Fotos: Gian Marco Castelberg

Respon­si­ble Globalisation

Jörg Dräger used to be a senator in Hamburg and a management consultant. Having served on the Board of Trustees of the Kühne Foundation for the past two years, he now explains how the foundation meets its social responsibility commitments.

Last year, the Kühne Foun­da­tion spent 40 million Swiss francs and employed 500 people.

We are now approa­ching 50 million Swiss francs and 600 employees. That sounds like a very big number. Howe­ver, most of our staff are scien­tists and medi­cal teams working in our faci­li­ties. Very few people actually work at the office.

So, is the foun­da­tion growing?

The foun­da­tion is built on the entre­pre­neu­rial succes­ses of Klaus-Michael Kühne. It is thanks to his share­hol­dings in Kühne+Nagel, as well as in other compa­nies such as Luft­hansa and Hapag-Lloyd, that we are able to act and grow as an opera­ting foundation.

And that has to be managed.

Yes. To do so, we need good employees, sound gover­nance and a high level of professionalism.

As a foun­da­tion, having these kinds of funds at your dispo­sal brings with it a certain social responsibility

And again, size is not our top prio­rity here. What really matters to us is the impact we can achieve with our projects. This reflects the philo­so­phy of our foun­der. Klaus-Michael Kühne belie­ves that corpo­rate success leads to social respon­si­bi­lity. This also includes the ques­tion of how to effi­ci­ently use our funds.

That calls for trans­pa­rency, presumably?

Trans­pa­rency is important to us. We explain the objec­ti­ves of our work and outline the projects we are support­ing to achieve them. Our commu­ni­ca­ti­ons through the foun­da­tion itself are rather reser­ved, in typi­cally Swiss – or Hansea­tic – fashion. We expect our projects to explain for them­sel­ves what they do and how they operate. This allows us to find part­ners with whom we can imple­ment colla­bo­ra­tive projects. This also helps us to find the employees we need – and perhaps we can then encou­rage others to assume social respon­si­bi­lity in a simi­lar way. 

Simi­lar to Klaus-Michael Kühne, you mean?

He is one of Europe’s most successful entre­pre­neurs, who also dona­tes all his assets to the foun­da­tion. Hopefully, this will also inspire others.

How much of an influence does Klaus-Michael Kühne still have on the foundation?

Mr Kühne is very actively invol­ved as our foun­der, and has an influence not only on the issues we focus on, but also, in parti­cu­lar, on the way in which we approach things. It is because of him that we are an opera­ting foun­da­tion with an entre­pre­neu­rial mind­set, that we have secu­red such an inter­na­tio­nal posi­tion and operate as effi­ci­ently as we do.

Are you in regu­lar contact?

We talk about the foun­da­tion almost every day. He is Chair­man of the Board of Trus­tees, on which I also serve, and as such he is respon­si­ble for deter­mi­ning the main guide­lines. And he’s also very inte­res­ted in the impact we have: are we agile enough? Where is there poten­tial for inno­va­tion? This led, for exam­ple, to the foun­ding last year of our new ‘Climate’ focus area. To date, too few foun­da­ti­ons have inves­ted too little in this area.

Is this issue beco­ming more important to you?

Yes. It’s the area that we’re going to expand on the most. It’s an urgent one. The worlds of science, busi­ness, govern­ment and foun­da­ti­ons will be able to make signi­fi­cant progress in climate protec­tion over the next 10 to 20 years. And we want to do our part to help achieve this progress.

Where do you see poten­tial for progress?

We are inte­res­ted in how we can speed up the tran­si­tion to a low-carbon economy, and how we can decou­ple growth from green­house gas emis­si­ons. For exam­ple, we’re looking at how we can remove more CO2 from the atmo­sphere and scale up promi­sing approa­ches. We also want to help to make the logi­stics chain gree­ner over­all. For this purpose, we will set up a climate centre, which will have a strong focus on the Global South.

The foun­da­tion opera­tes in a wide range of fields, from logi­stics and medi­cine to culture: is there a common thread running through your diffe­rent projects?

The foun­da­tion has, of course, grown histo­ri­cally over almost 50 years. But many of our projects are concer­ned with how we can use know­ledge and educa­tion to shape globa­li­sa­tion respon­si­bly. This is a ques­tion that affects our logi­stics scien­ces, our climate acti­vi­ties and our huma­ni­ta­rian work. As a logi­stics entre­pre­neur, our foun­der has helped to shape globa­li­sa­tion and bene­fi­ted from it.

