An anniversary is always the moment to look back and appreciate what has been achieved. At the same time, it is an opportunity for the Bertelsmann Stiftung to recognize that more remains to be done and, as a result, to begin focusing on the challenges that will affect our everyday lives in the future.

Thinking Critically – Taking Action

Author: Thomas Röbke
Photography: Achim Multhaupt

Social psychologist Harald Welzer wants to encourage his fellow citizens to think critically and take action. The time is right for alternative lifestyles and new forms of economic activity, he says. Calling attention to those lifestyles and activities and making them known to others is the goal of the nonprofit foundation Futurzwei. The organization also wants to generate and collect new ideas. Professor Welzer is one of Futurzwei’s co-founders and now serves as its director.

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What would you like to achieve with Futurzwei?

Prof. Dr. Harald Welzer: We want to tell engaging stories about sustainability and profile people who are constructively engaging with society. In 2017, we will relaunch Futurzwei and become even more political.

Futurzwei has produced the initiative Open Society (Offene Gesellschaft), which you also co-founded. You want to use it to give the silent majority a voice in 2017, the year Germany elects a new parliament, and to promote a constructive debate on the future of the open society.

Even though more than four-fifths of voters in Germany cast their vote for freedom and democracy, policy makers tend to focus their attention on the one-fifth that does not want an open society. We want to change that. The normal point of view is that minorities need support. What people need to do now, however, is promote and support society’s majority.

How did we end up in this situation?

It’s the result of lopsided political communication. The topics addressed in the public debate are largely dictated by the political right, by a minority that has managed to take control of the discussion by transgressing social boundaries and using scandal-friendly terminology. This incorrectly leads people to think that the majority is concerned with these issues. We want to counteract this imbalance and give the majority a voice, as paradoxical as that might be.

Is it about preventing the worst, given the current situation? Or might the current situation produce something positive, some sort of social progress – because people choose to get involved?

Of course it might. It shouldn’t have taken so long for us to come up with the idea of the Open Society and its objectives. The political landscape has developed in such a way that politicians always have to deliver something, anything – and the democratic community just watches them do it. One symptom of this situation is the whole talk show culture, which people confuse with politics. Democracy can’t function like this over the long term.

People elect representatives who then assume the task of governing – that is certainly not open to discussion…

Naturally. But the more fundamental idea is that there should be a vibrant political community that participates in public affairs. This idea has really gotten lost in recent decades. Personally, I think it’s cool that we now have a situation which is making people sit up and realize how important democracy is and that it only exists if enough people are willing to take action and support it.

So anyone who wants to get involved goes to the Open Society website … and does what?

There are different levels of engagement. You can start by simply registering as a friend. You can also upload a picture or a short video containing a statement of why you are in favor of an open society. If you’re involved in an organization or company and you’re organizing an event that has to do with democracy or an open society, then you can mention it. Or you can just organize something on your own – our website tells you how. It’s even possible to apply for up to €3,000 in funding.

One often heard complaint is that there’s a divide between “us” at the bottom and “them” at the top – a sort of “democracy discontent.” Is there any way to close the gap?

Never completely since, objectively speaking, it’s there. In the field of social psychology, we’ve come to understand that people have relatively few problems with inequality if they still feel that, despite everything, society is just. Yet when a cashier at a supermarket is fired because she didn’t correctly process a bottle-deposit receipt worth a few cents, but Mr. Winterkorn receives a bonus worth millions even though he ran a major corporation into the ground, that’s when people say, “It’s not right. It’s not fair.” And get really mad. Or they lose trust in the entire system and become apathetic. Here, too, there’s been a lot of negligence in recent years when it comes to the enormous increase in executive pay and the huge gap between it and what normal employees like engineers make. It no longer has anything to do with performance. It’s not good for society when such disparities become so extreme.


Harald Welzer über Populisten: Die besten Zitate

Small Shared Efforts = Big Changes

Author: Tanja Breukelchen
Photography: Jan Voth

Social services are provided by many different organizations in Germany. What are needed are new forms of impact-oriented cooperation which make it possible for people to work together and respond to today’s challenges.

