“We See Leaders as a Significant Lever for Change”

Marc Beckmann
Responsible Leadership

This interview was conducted by Brigitte Winkler and first published in the magazine "Zeitschrift Organisationsentwicklung." Read the full interview here

BMW Foundation Responsible Leader and management consultant Brigitte Winkler sat down with Markus Hipp, member of the Board of the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt, to talk about why the Foundation is putting leaders at the center of its global activities.

Mr. Hipp, one focus of the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt is on building a global network of leaders who assume social responsibility and who, as Responsible Leaders, work towards a peaceful, just, and sustainable future. What is so special about your approach?

Markus Hipp: Our Foundation takes as its explicit target group mid-career leaders, who we see as a significant lever for change. In our experience, many leaders at this point in their lives have a lot of professional and personal responsibility and are extremely busy. Therefore, it is important to figure out what works for their schedule and where and how to get them to work towards a better future. This can include changes in their professional or personal environments, but the motivation needs to come from the leaders themselves and fit the phase of life they are in. Therefore, we do not take a moralistic stance, but aim to be open and open-minded. We want to inspire the leaders to want to take the next step and to stimulate their interest in growing as a person.


Markus Hipp

Markus Hipp is a member of the Board of the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt. After studying philosophy with the Jesuits in Munich, he taught for two years at the Universities of Budweis and Brno in the Czech Republic as a lecturer of the Robert Bosch Foundation. In 1996, he, together with friends, founded the association MitOst e.V. that fosters cultural exchange, active citizenship, and sustainable urban development in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. After first work experiences in marketing and publishing, Markus Hipp in 1998 became assistant to the executive director of the Robert Bosch Stiftung and joined the BMW Foundation in 2006.

How do you go about doing this?

Markus Hipp: In the last few years, we have developed a special methodology that we continually keep refining. We organize a variety of leadership programs whose participants are carefully curated to make sure that the groups are radically diverse. In our experience, this is an essential prerequisite to get certain processes going. For example, we make sure to invite only one or two participants from the same context. This way, we avoid having the usual peer-group shop talk. The only thing our participants have in common is that they have influence and power in their role as leaders – whether in the public sector or in business, social innovation or the arts. Given this international, ethnic, gender, and professional diversity, the participants immediately sense that the focus is on who they are as a person, not primarily on their professional context and expertise. Moreover, we have observed time and again that it takes special places to create change and spaces of trust. So, we very carefully choose the venues for our events. In addition, our teams, together with experienced facilitators, create an individual design for each multi-day encounter format.

The focus is on who they are as a person, not primarily on their professional context and expertise.

The participants experience these programs a mix of introspective elements, inputs, and contributions that emerge from the group’s diversity, the encounter with other organizations or the history of the places that stimulate visual learning – or from the fact that we explicitly engage with specific topics, such as the UN 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As a matter of principle, we try to generate maximum interactivity between the participants. We do not work with external experts but with the assets and knowledge of the participants. We want them to have a joyful, cheerful attitude, a fascination for meeting other Responsible Leaders. It blows my mind again and again that it is possible – e.g., during our Responsible Leaders Forums – to create a space of trust between 30 or 50 people within a very short period of time, thus enabling the participants to address the topics that concern them most.

Sustainable Development Goal Number 10

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

On 1 January 2016, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — adopted by world leaders in September 2015 at an historic UN Summit — officially came into force. Over the next fifteen years, with these new Goals that universally apply to all, countries will mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind.

What social challenges need to be urgently addressed? And what role does Responsible Leadership play in that?

Markus Hipp: As a Foundation, we have deliberately decided to support the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda and to adopt them as our basic values and issues. During the next three years, we will focus in particular on six goals: Goal #8: Decent Work and Economic Growth; Goal #9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; Goal #10: Reduced Inequalities; and Goal #11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. In our view, a precondition for these goals is the big, overarching Goal #16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. For example, a major concern for us is to make sure that the European Union and the successes it has helped us achieve in terms of peace and justice do not fall apart. We explicitly deal with this topic in an event series entitled “Refocusing Europe,” which we connect to the SDGs. Comprised of several so-called European Tables, which focus on issues such as identity or security and take place in different EU countries, the series culminates in the Munich European Forum, which aims to develop recommendations for action and promote new initiatives that strengthen Europe.

"We need completely new forms of collaboration."
Markus Hipp

Another fundamental objective of the Foundation is to enter into partnerships to achieve these goals, which has been formulated as Goal #17 of the SDGs. We need completely new forms of collaboration. This starts with the leaders’ readiness and ability to search for new solutions across sectoral and organizational boundaries. This is why the target group of Responsible Leaders and their opportunities to influence are so important for us.

Leaders are generally under big pressure to achieve their business goals. Now the topic of creating value for the common good becomes an additional dimension. What does it take for leaders to be able and willing to assume social responsibility?