How closely can and do you want to work with Kühne+Nagel?

They are sepa­rate worlds.

There’s no trans­fer of know­ledge between them?

No, though we do share a funda­men­tal inte­rest in logi­stics. But there’s more to Mr Kühne’s port­fo­lio than just Kühne+Nagel. We’re not a corpo­rate foun­da­tion – we’re an inde­pen­dent foundation.

You’re not a grant giving foundation?

We act as a grant giving foun­da­tion in the area of culture, parti­cu­larly for excel­lent music. We support insti­tu­ti­ons, festi­vals and perfor­man­ces, for exam­ple in Hamburg, Salz­burg, Lucerne and Zurich.

But in other areas, you act as an opera­ting foundation?

Correct: we set up our own orga­ni­sa­ti­ons for each of the foundation’s objec­ti­ves. We have nine subsi­dia­ries, such as Kühne Logi­stics Univer­sity (KLU) in Hamburg and the Hoch­ge­birgs­kli­nik in Davos. In all our work, we are always conside­ring whether we are able to achieve the grea­test impact through our opera­tio­nal work.

How signi­fi­cant is that ques­tion for you?

For an opera­ting foun­da­tion in parti­cu­lar, it is very important to ques­tion ones­elf and be aware of one’s own impact. We want to be and remain rele­vant. For that reason, we are constantly having to measure oursel­ves against the needs of our custo­mers, for exam­ple our students or patients.

Does that mean you have to deter­mine your own measure of success?

In part, yes. To a certain extent, we define our own bench­mark for success. In medi­cine, for exam­ple, applied rese­arch is more important to us than foun­da­tio­nal rese­arch. We want to achieve succes­ses in climate protec­tion, espe­ci­ally in the Global South. Our project acti­vi­ties are based on these stra­te­gic guidelines.

You also initiate projects that gene­rate their own income – could you explain how that works?

Our aim is to foster an entre­pre­neu­rial spirit within the foun­da­tion. The mana­gers of our subsi­dia­ries should not simply be waiting for money and instruc­tions from Schin­del­legi, the foundation’s head­quar­ters, but should instead act on their own initia­tive and adopt an entre­pre­neu­rial approach. Our clinic compe­tes with others to provide the best possi­ble pati­ent care. Our rese­ar­chers deve­lop paten­ta­ble ideas. Our univer­sity is encou­ra­ged to actively acquire third-party funding and rese­arch funding, and iden­tify areas in which it would be bene­fi­cial to charge tuition fees. We expect all our project teams to constantly examine how they could further inten­sify and improve their work in line with the foundation’s purpose. The funds gene­ra­ted then flow directly back into the projects, where new approa­ches can be tested.

As a sena­tor in Hamburg, you campai­gned in favour of tuition fees. Isn’t this some­thing of a contra­dic­tion if you are support­ing rese­arch and teaching with dona­ti­ons at the same time?

Not at all. Students should receive the best possi­ble educa­tion. This has value, and students should pay a contri­bu­tion towards it. This is not uncom­mon in Switz­er­land. So why should it be any diffe­rent for a foun­da­tion-funded university?

Like the Kühne Logi­stics University?

For exam­ple. Students at KLU pay tuition fees. This teaches them that educa­tion has value. And by the way, KLU was voted one of the most popu­lar univer­si­ties in the world by students – despite the fees. It’s like with pizza: a free pizza never tastes as good as the one you paid for. We want to make it clear to students that they are recei­ving what is proba­bly the most valuable thing in life: a first-class educa­tion. In return, they have to work hard and make a finan­cial contri­bu­tion – if they can.

«Compe­ti­tion in the foun­da­tion sector works differently.»

Jörg Dräger, on the Board of Trus­tees of the Kühne Foundation

And if they can’t?

For those who can’t afford tuition fees, it’s up to the state or foun­da­ti­ons to provide alter­na­tive forms of finan­cing. Nobody should be excluded. We can combine scho­lar­ships, loans and other finan­cing opti­ons with tuition fees – in a fair and soci­ally respon­si­ble manner.

