The year 2020 marks the beginning of an unprecedented pandemic that continues to hold us all in its grip. In many countries, the health crisis is intertwined with political, economic, environmental, and social crises. Inequality, poverty, and hunger are rising sharply. Climate change is leaving its mark all over the world. Fortunately, it has become a priority issue in Germany, Europe, and on the global agenda too. Yet, joint action is made harder by reactionary political developments. The rise of autocracies means tighter restrictions on freedom and human rights. All of these developments have shaped our Foundation’s global efforts in new ways, challenging us and our partners around the world. People are resisting the dismantling of their democratic rights, and they are fighting against hatred and racism, for freedom, and to preserve the foundations of their very livelihoods. We network with them wherever possible. In a global pandemic, this means acting faster, more flexibly, and more cooperatively than ever, because otherwise the global health crisis and its economic effects will shake civil societies in many countries more deeply still. We are creating proposals for a revolution in energy, agriculture, and transport, phasing out plastic production, and for a novel approach to using resources, and we are supporting ideas and initiatives that will boost democratic participation, gender equality, and diversity around the globe. This year, we have witnessed how our employees and project partners showed great flexibility. In many areas, we used digital communication to strengthen our networks for environmental protection, human rights, and democracy. Our nationwide work on public spaces and infrastructure has met with a great response, showing us the power a sense of community can create – and how important it is to bolster it. It suddenly became clear that we must prioritize such public services whose continuous functioning is vital to people of all ages – be it hospitals, health authorities, schools, cultural institutions, or public transport. The pandemic has driven home to us just how high the stakes are, not least in Europe. The crisis is not over yet, still, it has given us a clear idea of what we need to do to preserve and further develop the European Union and its neighborhood. With this in mind, we set our agenda – a Green Deal that is worthy of its name, restoring the rule of law in all EU countries, media freedom, sustainable migration, and integration policies, and enforcing fundamental rights and human rights for women and LGBTIQ+ people across Europe. Both in Germany and in Europe, there is a greater awareness that communities are key actors across all policy areas. They are the driving forces of change – a change towards greater solidarity, better health, and more participation. The pandemic has turned everything that was once familiar and routine on its head. We, too, had to make the rapid switch to digital or hybrid formats. It quickly became apparent that this shift also came with many positive effects: Not only did we reach more people, but our interactions with colleagues from our various state foundations and international offices also intensified, creating a greater sense of solidarity in a time of physical distance. Every day, around the world, our 500+ employees are working for the Foundation’s objectives with great dedication and a high level of productivity and this, at times, under very difficult circumstances. We thank you for that! We would also like to thank our partners for their perseverance, their courage, and their efforts. And, last but not least, we would like to thank all those who are working as volunteers on our committees. Your commitment enriches our Foundation, making it diverse and appealing.
Berlin, June 2021
Dr. Ellen Ueberschär and Barbara Unmüßig
Presidents, Heinrich Böll Foundation