Dr Ramona Maria Kordesch, Senior Researcher at the Leadership Excellence Institute Zeppelin | LEIZ, has set up the not-for-profit foundation “Societas Futura. Shaping Society” in Austria. By taking this radical step, she wishes to ensure the continuous transfer of solutions developed by LEIZ into international stakeholder practice.
“Societas Futura. Shaping Society” is an independent civil society project for civil society. Ramona Kordesch explains: “In Western societies we are experiencing welfare-related conflicts that can only be resolved by joint endeavours involving stakeholders from the state, from industry and business as well as from society itself. Societas Futura strives to promote a new division of labour, new forms of cooperation, and social innovations.”
Recent LEIZ research suggests that stakeholders from industry would be well-advised to pay greater attention to the civil-society sector. As Prof Josef Wieland, Vice President of Zeppelin University and Director of LEIZ, puts it: “Civil society is a creative and productive force of society, a thoroughly European contribution to a creative way of dealing with a globalised world”. Prof Wieland supports the Foundation as a member of its scientific advisory board.
In an interview with the Managing Director of LEIZ, Dr Lennart Brand, Dr Ramona Maria Kordesch explains what Society Futura is all about.
Dr Lennart Brand: What has changed that makes it necessary to rethink civil society?
Dr Ramona Maria Kordesch: As a driving force of social progress, civil society had been somewhat neglected because, until the late 1990s, it was mainly associated with protest, the highlighting of social problems, and humanitarian relief. In the post-1990 period of great political turbulence in Europe this was entirely appropriate. Subsequently, though, the players have evolved. For example, they no longer restrict themselves to purely charitable work but instead group into coalitions of broad networks of social dialogue. Especially in recent years civil society has seen new organisational forms emerge that entailed an entirely new logic in the division and distribution of tasks and labour in the field of social engagement. This has also become more important for business and for the economy as a whole. The phenomenon of social entrepreneurship is strong evidence of this development, as are the ongoing debates on shared-value management. All this suggests that civil society operates as a productive force in society, and that a new coexistence of state, market and civil society needs to be considered.
Brand: The LEIZ research centre ‘Leadership & Civil Society’ at Zeppelin University gives civil society a fitting place in research and teaching. What induced you to found a not-for-profit foundation that also offers practical training and education?
Kordesch: The Foundation Societas Futura aspires to transfer LEIZ research into civil-society practice, especially in Austria, and advocates attracting more attention from industry to the civil society sector. On the research side, we have sufficient know-how about future-proof management strategies whose starting point lies along and between the boundaries of social sectors. At the same time, many civil-societal projects are bound to fail to be effective because of precarious funding and a lack of future strategies. All the same, civil society is becoming ever more important when one considers the future virulence of social problems such as poverty, education and employment. Civil society’s crucial role as a moderator or facilitator in the first days of the German migration crisis in 2015 may serve as an example for things to come. – With its claim of “Shaping Society”. Societas Futura strives, on the one hand, to pool knowledge by means of conferences, publications and grants, and to disseminate this knowledge within the stakeholder community. On the other hand, the Foundation also wants to work on new solutions as a ‘changemaker’ together with representatives from politics, industry and academia. We are convinced that the strategic challenges facing civil society, such as eradicating duplicate structures, promoting intersectoral cooperation, seeking alternative funding structures and future forms of social engagement, can only be successfully met through close partnerships with research institutions.
Brand: What will the Foundation be working on over the next five years and how will you realise your mission?
Kordesch: Societas Futura and LEIZ will hold a joint conference on “Civil Society at Work” (“Die Arbeit der Zivilgesellschaft”) on 26 and 27 April in the Klimt villa in Vienna. This conference will not only serve the silo of academia but is explicitly aimed at practitioners and interested citizens. Until 2022 five such conferences will take place, addressing current issues in civil-society research. The conference proceedings will be published as a series by Velbrück-Wissenschaft, by the way. – Interdisciplinarity and alternative ways of accessing education are particularly important for the new Foundation. This summer we are opening our Foundation house, ‘vulgo Bäck’, located 1500m above sea level in Görtschitztal in Carinthia, Austria. There we will offer training and further education for leaders and managers from various sectors and industries, focusing upon socially-innovative business models and models of cooperation practice. – Not least, the Foundation will seek to cooperate with schools and other educational institutions. It owns a comprehensive collection of paintings and drawings from Maximilian und Henriette Florian, two renowned Austrian artists. Among other thingsm we wish to make this collection accessible to schools. Both artists always concerned themselves with the spiritual, intellectual and material development of humans and constantly reiterated that a good life is connected to a clear creative mission. This philosophy is worth passing on in many different forms, and this is why we are here.