Do you also see any poten­tial for problems if the dona­ti­ons come too easily?

Iner­tia has never brought about change. It is hard work, compe­ti­tion and inno­va­tion that lead to grea­ter impact and posi­tive social change. By the way, compe­ti­tion in the foun­da­tion sector works differ­ently than in the econo­mic envi­ron­ment. It revol­ves around the search for the best solu­tion, the search for effec­tive scaling and the most effi­ci­ent use of resour­ces. As a foun­da­tion, our aim is to use our resour­ces where they will have the grea­test impact, not to be better than others.

Conver­sely, could insti­tu­ti­ons such as univer­si­ties promote compe­ti­tion among donors and finan­cial backers and contri­bute their own ideas as to what other projects could be supported?

Project funding should take place in the form of an equal part­ner­ship. Univer­si­ties are looking for suita­ble spon­sors for their excel­lent ideas. Foun­da­ti­ons are looking for the most promi­sing insti­tu­ti­ons to support. I believe this crea­tes healthy compe­ti­tion if it means that the better ideas, the inno­va­tions with the grea­ter impact, also receive more money.

Do you think there is there a lack of compe­ti­tion in the foun­da­tion sector?

Yes and no. No, because tradi­tio­nal compe­ti­tion between foun­da­ti­ons is only helpful to a limi­ted degree. Stra­te­gic part­ner­ships are far more effec­tive than compe­ti­tive sepa­ra­tion. In my 16 years in the foun­da­tion sector, I have had some great expe­ri­en­ces of sharing good ideas with others, and adop­ting good ideas that others have shared with me. If one foun­da­tion has deve­lo­ped an outstan­ding approach, it’s ideal when three other foun­da­ti­ons decide to adopt it or get invol­ved as part of a colla­bo­ra­tion. In this way, successful concepts can be imple­men­ted faster and more widely.

So, a combi­na­tion of compe­ti­tion and partnership?

Compe­ti­tion for the purpose of deve­lo­ping the best possi­ble ideas, combi­ned with stra­te­gic part­ner­ships; that’s the ‘yes’ part of my origi­nal answer. I believe we need inno­va­tion-driven compe­ti­tion in the foun­da­tion sector.

You have also called for more compe­ti­tion among universities.

Yes, again, I am favour of compe­ti­tion that drives forward the best ideas, combi­ned with the divi­sion of func­tions and acti­vi­ties. After all, it wouldn’t make sense for ever­yone to work in the same areas of rese­arch. As a foun­da­tion that is active in medi­cal rese­arch, this is one of the reasons why we sought out an under-repre­sen­ted field, in our case aller­gic dise­a­ses, where we can be effec­tive without seve­ral other orga­ni­sa­ti­ons doing exactly the same thing. In this field, we can make an effec­tive contri­bu­tion to alle­via­ting the wide­spread problem of aller­gic dise­a­ses and helping those affected. 

How close is your dialo­gue with other foundations?

During my two years in Switz­er­land, I have sought to build networks with the larger foun­da­ti­ons and, of course, have estab­lished links with Swiss­Foun­da­ti­ons. And I’ve been very grateful to find so much open­ness towards dialo­gue and stra­te­gic colla­bo­ra­tion here, espe­ci­ally among foun­da­ti­ons that not only own assets, but are also respon­si­ble for company share­hol­dings. I firmly believe that without this dialo­gue, the foun­da­tion system could not have the impact that it does.

You used to be CEO of the Nort­hern Insti­tute of Tech­no­logy; you were also invol­ved in poli­tics as a sena­tor of Hamburg; now you run a large foun­da­tion. How would you describe the role of a foundation?

Foun­da­ti­ons cannot and should not replace the state. They also cannot and should not replace the private sector. But, as the third sector, they are another central pillar of our community.

What can they do?

Foun­da­ti­ons can bridge tempo­rary market fail­ures. We can take grea­ter risks, and launch pilot projects that a state could not because it is more accoun­ta­ble to the elec­to­rate. In the climate and medi­cal fields, we are working on ideas that we are not yet sure will be workable or scalable. Howe­ver, if they are, I consider it the role of the state and the economy to take over and apply them in the long term.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

StiftungSchweiz is committed to enabling a modern philanthropy that unites and excites people and has maximum impact with minimal time and effort.

Follow StiftungSchweiz on