The Heinz Nixdorf Program: a sustainable perspective
For a quarter of a century, the Heinz Nixdorf Foundation has supported young talent. Now, the programme is coming to an end – but it will continue under new management.
Interview with Elvira Busch, Head of the Heinz Nixdorf Program of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.
Interviewer: Dr. Annette Kleinbrod
Ms. Busch, for almost 25 years, the Heinz Nixdorf Foundation and the GIZ have been working together to promote the Asia–Pacific experience of German young talent. What was the idea behind this?
The project was initiated in 1994 at the request of the German business community. At the beginning of the 1990s, the German business community realised that Asia was a region where a lot was happening, but that there were hardly any qualified people to send there. Above all, there was a lack of knowledge of the country and its culture. The German economy needed young people who could find their way around Asia. This was how the program was launched, and it gave rise to a great shared responsibility.
How many people have you supported?
The Heinz Nixdorf Programme has supported 821 young people. The eight months of the programme helped these people and positively influenced their professional development. Approximately 60 percent of them work in Germany now, in small- or medium-sized companies and in DAX corporations. Others work independently.
What made this cooperation between the Heinz Nixdorf Foundation and the GIZ so special?
It was very important for us that the scholarship holders should learn the local language and undergo intercultural training in advance. We did not want them to live and work in the host countries as German expatriates, but to be able to experience the country and culture directly. For the two-month preparation period, we therefore looked for partner organizations which the scholarship holders could work with to acquire good knowledge of the respective national language and become sensitized to cultural and country-specific peculiarities.
Right from the start, it was very important for us to network the scholarship holders with each other, because the aim of the foundation was to build up a network of experienced managers with a knowledge of Asia. We then continuously expanded this network. For example, we included alumni as commission members in the selection of new scholarship holders. A special Internet platform, the Heinz Nixdorf Scholarship Holders Forum, also allows scholarship holders to exchange information or find new employees worldwide.
How would you describe the cooperation with the Heinz Nixdorf Foundation?
As a client, the foundation has provided us with a donation of approx. 1 million euros per year (a total of approx. 23 million euros), which we have used to carry out the program.
There has always been a great appreciation between us. The foundation was, of course, the client, but also an advisor and partner with whom we developed ideas together and were able to consider how practicable these ideas were.
What have you done to make the program sustainable beyond the end of the Foundation's funding?
We had already begun building up the network for the scholarship holders in the early years. An enthusiasm for it developed among the alumni, and in the last few years a dynamic also developed from it among them. When the final decision to end the program was made at the beginning of 2017, it was clear to us that, if we were not the ones to continue running the network, the alumni would have to do it themselves – if they wanted to. Therefore, the first step was to circulate a survey among the alumni to see how much interest they had in the network. Of the respondents, 98 percent answered that they wanted to keep their network, that it was important to them, and that we should tell them what to do to continue it.
What steps did you take then?
For months, we have worked with the foundation’s lawyers and a working group from the alumni on how to establish an alumni association. We have developed draft statutes and familiarised the alumni to association law, framework conditions, and much more.
At the beginning of the closing event of the program at the end of June, we held an event under the theme: “What's next for the Heinz Nixdorf Fellows Network?“ This included the founding meeting of the association “Alumni & Friends” and the election of the board. Since then, the board has been working on further shaping the network, continuing to run the regional regulars’ tables in Asia and Germany, and setting up a new online platform to support the network.
Will new aspects be included?
The alumni want to stay on the tracks laid down by Heinz Nixdorf, and social entrepreneurship is a very important keyword there. How this can be implemented will be discussed soon at the association’s next general meeting.
What is your personal conclusion?
From my point of view, it is good that we have prepared the association “Alumni & Friends” to continue for a longer period. Now, it is filling itself with life, and that confirms that the network works, even without us promoting it. That is a good perspective.
The Heinz Nixdorf Scholarship Program (HNP) to promote the Asia–Pacific experience of German young professionals and graduates in commercial and technical fields was implemented in cooperation between the Heinz Nixdorf Foundation and the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) from 1994–2018. The foundation wanted to enable young professionals to complete internships combined with intercultural training and language in China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam, thus contributing to global thinking and worldwide mobility.