Pre-Conference Reception Yields High Hopes for Broad Dialogue
WASHINGTON, DC (April 21, 2010) - More than 400 representatives of government, business, media and academia attended the Bertelsmann Foundation's second annual spring reception at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. The event was held a day before the Foundation's annual conference, this year entitled "Opportunities in Crisis 2: Defining new avenues of growth". The reception was hosted by President and CEO Gunter Thielen and Vice Chairwoman Liz Mohn.
Thielen and others said they expect the conference to explore what countries around the world can learn as they emerge from the crisis - not only in a financial sense, but in all aspects of society, including education, developing nations, and women's issues.
Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder of the Children's Defense Fund, was the reception guest of honor. In a speech to the gathering, she underscored how children are the most fragile victims of the crisis.
Europe has done much better protecting its children than the United States, she noted. "Europe, your safety net for children and your investment in children ought to teach us," she said. "I'm looking forward to seeing how we can become as good as you are in protecting children."
In a further nod to Europe - and Germany in particular - Edelman quoted German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who said the test of a society's morals is in how it treats its children. Listing statistics about children who are in poverty, homeless, dropping out of school, and in prison, she said the United States has badly failed Bonhoeffer's test.
Linking the plight of children to the financial crisis, she explained that children condemned to poverty due to a lack of adequate education equate to a half-trillion dollars in lost productivity.
"We should invest in children because it's the cost-effective thing to do," she said, "and it's the decent thing to do."
Edelman's opening remarks, given in the museum's sprawling Kogod Courtyard, produced rousing applause from the hundreds of guests. Bertelsmann Executive Board member Jörg Dräger said her perspective is just the kind of input he wants to see from the conference.
"What I think is exciting about the conference is taking so many different angles," he said. Most of the mainstream discussion about the crisis "has been reduced to finance," he added. "Trying to get out of the crisis by looking at different areas is extremely important to be more flexible in our thinking."
"We have great expectations," Thielen said. "Last year, we dealt with the crisis. Today, we have to think about learning from the crisis."
Liechtenstein Ambassador Claudia Fritsche said she was appreciative of the conference's variety of panels, which highlight even her tiny European country.
"They have put together panelists not only from all walks of life, but different regions of the world. They will all have very valuable input," she said. Liechtenstein, she explained, has faced the same problems as its bigger European counterparts, but because of its size, it's had to be innovative in finding ways around those problems.
"Innovation is the key word," she said. "Smallness, despite all its shortcomings, has its advantages too."