Institute of the Weltethos Foundation
at the University of Tübingen

First slide

10 Years of the Global Ethic Institute: Global Economic Responsibility as a Learning Program

Both potency and impotence, problems and solutions characterize our world. Global challenges require more than learning programs for responsibility. But the patient path of ethical action does need practice. And it needs a place that combines theory and practice, learning and practicing ethical language skills as well as reflecting on the goals, prerequisites and contexts of ethically good action. Especially in the fields of economy and of society, we need to build practices of trust and responsibility. This is what the Global Ethic Institute aims at – now for 10 years!

A review by Dr. Christopher Gohl

The Tübingen Global Ethic Institute was not founded in one day alone – but it was ceremoniously inaugurated on April 18, 2012 in the Festsaal of the Neue Aula of the University of Tübingen. At the invitation of visionary Prof. Dr. Hans Küng, after introductory speeches by the university’s rector, Prof. Dr. Bernd Engler, and the Minister President of Baden-Württemberg, Winfried Kretschmann, and in the presence of patron Prof. h.c. Karl Schlecht, the founding director of the new An-Institute of the Tübingen University, Prof. Dr. Claus Dierksmeier, held the 10th Global Ethic Speech on the topic “How should we manage? Global Ethics in the Sign of Globality“.

The title of the speech also described the task of the Institute: To apply the great and trust-building idea of the global ethic to fundamental as well as practical questions of economic practice. As early as 2010, a first draft of the statutes had been penned by the long-time chancellor of the University of Tübingen, Prof. Georg Sandberger, intended to provide this purpose with an institutional form. At the initiative of Karl Schlecht, the Global Ethic Foundation, the University of Tübingen and the Karl Schlecht Foundation (KSG) came together for this purpose. On April 14, 2011, the deed of donation was signed, with which the KSG pledged the generous and long-term financing of the institute. In mid-December 2011, the philosopher and ethicist Prof. Dr. Claus Dierksmeier, until then Distinguished Professor of Globalization Ethics at Stonehill College in Boston, accepted the call to Tübingen to establish the Global Ethic Institute at the University together with Dr. Stephan Schlensog, the long-standing Secretary General of the Global Ethic Foundation.

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After the signing of the contract on the 18th of April 2012

The small team grew quickly: Already two days before the opening of the Institute with the Global Ethic speech, Christina Illek started her work as the first Institute assistant on April 16, 2012. This was followed by additional staff members – Dr. Christopher Gohl, Michael Wihlenda, Madeleine Joo Weber, Katharina Hoegl and Beata Beier – and a strategy process in which a total of 29 experts from business, politics, the media and academia were systematically consulted in July and August. The new team led by Claus Dierksmeier was faced with the task of philosophically substantiating the great idea of a global ethic, reconstructing it from a social science perspective, applying it to business and communicating it in teaching and public dialogue. By the end of the year, with specific support of Dr. h.c. Ernst Susanek and mentor Prof. Dr. Klaus Leisinger, a five-year plan for (1) research, (2) teaching and (3) practical transfer had been approved by the advisory board – three areas that have since interpenetrated and mutually enriched each other in many ways. According to the institute’s “3M” strategy, new and effective (1) mental models for (2) modular arguments should always be formed together with (3) “Multiplikatoren” (connectors and mavens who multiply and disseminate) in order to empower wise and trustworthy corporate management in the spirit of the global ethic.

In the sometimes challenging attempt to meet the different expectations of the three stakeholders, the Global Ethic Foundation, the University of Tübingen and the Karl Schlecht Foundation, the special profile of the Global Ethic Institute as a public place of a large, multi-voiced global ethical conversation emerged in the years to come. Thus, the work of the Global Ethic Institute was and is above all one thing: a learning process for all involved. Prof. Dr. Dr. Ulrich Hemel was to sum this up in a fitting formula when he took office as Director of the Global Ethic Institute in 2018: “Global Ethic means a learning program for self-responsibility and responsibility for the world”.

This was and is entirely in line with the global ethic idea of Prof. Hans Küng. In 1990, with his publication “Projekt Weltethos” (Global Ethic Project), he had for the first time formulated the idea of planetary, human responsibility and mapped out ways in which people of good will, including and especially religious believers, can work together peacefully in the service of their fellow world, the environment and posterity. For Küng, however, “dialogue as peace” could never be achieved without research. Now the Global Ethic Institute was to carry out “basic research and teaching for the scientific foundation of the idea of a global ethic in society and the global economy in the sense of promoting a dialogue of religions and cultures,” as the statutes promised – with a special focus on “trust in business,” according to founder Karl Schlecht. The motto of the Excellence Initiative of the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, “Research – Relevance – Responsibility,” was in keeping with this.

