The Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board

Projects range from OWL to China

The Bertelsmann Stiftung views Europe as being in a critical phase and is committed to promoting European integration. The business community has a key role to play, including in ensuring social cohesion. A special project is being carried out to assist start-ups on the regional level. The foundation is also using its own projects to respond to challenges resulting from the influx of refugees.

For Aart De Geus, chairman and CEO of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, Europe is in a critical phase. De Geus cited a number of examples, including the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Greece's sovereign debt crisis, the debate about taking in and resettling refugees, and the current question of what will happen with the UK following its "Brexit" referendum, which is scheduled for June 23. These problems are impacting life in Germany, in Ostwestfalen-Lippe (OWL) and in Gütersloh, De Geus said. Ostwestfalen-Lippe (Eastern Westphalia-Lippe) is the region in which Gütersloh is located.

Responsible entrepreneurship crucial for social cohesion

Liz Mohn, vice-chairwoman of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board, noted the various global interdependencies that exist, saying it is not possible to know today how newly industrialized countries such as Brazil will develop. China also faces significant economic and social challenges as a result of its diminishing growth. People are feeling overwhelmed by the rapid pace of change, which is resulting in uncertainty and anxiety about the future, she said. However, the business community can help address this situation by offering people support, Mohn added. To illustrate this, she referred to a finding from the "Responsible Entrepreneurship" conference held last week to launch the 2016 Reinhard Mohn Prize. In this context, she also honored Professor Klaus Schwab, who will receive the Reinhard Mohn Prize in June:

He is one of the first to have recognized that, in light of globalization and our increasingly interdependent world, the business community has a special economic and social responsibility toward society, Mohn said. He is also one of globalization's thought leaders and is adept at promoting dialogue among the political, business and social spheres, she added.  

"A Brexit would be a loss for everyone in Europe. If the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, it will negatively impact industry, employment and social participation, including in Germany and OWL."

Aart De Geus, Chairman and CEO of the Bertelsmann Stiftung

The work the Bertelsmann Stiftung is doing to create a "citizen-centered Europe" is becoming increasingly important, De Geus said, especially in light of growing Euroscepticism. He also noted that, as several Bertelsmann Stiftung surveys have shown, people in the EU support European integration and would like to see more effective cooperation among EU member states. However, Europe is growing increasingly divided when it comes to key issues such as the influx of refugees, De Geus said.

"We need the resources offered by all societal groups if we want to respond to current and coming challenges – especially those resources offered by the business community! Companies have a crucial role to play here. Yet they will only be able to fulfill that role if they support and engage in credible, values-based entrepreneurial activities."

Liz Mohn, vice-chairwoman of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board

Mohn also promotes this idea in Asia. In a few days she will leave for China where, together with the German Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, she will recognize German businesses for their social engagement in the country.

Founders Foundation: A start-up for start-ups in OWL

Jörg Dräger, member of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board, discussed why the Bertelsmann Stiftung established the nonprofit Founders Foundation. OWL is home to numerous global market leaders, outstanding universities educating 55,000 students, and many people with good ideas, Dräger said, although it has too few entrepreneurs and start-ups. Dräger explained that this is where the Founders Foundation wants to begin making a difference, namely by training business leaders to launch start-ups and, as a result, developing innovative business ideas in the region. Initial efforts in this area have been very promising, he said, noting that there was a waiting list for the first training course and that the feedback afterwards was very positive.

"In keeping with the tradition of our founder, Reinhard Mohn, the nonprofit Founders Foundation is training the next generation of business leaders in OWL. The result will be new opportunities in the region for people with entrepreneurial potential."

Jörg Dräger, member of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board

The Bertelsmann Stiftung will be investing up to €17 million in this special project in the next five years. A Founders Camp will take place in Bielefeld beginning September 1, Dräger said. The goal will be for participants to start with an initial idea and create a company within six months. The initiative will offer participants targeted consulting, seminars led by experienced professionals, and a shared office.

Bertelsmann Stiftung heavily involved in refugee-related efforts

Brigitte Mohn, member of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board, spoke about last year's predominant topic: the influx of refugees and migrants to Europe and Germany. It is an issue the Bertelsmann Stiftung has addressed in very practical terms, Mohn explained. The foundation began responding to the situation in mid-2015, dedicating considerable resources to it, she said.

"We launched or adapted a total of 35 projects. More than 50 people from the foundation are working on refugee-related activities and we have made more than €6 million available for new project work. Additional projects are also planned."

Brigitte Mohn, member of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board

Mohn mentioned numerous projects that have already made a difference and noted that the Bertelsmann Stiftung has provided approximately €1 million for emergency relief efforts. The foundation is assisting unaccompanied minor refugees and is participating in the Understanding Refugees pilot project, which is addressing the fact that German doctors and refugees needing medical treatment often do not speak a common language, Mohn said. The project allows interpreters to join medical consultations at prearranged times using online media and was recently awarded the Medical Management Prize. Mohn also explained that the foundation is supporting its partner organization PHINEO gAG in Berlin, which has published a practical guide that answers many of the questions refugees have once they arrive in Germany. A digital version is also available and can be downloaded from the PHINEO website.