Markus Hipp: The privilege of my job is that I travel a lot and come into contact with numerous networks around topics such as the new economy, social business, and social entrepreneurship. What I am observing worldwide is that the mental separation of business success and social responsibility can no longer be maintained and that a far-reaching rethinking has begun. The global B-Corps movement is an exciting example. (Editor’s note: B-Corp certified companies are defined by a new way of doing business: They balance profit and positive impact. At its core is the B-Corps certification, which helps the organizations evaluate and improve their social impact.) Big corporations, too, are becoming increasingly or newly aware that entrepreneurial activity has to consistently contribute to creating a better society.

Markus Hipp, Member of the Board of the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt, at the Responsible Leaders Forum in Marseille. Marc Beckmann

So how can we successfully reflect on the social dimensions of our actions while at the same time dealing with the big pressures at work? I am observing in many companies that they are searching for ways to tap into these new paradigms. They sense that it is becoming more important strategically to show that a company really contributes to society, whether by paying taxes, organizing its product and sustainability chains, or by consciously reflecting on the collateral damage caused by its products and services. We still have parallel worlds today. On the one hand, there is a powerful global movement of companies who increasingly face up to their social responsibility. On the other hand, there are still many who hold on to old answers. Which trend will prevail: a new, more holistic dimension of entrepreneurial activity or the continued reliance on old, reckless ways of doing business, as is, unfortunately, still the case in many countries? I am optimistic, so my guess is that it will be the former.

How can leaders take action? What are important steps to turn good intentions and ideas into concrete actions?

Markus Hipp: I believe the very first step is for leaders to ask themselves honest questions: Am I in the right place? Is my personal and professional context basically okay or do I support something that has no real future? Do I have sufficient possibilities to influence my environment and change something for the better? And if so, are there communities that can help me recharge my batteries emotionally and with which I can discuss methods and approaches to really advance change? Through our programs, we create spaces for such reflections. Suddenly, the participants are confronted with these essential questions, the answers to which can yield valuable insights and transformational power. Second, we invite most of our first-time participants to join our community so that they can keep re-experiencing the trusting exchange and strengthen their motivation to change.

GT 12 Norway-People–CL-1974-Claudia Leisinger

The BMW Foundation

The BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt promotes responsible leadership and inspires leaders worldwide to work towards a peaceful, just, and sustainable future. It inspires leaders across communities, cultures, and countries through its leadership programs and connects them through its global BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders Network, a global community that drives positive change. It uses and promotes impact investing and venture philanthropy as effective tools for social change. Through these activities, the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt aims to advance the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda.

The BMW Foundation supports movements all over the world that help Responsible Leaders bring about long-term changes in their organizations, environments, or the initiatives they participate in. What is your approach?

Markus Hipp: We provide members of our networks with access to other professional networks and movements that they can get involved in or that can help them generate change in their organizations or personal environment (e.g., the Global Pro Bono Network, which we co-founded). For example, if you are an entrepreneur and want to elevate social and societal responsibility in your company to a whole new level, we connect you with movements such as B-Corps, Sistema B, or the League of Social Intrapreneurs who help you advance change processes using their own methods and approaches. Sometimes, we actively support the first steps, but mostly it is our goal to strengthen the self-efficacy of the leaders.

How does your Foundation’s mission fit in with the corporate philosophy of BMW? Isn’t there a contradiction between the Foundation’s mission and the current business model of BMW?

Markus Hipp: The BMW company stands for innovation. The company’s management has known for a long time that it takes a radical change towards completely new forms of mobility in the future. This is why it strongly promotes topics such as electromobility or “efficient dynamics.” For the company to be fit for the future and for its corporate foundation to remain credible, BMW has long engaged with these issues. During the company’s centenary in 2016, BMW emphasized that it deliberately wants to strengthen its independent corporate foundation as part of its CSR strategy. Thanks to its independence, the BMW Foundation is able to confront BMW with societal developments and changes in value that the company would fail to perceive (at this early stage) based on its own logic. I believe that big corporations, through their resources, expertise, and process competence, can help shape many positive changes in our societies. If there is the political will to innovate and change, we need many strong players that together help shape positive social change. You cannot eradicate people’s need for mobility. But we need to find new ways to increasingly limit and, in the medium to long term, put an end to mobility’s negative impact on the planet.

Participants of the BMW Foundation Global Table in Lillehammer, Norway. Claudia Leisinger

Big social challenges cannot be solved by individuals. How is it possible to successfully promote cooperation across organizational and societal sectors?

Markus Hipp: This takes us back to our Responsible Leaders approach. Based on my more than 30 years of experience in the field, I know that we need to invest much more time in building collaborations. When it comes to our own partnerships with other networks, we initially invest a lot of time in the personal encounter, in order to create really deep trust between the key persons who are ultimately to cooperate. Personal encounters based on a deep understanding for what the other person is doing and why he/she is doing it is the prerequisite for good collaboration and agreement. Of course, this also works if we use the classic direct transactional negotiation. But we have noticed that the latter does not fully exploit the potential of collaboration; basically, it often remains a process where two egotistical interests meet and negotiate to generate something else. But if you start off with a deep personal encounter, then you indeed create something like a new sphere, jointly developing a new solution that ultimately means profit and growth for both. In the final analysis, it is about the ability of key people, of leaders to open up at a personal level and engage with other people, points of view, approaches, and organizations with curiosity.

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