Interview with Dr. Frank Niederländer, Board Member of the BMW Foundation

“We need to integrate sustainability and impact orientation into the core processes of corporates”, says Dr. Frank Niederländer

You will be hosting the 1st C Summit at the BMW Foundation office on Munich’s Praterinsel in September. Why do you think now is the right time to launch the C Summit and bring together corporate philanthropists and social investors from all over Europe?

We are very happy and proud to host the 1st C Summit here in Munich, the headquarters of six out of the 30 biggest German listed corporates, including BMW, Siemens and Allianz. The time to bring together corporates, philanthropists and social investors is now, because we are running out of time. There are only eleven years left for the international community to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda.

Among other things, we need to reduce inequality, foster sustainable cities and communities, and jointly work towards peace, justice and strong institutions. In order to tackle these challenges, we do not need more sustainability departments but have to break up the silos, foster innovation and cross-sectoral partnerships, and integrate sustainability and impact orientation into the core processes of corporates. It’s no longer an either-or – impact or business – but both doing good and doing business.

The mission of the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt is to promote responsible leadership and inspire leaders worldwide to work towards a peaceful, just, and sustainable future in line with the 2030 Agenda of the UN. Why did you choose to focus on this topic?

We are committed to our mission of “Inspiring Responsible Leadership,” because we deeply believe that every human being can make a crucial contribution to a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world. The individual engagement of leaders is an enormous lever for social change and contributes to achieving to the SDGs.

In what ways does the BMW Foundation seek alignment with the BMW Group?

The BMW Group is an influential global player and a strong brand, which is often an important door opener for us in our worldwide work. However, this is not a one-way street but more a cross-fertilization. We can give significant new impulses to BMW and our network and vice versa. This has a huge impact and can open totally new perspectives. As you can imagine, due to the differences in size, processes, and culture, it’s sometimes also challenging.

A good example where our foundation acted as an enabler and connector is a BMW management development program called ReadyGo, where top talents from BMW become mentors and supporters of social entrepreneurs. It’s a win-win situation: the social entrepreneurs receive support from a BMW executive, and the managers get new insights into challenges, solutions, and agility related to the field of social businesses. It’s an eye-opener for both sides.

Do you think that you, as a corporate foundation, have a responsibility to challenge the way businesses create social impact?

We operate independently according to the Ten Recommendations for Nonprofit Corporate Foundations. We don’t see ourselves in the role of a watchdog or the good conscience of the corporation. We rather want to inspire and activate the relevant stakeholders to contribute to positive social change by identifying the key levers, topics, and leaders on the one hand, and by accelerating impactful solutions, organizations, and business models on the other hand.

How does the BMW Foundation promote social impact?

Every leader can make a positive contribution to lasting beneficial change. Responsible Leadership is our way to inspire a better world. Responsible Leaders are visionaries and pioneers; they take responsibility, start initiatives, push boundaries. 

Activating the potential of these individuals – across countries, cultures, and sectors – as a lever for exponential and lasting transformation is a way to bring visibility to the UN 2030 Agenda and hasten our journey towards its achievement. Our mission is to help achieve the 17 SDGs through our leadership programs, our global network, and our Invest activities. Guided by the key concepts of governance, innovation, and cross-sector partnerships, we aim to contribute to the most urgent global challenges.

More information on C Summit – Corporate Philanthropy and Social Investing Summit – can be found here.