After more than 50 years, the Robert Bosch Stiftung is restructuring its international area of support. Sandra Breka, Member of the Board of Management, discusses the need for a reset, the new focus – and how impressed she is by her colleagues’ commitment.
Ms. Breka, you are reorganizing the Foundation’s international work. Why?
Our area of support International Understanding goes back to the legacy of Robert Bosch and has a long tradition at the Foundation. We have in the past undertaken periodic strategic reviews and program development that led to incremental changes over the years. But today our international context is changing rapidly and dramatically. We need to respond with more than incremental change.
Do you mean global political developments and changes in the philanthropic sector?
Yes. Our objective is to contribute to solving the challenges of our time. In the past, we worked on ten very different topics – covering an incredibly broad range. But over the years this has blurred the profile of the Foundation’s international work. In addition, philanthropy has been subject to significant change. The volume of global philanthropy has more than doubled in the last two decades. Foundations are developing new forms of support. The public is more critical and it increasingly questions the legitimacy and effectiveness of philanthropy. We asked ourselves how we can be forward-thinking and achieve the highest possible impact with our work.
What’s the answer?
We need a strategic realignment that focuses on a few select topics. Over the past 18 months, about one hundred colleagues have been involved in the process. We first asked ourselves which global trends are most pressing and most likely to shape our future. We gained a comprehensive picture through discussions with international experts – both practitioners and academics – as well as through studies, study trips, and workshops.
The new topics of your international work are Climate Change, Conflict, Migration, and Inequality. Why these ones specifically?
For us, the combination of these topics best fulfills the objectives at the core of our international work. Indeed, it is derived from Robert Bosch’s legacy: we want to work on issues that promote peaceful coexistence within and between societies; that means issues that require multilateral cooperation between various actors. The four topics are interdependent on one another. Climate change and inequality, for example, are drivers of conflict and migration. In the future, we want to examine their interconnections and work at that nexus.
Sandra Breka is an expert on international relations and a Member of the Board of Management of the Robert Bosch Stiftung. She is responsible for the areas of support of International Understanding and Cooperation as well as Active Citizenship in addition to the programmatic work of the Foundation in Berlin.
How are you approaching the new topics?
We are currently reviewing how and in which regions we will fund them. We are focusing on areas that either receive little attention or where we can make a significant contribution. We will start funding in 2020 – and have renamed our focus area International Understanding and Cooperation.
With the realignment, you are dropping all of the previous projects and programs in the international portfolio. Why this step?
It is very important to us to end partnerships in a responsible manner. We had frank conversations with our partners about how our support will wind down and about potential final activities – for each individual project. Still, it is a drastic step. However, it was necessary in order to be consistent and create space for the new topics.
“We asked ourselves how we can be forward-thinking and achieve the highest possible impact with our work.”
Will the Foundation also change the way it provides funding?
Due to the changing international context and our aspiration to contribute to solving societal challenges, we might also have to apply a wider range of funding instruments in the future. How we fund will vary from topic to topic. In the end, institutions and people change the world, not projects.
Looking at the final months of the process, what has impressed you most?
I was convinced that this step was necessary and important when I began working on the strategic development process, and yet I was surprised by the energy and momentum that it generated. I was impressed by the staff’s participation and willingness to change at a time when the future was unclear. Also, there was the commitment of the leadership team that generated a strong sense of unity and solidarity. It is a great privilege to help shape such a process. It wouldn’t be possible without the commitment of our Board of Trustees.
If you look a year into the future, what do you wish the Foundation?
I hope that it will be seen as a progressive partner in the philanthropic sector. I hope that everyone will have found his or her place in the new teams, and that we can continue to keep up the strong team spirit and momentum of the past two years. And also, I wish that we, with our own strong profile, will join the community of those who are already working on our new topics.