Five years full of debates, ideas, and new connections - five fellows speak about their stay in Berlin and its impact on their present and beyond.
Five years full of debates, ideas, and new connections. Just some of the topics covered at the Robert Bosch Academy during the last few months: the increasing significance of cities, tensions in transatlantic relations, changes in the world order, the manifold challenges of the global south, endeavors to reunify Korea, the integration of refugees, growing right-wing populism, and the social impacts of digitalization and AI.
It is an initial contribution, a beginning. Nevertheless, the first anniversary is also an important intermediate step for us. With full conviction, we continue to encourage critical thinking, the search for new perspectives, and the connecting of people and ideas, beyond next anniversaries. Our Fellows have helped us make this possible. Our Fellows, with manifold expertise and experiences, are united by their interest in Germany and imperative to raise questions of global relevance and search for answers.
Roberto Bertollini: I joined the Academy immediately after the conclusion of my 25-year career at the World Health Organization. It was a unique opportunity to reflect on my international career in public health and build the basis for the next steps, including developing the outline of a book that I have been thinking about for a long time. Being at the Academy also enabled me to know more of Germany and Berlin at a crucial moment for Europe and the world.
Mohammad Darawshe: The Robert Bosch Academy is a breathing space for reflection. It is a place where the intellect has time to escape its day-to-day business, and focus on learning, exploring, and experimenting with new ways of thinking about the global scene around us.
James Kondo: A place to reflect, to look longer-term more broadly in the world, and to ask fundamental questions.
Sonja Licht: The Robert Bosch Academy is a community of open-minded people of very different background, experience, and visions who are determined to do their utmost to make their own societies and the world more responsible for the future. I am very proud to belong to this community.
Tecla Wanjala: The Robert Bosch Academy was a safe space for me. As a human rights advocate and defender back home in Kenya, the Academy gave me a safe physical space where I stayed without fear. I walked around without looking left, right or over my shoulder. This gave me the peace of mind to reflect upon my past work and plan for the future. Professionally, it provided me with the right connections with the relevant institutions and individuals for me to learn and increase my knowledge in my fields: transitional justice and social healing. Emotionally, the Academy gave me a safe place where I was able to reconnect with my inner self and begin the journey of healing. In short, the Academy is a place where I had a turning point in my life.
Roberto Bertollini: I found a wonderful working and professional environment that allowed for very interesting interaction with colleagues from other disciplines. I discovered synergies but also different methodologies and “jargons”. This meant for me a more “concrete” understanding of the challenges that need to be met in order to promote the concept of health as a function of the action of different sectors and disciplines beyond the traditional health-care-related approach. Attending the conference “Falling Walls” in Berlin during my stay opened my eyes to the tremendous opportunities arising from knowing more about progress and innovation in other sectors.
Mohammad Darawshe: What I took away from the fellowship is a deep understanding of how nation states in Europe deal with national minorities, and how they balance the challenge of diversity with the security and stability of society. This has had a significant impact on how I approach my own reality back in Israel, namely separating the constitutional state-identity debate from the integration discourse in the social and economic arenas.
James Kondo: I was a fellow in the year of Brexit and Trump’s election victory. One could see populism and nationalism sweeping across the world, undermining international institutions and raising geopolitical tensions. It prompted me to change my career to focus on international peace and cultural exchange.
Sonja Licht: Unfortunately, I could spend only four months at the Academy. However, meetings with members of the Bundestag, people from ministries, think tanks, foundations, civil society organizations, and media focused on the European perspective of Serbia and the Balkans, helped me to better understand the complexity of German society. I have been returning regularly to Berlin since my stay. The Academy provided me with very important new contacts and thus deepened my working relations, thus, the most important impact has been to enable me to contribute to further development of relations between Serbia, the Western Balkans and Germany.
Tecla Wanjala: As a member of the Kenyan Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), I was frustrated with the reluctance of civil society organizations to cooperate with the commission and the insufficient efforts of the government to implement the commission's final report. After years of exasperation and discontentedness with the slow-moving progress of the Kenyan truth-seeking process, my research time at the Robert Bosch Academy thawed me out and triggered a mind shift. I shifted my focus to what I and fellow civil society members could do to implement some of the TJRC recommendations. The major impact of my work is taking the report back to the people and thus letting them know that it is a public document. No one can prevent us from implementing some of its recommendations. I am helping the likeminded to shift their focus from what the government is not doing to what we can do to support the victims even as we continue lobbying the government to implement the report. I am doing this through the mainstream media and meetings with civil society.
Roberto Bertollini: The Academy has the potential to become a European platform for intersectoral dialogue and innovation for the German and European decision-making communities. Existing discussion is usually confined to specific disciplines: such as economy, trade, industry. I suggest an annual white paper that could address one specific challenge through the lenses of the different competence and expertise of existing and future fellows. It could aim to identify specific action points for decision-makers.
Mohammad Darawshe: I hope that the Academy will continue to offer out-of-the-box learning opportunities, and allow the fellows to strengthen their interaction and develop a better understanding of one another’s reality. It needs to continue professionalizing itself, its staff, and wider network around the most urgent needs for diversity and cross-cultural understanding and conflict resolution.
James Kondo: First of all, congratulations on the fabulous work to date! I would love to see the Academy build on its stellar reputation in Germany and Europe to establish a truly global presence. In particular, I would like to see the Academy being a larger force in Asia.
Sonja Licht: Although five years seems quite short in the life of a person, and even of an institution, the Academy is already mature. Thus, I wish that it continues to live a very long life, develops itself to new heights, and becomes a real bridge builder in our divided and challenged world.
Tecla Wanjala: I wish the Academy all the best. I wish that it may extend support to people in more vulnerable nations such as South Sudan and DR Congo. I also hope that in future the Academy will set aside seed money, however small, to support some of its former fellows to realise their dreams after their fellowship. At times, what some fellows with innovative ideas need is a boost to start off, so that other funding partners can see what they’re capable of to attract more support.
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