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Building Local Synergies

Through the project Building Local Synergies (Synergien vor Ort), the Bertelsmann Stiftung is working with nonprofits and communities to test and anchor new approaches to cooperation and shared impact. The project’s studies and its inventory of good practices provide an overview of current resources. New forms of cooperation and inclusion are being developed and assessed, with the relevant materials made available to interested parties. Beginning in 2017, further education courses will also be available. Events, workshops and study trips promote exchange within Germany and beyond.

Committed Communities

The Committed Communities (Engagierte Stadt) project is supported by the Bertelsmann Stiftung, the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt, Generali Zukunftsfonds, the Herbert Quandt Foundation, the Körber Foundation, the Robert Bosch Foundation and Germany’s Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. The project brings together a range of local-level actors to develop joint strategies. Committed Communities does not focus on certain types of institutions or organizations, but makes use instead of the skills local actors have to develop solutions. Different types of groups can apply to participate, including civil society organizations, community foundations and initiatives for promoting civic engagement. Participants must be based in a German community with between 10,000 and 100,000 inhabitants.


Using impact analyses, a free seal of quality, publications, workshops and advisory services, the analytic and consulting organization Phineo helps nonprofits and investors, such as foundations and businesses, to increase their social impact. For example, the Foundations Guidebook (Kursbuch Stiftungen) offers a wide range of know-how and practical tips. It was developed in cooperation with the Bertelsmann Stiftung and can be downloaded free of charge or ordered as a print version. The Impact Guidebook (Kursbuch Wirkung) helps organizations plan and implement projects in an impact-oriented manner. “Impact-oriented” means always keeping in mind questions like: What is this project meant to achieve? Which target group is it meant to reach? And which changes should result within the target group?

Jung bewegt

Jung bewegt is committed to increasing social engagement among children and young people – initially in the pilot regions of Berlin, Magdeburg, Halberstadt and Mainz. The goal of the project is to give young people, regardless of their background and educational achievement, the opportunity to get involved on behalf of society and in causes of their own choosing. By working together with 62 educational institutions, the project has reached some 20,000 children and adolescents. The project team gladly shares its experience with child-care centers, schools and youth organizations.

Community Roadmap

The Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Community Roadmap (Wegweiser Kommune) is a multifaceted information system which the foundation makes available to all communities. The guide contains data, population forecasts and strategic action plans for all German cities and towns with more than 5,000 inhabitants. Providing information on 2,950 communities, home to some 86 percent of the German population, and on 295 rural districts, the guide sheds light on developments in a range of policy areas, including demographic change, education, public finance, integration, nursing care, social affairs, employment and the economy.


Practice-Oriented Guides

The handbook Praxisratgeber Zivilgesellschaft and the Technology of Participation® toolkit provide background knowledge and useful tips for people who want to get involved – and help others do the same.

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Author: Tanja Breukelchen

The handbook Praxisratgeber Zivilgesellschaft (Practice-Oriented Guide to Civil Society) provides foundations, nonprofits and engaged individuals with examples of best practice that are national and international in scope. It also includes numerous checklists that can be used to implement planned activities. The collective impact guidelines, for example, describe the five most important factors for ensuring success.

The Technology of Participation® (ToP®) was developed in the United States in the 1970s by the Institute of Cultural Affairs after it became apparent that minorities were regularly being excluded from political decision-making processes. ToP® offers consulting and training for participatory processes. For example, it allows individuals with no experience as facilitators to quickly learn the basics. This makes it an ideal tool for young people and can provide them with initial experience leading groups.


Praxisratgeber Zivilgesellschaft
Übersicht der Publikationen
Die Kunst der Beteiligung
Partizipative Moderation mit der »Technology of Participation« (ToP®)

A new Community Foundation

Author: Olaf Tarmas, Tanja Breukelchen
Photography: Axel Martens

The flat-bottomed boat glides silently through the canal. Sun sparkles on the water, shafts of light fall on the ground nearby. Wooden huts and gardens seem to drift past, then another stand of alder trees full of gnarled roots. Germany’s Spreewald, the canal-filled forest bisected by the Spree river south of Berlin, is offering visitors an hour’s idyll on a warm summer’s day.

