The Zukunftsbrücke (Future Bridge)

Coming together to build bridges.

The Zukunftsbrücke (Future Bridge) initiative brings together young executives from China and Germany every year to work towards building a sustainable partnership. This year’s meeting was entitled ‘Achieving the 2030 Agenda – Rethinking Global Partnerships for Sustainable Development’.

Let’s consider the sayings ‘If you want to cross the river, you first need to build a bridge’ and ‘Crossing a bridge is the only way to come toward someone.’ Both represent the same concept, only the first one is Chinese and the second German. Although the two statements are similar, it is not always so easy to effectively overcome differences between Chinese and German culture in the long term. It is not just down to the more than 7,000 kilometres that separate the capitals of the two countries, the problem is also tied into differing traditions, philosophies and ways of life.

Overcoming differences to build mutual understanding requires a consistent amount of effort over the long term. This is exactly what Zukunftsbrücke: Chinese-German Young Professional Campus has been doing for eight years. The aim of the programme, provided and run by the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt and Stiftung Mercator in cooperation with All China Youth Federation (ACYF), is to develop a comprehensive and active network of young executives from China and Germany.

“We establish partnerships with countries that we believe will play an important role in solving global problems. The Chinese, who have the world’s largest population, are an indispensable partner,” explains Dr Michael Schaefer, Chairman of the Board of the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt.

“The mission of the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt is to inspire executives around the world to advocate for a just, peaceful and sustainable world in the spirit of the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations,” says Schaefer, former German Ambassador to China and one of the founders of Zukunftsbrücke during this time. The 2030 Agenda, comprising 17 Sustainable Development Goals, is the blueprint for economic progress in harmony with humankind and nature. It is a recurring theme in the Zukunftsbrücke programme. For example, it was touched upon in the workshop held by Alice Grindhammer from the CRCLR House in Berlin, who presented her ideas for a sustainable circular economy.

Each year, Zukunftsbrücke offers 15 participants from China and 15 from Germany the opportunity to receive further professional and intercultural training over the course of week, with the central focus being on exchanging ideas on an equal footing. “This dialogue only works because as a foundation we have a lot of experience in creating a protected space where people can talk about things that they would otherwise probably not discuss in public without any worries or inhibitions. It is an opportunity to listen to one another, understand where the other person is coming from and how he or she thinks,” says Schaefer.

This is something that neither governments nor commercial enterprises can achieve on their own: bringing together this great diversity and offering the protection that people need when they feel vulnerable. “This allows people to talk about difficult topics, such as differing views on human rights.”

The young executives aged between 28 and 38 have the option of using the growing Zukunftsbrücke network for their own work. They are also included in the global Responsible Leaders Network of the BMW Foundation.

Participants of the 2019 Zukunftsbrücke met in Berlin and in Paretz in nearby Brandenburg in mid-October. This year’s topic was ‘Achieving the 2030 Agenda – Rethinking Global Partnerships for Sustainable Development’. Michael Schaefer explains that partnerships, such as that between Germany and China, will play an important role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Besides nation states, new multi-actor partnerships between business, science, civil society and individuals can and should support their countries.

“It goes without saying that Zukunftsbrücke will not solve all problems by itself,” says Schaefer. Yet, it is far more than just a drop in the ocean. “I believe that participants take the experience and inspiration they gain over the course of these ten days back to their professional and personal environment. Then they go about tackling these issues with their own networks.” Ultimately, “establishing these international connections is the only way to solve global problems.”