My 2 years with Bertelsmann Stiftung and futurechallenges.org

Many people asked me why I’ve stopped working for Bertelsmann Stiftung. After repeating it several times, I now decided to write a blogpost, then I can easily link and don’t have to repeat myself.

First of all I have to thank Ole Wintermann, project manager of futurechallenges, and his boss Andreas Esche. They have always been very fair. They supported many of my ideas and have been very open – and to be very honest, sometimes I really wondererd WHY they didn’t kicked me off;-)

Besides their program “Zukunft global denken” I’ve also worked with Stefan Empter and Martin Spilker on magazines – but this was only short term.

December 2009 I’ve got my first contract for futurechallenges: to recruit a team of international bloggers for their platform futurechallenges.org. It ought to be a hub for policymakers, communities and citizens to better understand how some of today’s most significant issues are likely to interact and to encourage them to act on this information. It wasn’t launched by then.

Until this moment I never thought that much about Bertelsmann Stiftung. There was simply no reason for it. And indeed I was surprised how many people asked me why I would work for such lobbyist. I did some research for myself, talked to several people in- and outside the institution and decided to continue. From what I’ve seen inside the foundation, yes I would call them partially lobbyist – but in many ways they aren’t. During our time we only once had a tough discussion regarding a Chinese blogger … which was handled at the end absolutely correct by the German team.

So what did I do for them:

  • various magazines (we-magazine 03 on FutureChallenges and THRIVE)
  • optimizing internal workflow
  • introduction into social media tools
  • connect them to the web community and explained the idea of an open social ecosystem
  • fighted their first technical contractor (denkwerk) and introduced headshift, London
  • introduced new formats in storytelling
  • connected them with The Church of London, who are now responsible for the monthly lead articles
  • various events/workshops for the international bloggerteam
  • various strategy papers for the platform
  • connecting them with international networks and organizations (Sunlight Foundation, Ben Gurion University, MIT Media Lab, Ars Electronica, British Council, AMP Australia, United Nations, NATO, global voices … just to name a few)
  • reportages from Chile, Norway, Egypt, OWS and Shanghai

I’ve learnt a lot during these 2 years. Here a a few things I would like to mention:

  • never underestimate the importance of hierarchies
  • the dominance of staff functions such as IT and communications
  • the freedom to spent money and experiment
  • the straints between openness and control
  • tricky things about how to “lead” a very heterogeneous group of employees, some of them willing to support the project, others simply rejecting
  • existing borders between existing departments

Why did I quit the job?

Despite the good money, I felt it was time for a change. I think you always should leave when it’s running good;-) We’ve certainly reached a point where the course was set: the new platform was running, the new content strategy established and the international team was somehow running. Some other reasons were:

  • different speed of operation
  • different understanding of what progress means
  • lack of top-down commmitment and vision and maybe the
  • the most important of all: I never felt the same passion within the institution for this project than I myself brought into it. And for me passion is essential. Without passion you just do a job. You work. And I prefer not to work;-)

Nevertheless it was a great time. I’ve learnt a lot.

Thank you for this!

Of course I will have an eye on the project. I am interested how it evolves and where it’s heading to – but from a distance.

Off to other challenges. Now;-)

4 thoughts on “My 2 years with Bertelsmann Stiftung and futurechallenges.org”

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful post, Ulrike. You and I have not always agreed on everything, but this post shows a lot of insight into our own “future challenges,” as well as current ones. Thanks for your work.

    1. It was thoughtful;-)

      You learn from those with whom you disagree … don’t you?
      And a job of a consultant – at least in my eyes – is NOT to agree with his/her clients. How boring would this be … and of what kind of value? Might be easier though;-)

  2. I was fortunate enough to have worked with Ulrike on her last Bertelsmann project, which was a tremendously valuable experience. I must say the best education money can’t buy 🙂 Also working with the Bertelsmann Stiftung has proven to be a quite interesting and hopefully ongoing process. And yes, we do learn most in times of disagreements. Who would watch a movie with nonconflicting characters? :p Valuable moments which lead to a greater reality.

    Be safe

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