It’s a landscape that warrants preservation, as do the traditions that have long been found here. That is the goal of Kulturlandschaft Spreewald, a community foundation established in 2007. According to its organizers, the foundation’s most important task is …

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… to carry out small initiatives that motivate residents and area businesses to get involved and protect the landscape. For example, one of the organization’s earliest projects was to clean up the Puschasch-Zeitz-Ecke, a piece of land on one of the Spreewald’s most popular canals which was almost completely overgrown.

Reclaimed ground

A local construction firm brought in a special bulldozer capable of wading through the swampy terrain and used it to shore up the property. A local pub owner volunteered to sponsor the project. Without the community foundation the undertaking would never have happened. Its members developed the idea, brought all the relevant parties together – and did the necessary fundraising.

„We are very proud, that this campaign is so successful even in the second year.”
Holger Bartsch, chairman of the Foundation Kulturlandschaft Spreewald Executive Board

Meadow saved

Another of the foundation’s projects has been running since 2012 and involves maintaining an orchard meadow in the town of Stradow, where apple, pear, cherry and plum trees grow. The trees went for years without anyone looking after them. Changing that was one of the foundation’s goals, since meadows of this sort are a traditional part of the regional landscape. In 2013, the first trees were “adopted” by Spreewald residents, who received the right to harvest the fruit from “their” tree for three years. The adoption fees help pay for gardeners to care for the greenery.

Very special honey

These days the foundation has even gone so far as to develop a one-of-a-kind, scientifically researched honey. It is made from pollen collected in spring and summer and thus represents – and tastes of – the area’s unique biodiversity. The community foundation was responsible for organizing all the logistics needed to analyze the honey, including collecting samples from beekeepers and dispatching them to the lab. Another project partner, the Institute for Bee Research in nearby Hohen Neuendorf, took on the job of examining the samples to identify the range and quality of flowering plants in the Spreewald. By selling this very special honey, the foundation gained an opportunity to raise smaller donations from the region’s visitors and other fans.

Green shares

The community foundation’s latest campaign is to sell “meadow equity” – shares in local green spaces – in order to further conserve the Spreewald’s scenery and culture. “We are very proud that this campaign has been so successful, even during its second year,” says the foundation’s chairman, Holger Bartsch. The equation the organization has used – €50 for maintaining 1,000 square meters of wetland meadow per year – has allowed it to receive direct support from locals who consider the Spreewald to be not only their home, but a natural and cultural treasure as well.

Leading the way

The money raised has been used to launch projects that make noteworthy stretches of terrain visible to “shareholders” – residents and visitors – as they glide through the canals in their punts. Boating cooperatives and tour operators, part of the local tourism industry, led the way. Businesses from the city of Lübbenau are also supporting the idea, having made generous commitments that will pay off for years to come.

Basic data

Six topics that must have been clearly defined when a new foundation will be established:

  • Legal form
  • Title
  • Address
  • Financial Assets
  • Purpose
  • Organization

For further information and other topics concerning the foundation of a community foundation see Handbuch Bürgerstiftungen


Auf dem Weg in die globale Zivilgesellschaft
Bürgerstiftungen im 21. Jahrhundert
20 Jahre Bürgerstiftungen in Deutschland
Initiative Bürgerstiftungen
Die Gründung einer Bürgerstiftung
Bürgerstiftung Gütersloh

Citizens Unite – To Donate Time, Money and Ideas

Local philanthropists: Community foundations have become more popular in Germany for a number of reasons, including the support they receive from the Bertelsmann Stiftung.

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Photography: Archiv Bertelsmann Stiftung

Community Foundation Initiative

In 2001, the Bertelsmann Stiftung, the Klaus Tschira Foundation, the Körber Foundation and the Bundesverband Deutscher Stiftungen joined together to launch the Community Foundation Initiative (Initiative Bürgerstiftungen). The goal was to help people network and exchange experience in order to establish community foundations. The Transatlantic Community Foundation Network arranged an exchange between organizations in Europe and North America. Supported by information and consulting provided by the Bertelsmann Stiftung, more than 290 community foundations have been incorporated since the initiative began. One role model was the Gütersloh Community Foundation (Bürgerstiftung Gütersloh).


Bürgerstiftung Gütersloh
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