts to combat hatred and incitement.
Would you like to know more? About what kind of work we do, for example? Or what motivates us? Or what former employees wished us on our birthday? Answers to those questions and more can be found here, in our anniversary magazine.