The Bertelsmann Stiftung has also changed – as it had to, given the developments in the world around it. Today it addresses many issues it did not face in 1977. For example, the foundation is examining the use of algorithms in daily life, so that we can better understand the opportunities and risks resulting from AI. In addition, it has established its own Asia program which analyzes the continent’s transformation and the resulting impacts.
To my mind, however, something has remained the same through all these years: the high expectations the founding family, the employees and the public have of the foundation’s work. If I were to express these expectations in my own words, they would be three-fold: The foundation asks important questions of society. It looks for possible answers – conscientiously and everywhere. It takes the best answers and transforms them into proposed solutions capable of being applied in the real world.
Let me briefly explain what I mean by this.
Asking questions: Reinhard Mohn assigned the foundation a very important task, one that will never become obsolete, namely ensuring society is ready for the future. To do that, the foundation must address the major issues and trends that are defining life today and what it will be like in years to come. It must therefore persevere and take a long-term view, looking beyond fleeting daily political events. In other words, the foundation is not a sprinter, but a marathoner.
Finding answers: The Bertelsmann Stiftung is guided by current research and empirical findings. In carrying out its work it must be nonpartisan and objective. It must also look beyond national borders. Adhering to such principles is not easy in an age when “post-factual” is chosen Word of the Year and populists declare war on open-mindedness. It is, however, all the more important. The foundation must continue to present its ideas with a calm certainty. It is not a declaimer, but a facilitator.
Transforming into solutions: Whether the ideas proposed by the foundation are acted upon depends on whether they are of real value to people. The foundation must therefore design and refine its solutions in an ongoing exchange with its target groups. As someone with a background in academic research, I very much appreciate the importance of theoretic fundamentals. Yet the standard used to measure the results of the foundation’s work is not publication in a specialized journal, but the application of those results in everyday life. The foundation is not an ivory tower, but a workshop.
As members of the Board of Trustees, we strive to draw on our different experiences and expertise so that the Bertelsmann Stiftung can continue to meet these high standards. For me, this is a responsibility; even more, however, it is a pleasure. I am delighted every time I come to Gütersloh and am able to contribute to and further develop such an impressive legacy. I therefore wish the foundation another 40 years – and many more after that – of good questions, answers, solutions and, consequently, success.
Much has also changed in the past 14 years in which I have had the privilege of serving on the foundation’s Board of Trustees. Here, too, one thing has remained the same: my enthusiasm for the work the foundation does.
Werner J. Bauer