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“From Dialog to Action” The Work of the Robert Bosch Foundation in Governance

In our first podcast episode on governance, we spoke with Clemens Spiess, Senior Project Manager at the Robert Bosch Foundation in the Department of International Relations America and Asia, who is also responsible for the focus areas of governance and civil society in the department. As we didn’t have time to go into depth in our podcast episode, we wanted to say a bit more about the work of the Robert Bosch Foundation in the area of governance.

The Robert Bosch Foundation is a registered non-profit, or non-governmental organization, in Germany that owns 92% of the shares of the privately held Bosch company, known globally for its home appliances and tools, smart home products, and solutions in multiple industries including automotive and energy to name just a few. The foundation does not have any voting rights in the company but gets its resources from the company’s dividend, and from time to time does make use of the resources the Bosch company network has to offer. For example, the foundation uses its connection to the company to get representatives from business into its programming in the area of governance. These connections complement the foundation’s existing and well-established global networks. As Mr. Spiess noted, in the area of governance specifically.

“The interest to be involved in finding governance solutions and in the process of rulemaking is more prominent among civil society actors and politics and administration than among business representatives.”

Its Work in Fostering Governance

As Clemens Spiess said in Episode One of our podcast,

“When we looked at the Robert Bosch Foundation at Governance and what it actually means in the context of our strategy, and our project portfolio as a non-profit operating almost globally, we quickly realized that for us governance stands for a process – a process of negotiating rules for dealing with all kinds of social change… Governance for us is a process of negotiating and rule setting towards more cooperation and, and public good orientation when dealing with the different aspects and also different stages of social change…. Ideally for all the programs that we support or that we implement on our own, we want to have at least representatives from two sectors, ideally three sectors, so politics / administration should be there, business ideally as well, which is always usually the most difficult, and civil society. And of course, governance for us to be legitimate has to have this component of participation, so citizens have to be engaged in the process of establishing and setting up the rules, uh, which is quite important for us.”

Programs and Projects – From Dialog to Action

The core strength and strategy of the Robert Bosch Foundation is to bring people together and empower individuals to bring about change and come up with their own solutions, which is visible in its many dialog, exchange, stipend, and fellowship programs. The second important component is to go from “dialog to action”, by supporting the development of actual (pilot) projects.

In its governance related activities, the foundation usually serves as a facilitator that offers platforms for discussions to take place, offering different perspectives from the three sectors—civil society, business and politics/administration—when it comes to establishing a process of negotiating governance rules and regulations.  Most of the programs and projects supported by the foundation in the area of governance are multilateral or international by nature, and are designed to empower individuals through insights from other regional contexts. Fellows, for example, take part in a program to have an international exchange about governance solutions and gain further knowledge from different regional and sectoral perspectives. They then go back to their home countries and effect social change, innovation, and eventually more effective governance.

The foundation not only offers room for discussion through workshops and seminars, but also fosters the development of smaller pilot projects that often also receive small amounts of seed funding so that everybody taking part in these discussion forums can see that there is a step from dialog to action. As Spiess explained,

“This provides a kind of blueprint, a role model, even if it is something which is bound to fail, eventually, but this is another experience that is quite important in the whole process of establishing more effective governance. I think this component of not only providing the platform for discussion, but also to get innovative ideas that will be eventually made into a small project, which can act as a template or blueprint, is quite important.”

When the basic idea of such meetings is to enhance international dialog, measuring the outcomes of impacts of these small projects can be challenging. As Spiess said,

”You don’t have very often quantitative indicators to measure the impact of offering such a discussion platform or dialog platform. One component [of measurement] is the feedback of the participants. Another component is whether something in terms of collaboration, cooperation, on a concrete project evolved out of these programs… You always have to look at the individual program and project when you decide what kind of impact measuring you are going to do.”

Governance Projects

Two examples of projects from the Robert Bosch Foundation in the area of governance are City Makers China-Germany and the Carl Friedrich Goerdeler-Kolleg for Good Governance.

Citymakers China-Germany
Citymakers China-Germany brings together different stakeholders in urban governance from China and Germany to discuss what would be the most innovative and best ways to make Chinese and German cities more livable. The network includes architects, social entrepreneurs, and academics, but also mayors and business representatives. One component of the program is an incubator, where out of these discussions evolve smaller project ideas that can receive start-up funding, and serve as a learning experience and a template. An example of one of these projects is urban farming in Chinese cities and German cities. The Urban Farming Incubator brings together different teams from China and Germany to think about and develop a manual on how to go about urban farming in cities; there is international exchange and also small demo plots. One is on the rooftop of Tongji university in Shanghai, where you can see the work and an example of how you can engage the community with this. This is the component from dialog to action.

Carl Friedrich Goerdeler-Kolleg for Good Governance.
A long-running program in the area of governance, which fits under the foundations portfolio of the department of International Relations Europe and its Neighbors, is the Carl Friedrich Goerdeler-Kolleg for Good Governance, which is a professional development program for committed leaders who stand up for responsible and public interest-oriented behavior in public administration, in business or in civil society. The program is named after Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, who was the former mayor of the city of Leipzig and was also a key figure of the resistance against the Nazi regime. The program addresses committed leaders from Europe, Russia, Central Asia, and Turkey who work in public administration, in businesses, and in non-profits. Over the course of one year they take part in seminars and workshops to gain knowledge and competencies in the area of “good governance”. They receive training in trans-sectoral cooperation and innovation management, and exclusive insight into German and European organizations. They learn how they can organize governance and improve their leadership skills. Then, with the support of experienced project managers, each of the participants implements an individual, small project in his / her home country. This is another example of “dialog to action”.

To learn more about the work of the Robert Bosch Foundation, including some of the projects mentioned here, go to their website, and tune in to Episode 1 of the Project Ungoverned? podcast.


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