In the interview below, the two men give us their insights into how the Schöpflin Foundation came into being, and its guiding principles. In a more detailed interview published in 2019 you can also read about how strengthening democracy lies at the heart of the foundation´s work.
Mr Schöpflin, you founded the Foundation – together with your siblings Heidi Junghanss and Albert Schöpflin. You were already actively involved in societal issues. What prompted you to found the Schöpflin Foundation?
SCHÖPFLIN: what triggered it all was the death, in 1995, of our son. After he died, I went through a period of reflection. It became clear to me that money was not an end in itself. It is up to us to give a meaning to money. In 1997, I set to work – initially without the structure of a foundation. This led to the founding of the Schöpflin Foundation on the site of our parents’ estate in Brombach; and the founding of the Panta Rhea Foundation in the USA. One of my key ideas was to work on the issue of addiction prevention – primarily in relation to drug abuse. Our approach can be summed up like this: don’t start trying to save a child when he’s already drowning – instead, take action to stop him falling into the water in the first place.
How would you define the Schöpflin Foundation’s general objectives today?
GÖBEL: We work on addiction prevention, education and engagement with civil society. Our main target groups are children, teenagers and young adults. There are two key terms that come up time and time again in our work. The first is building a sense of self-awareness: we want to help young people to develop an alert, critical awareness of the world while at the same time ensuring that they also develop self-awareness. Those are personal level issues. The second term we come across is the »promotion of democracy«: this is what you might call a systemic level issue. Essentially the idea here is that, in fifty or a hundred years’ time, we still want to be living in a strong democracy. So, in this context we also experiment with alternative forms of civil-participation processes and the production of knowledge. And we support NGOs that work on the advancement of democracy.
How does the Foundation work?
GÖBEL: The Schöpflin Foundation is divided into five parts: the Villa; the Werkraum; the Gärtnerhaus (Garden House); the Kinderhaus (Children’s House); and the charitable foundation. And in addition to these five elements we are also currently financing the special project known as FABRIC, which is on a site just opposite the main Schöpflin site in Brombach.
One part of our work is what you might call operational; in other words, we employ people to run our specific programmes – the addiction prevention programme for example. The other side of our work is the philanthropic foundation activity: here, we give other players funding in order for them to be able to do things that we deem worthy of our support. This part of our work enables us to carry over to the social sector the ideas that Hans Schöpflin used to earn his money in the first place. We invest venture capital in NGOs, social initiatives and social enterprises that work on what we have defined as key issues.
How is the operation financed?
SCHÖPFLIN: The Foundation’s expenditure continues to be financed by my own business activities. My capital is not invested in the Foundation; indeed, I use the capital to earn an income. The Foundation has an annual budget which I finance from my business assets.
How do you see your role in the network? Are you actually somewhat of a patron?
SCHÖPFLIN: I certainly don’t see myself as a patron: I’m more of an active philanthropist. I try to bring what I learnt in the world of business to my philanthropic work here at the Foundation.
You came back from California to Brombach. Your foundation is active nationwide. How do you divide things up between the USA, Berlin and Lörrach? And how important is the regional level for you?
SCHÖPFLIN: We definitely want to play a role at the regional level; but our philanthropic work means that we are also active throughout the country – and in some cases in neighbouring countries. The Foundation has many dimensions. If we were only active at a regional level, we would be viewed very differently by other foundations. For me that’s a very important point. If we do a good job with our start-up funding and risk financing then sooner or later other foundations will say »they know what they’re doing: we should get involved too«. And if, ideally, this gets repeated, we can reduce our involvement in some areas and help to support new organisations.
The model you use is not very common in Germany.
GÖBEL: That’s very true. Firstly, there are very few foundations that operate at both a regional and a national level. And secondly, most foundations provide only project-specific and time-limited funding. There were a great many refugee-crisis related projects that received funding; but very few foundations provide risk-based money or capital for projects related to structural funds. We provide the latter usually for between three and five years. In these cases, NGOs can decide for themselves how they want to spend the money. This in turn means that they are able to cover expenditure that is often not covered by project-specific funding. Other foundations often don’t finance things like rent, accountancy fees, communications work, IT, salaries for an organisation’s founders etc. And it is precisely these elements – that others won’t fund – that we are prepared to fund.
We do this because we see that public and commercial players are already firmly rooted in society: but we want to ensure that a third, alternative group is allowed to take root – namely civil society players, like NGOs. Indeed we see them acting as a counterbalance to the public and commercial players. We believe that this is all part of creating a healthy society.
Source: 22.09.2017, Oberbadische Zeitung (local newspaper)