Already in the founding year, the first milestones marked the different but complementary paths of the institute’s work:

  • Already in April 2012 the Global Ethic Institute opened its doors for the first four seminars, in the matter formative with the titles “Intercultural Competence – Hinduism” by Dr. Stephan Schlensog as well as the seminars “Ethical Decision Making – Ethical Dilemmas” “Business Ethical Case Studies” and “Professional Ethics and Inner Attitude” offered by partners of KIWI Kirche und Wirtschaft AG. To date, more than 200 seminars have been held as part of the teaching program at the University of Tübingen.
  • With a first joint conference of the Global Ethic Institute Tübingen and the Wittenberg Center for Global Ethics on June 5, 2012, WEIT registered in the discourse on global business, corporate and leadership ethics. With the participation of, among others, Wittenberg professors Karl Homann and Andreas Suchanek as well as Tübingen professors Hans Küng and Heinz-Dieter Assmann, possibilities for cooperation were discussed, which are still fruitful today – for example in a joint doctoral college.
  • The “Platform IV Group on Globalization,” convened by Rector Engler, began its work in the summer of 2012 with three meetings at the Global Ethic Institute, moderated by Dr. Christopher Gohl and conceptualized by Prof. Claus Dierksmeier. Thus, right at the beginning of the Excellence Initiative of the University of Tübingen, WEIT participated in the development and processing of an agenda of application-oriented research in the humanities and social sciences.
  • With preparatory meetings for the Academy of Management (AOM) 2013, WEIT took the lead in fall 2012 within the still young Humanistic Management Network, of which Claus Dierksmeier himself was a member of the first generation. This resulted in a research collaboration on Responsible Management Education, the findings of which would henceforth not only shape the Global Ethic Institute’s approach to teaching, focused primarily by Christopher Gohl, but also result in a 2018 article in the prestigious Journal of Business Ethics, which won the first R. Edward Freeman Journal of Business Ethics Philosophy in Practice Best Paper Award in 2022.
  • The exchange with regional companies began on September 19, 2012, with the first company visit to the Aichtal-based concrete pump manufacturer Putzmeister. Host Prof. h.c. Karl Schlecht, founder and former chairman of the company’s board of directors, gave a tour of the company and at the same time provided insight into his entrepreneurial ethos, which also significantly influences the founding and work of the institute – a formative experience for all involved.
  • From September 2012 to January 2013, the institute had its debut as a Tübingen institution and host to the city society: due to renovation work in the city hall, the city council held its committee meetings once or twice a week with around 50 members in the institute’s seminar room. Since then, representatives of the city society have hosted over 100 events at the Institute on issues of economic, interreligious, intercultural or global responsibility.
  • On October 2, 2012, Claus Dierksmeier, in cooperation with the institute’s current managing director, Dr. Bernd Villhauer, inaugurated the “Klüger Wirtschaften” series of events, WEIT’s regular major event until the Corona crisis. More than 200 guests, including Professor Dr. Hans Küng and Mayor Boris Palmer, experienced a stimulating discussion on cooperative forms of economic activity with Prof. Birger Priddat and Christian Felber. As a result of this event, students in Tübingen founded the “Gemeinwohl-Ökonomie Lokalgruppe Tübingen” – and the series of events itself was to become one of the institute’s most successful formats. Guests such as Heiner Geissler, Sahra Wagenknecht, Götz Werner, Ralf Fücks, Prof. Dr. Lisa Herzog, Prof. Dr. Niko Paech, Timo Daum, Prof. Heike Hölzner, Dr. Zitelmann and Ulrike Herrmann were able to present their books and were given live and gladly controversial reviews by renowned researchers in a critical discussion.
  • In the workshop “Thinking Economically for Yourself” on December 1, 2012, students of the oikos Tübingen initiative critically examined their studies. Under the guidance and accompaniment of WEIT staff member Michael Wihlenda, these beginnings grew into both the institute’s “World Citizen School” and WEIT’s hosting of the first meeting of the International Student Initiative for Pluralist Economics in September 2014.

The seeds sown in 2012 bore further fruit in 2013: DIHK Honorary President Prof. Ludwig Georg Braun was a guest at the first “Profits with Principles” event on January 22, 2013. He attracted numerous entrepreneurs from Tübingen to the Institute, as did the series now held in Tübingen and Stuttgart with partner organizations. At a joint conference on February 1, 2013, on the concept of man in economics, Prof. Ulrich Hemel was the (co-)organizer for the first time at Hintere Grabenstraße; which in turn resulted in an anthology combining the arguments of Directors Dierksmeier (until 2018) and Hemel (from 2018). In October 2013, the first, long-planned international Humanistic Management Conference took place, with former Finance Minister Theo Waigel delivering a keynote address. Four more such conferences were to follow: Prof. Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, who became an important interlocutor and advocate of the global ethic idea, was a guest for this purpose on several occasions (see also here).

Wise and trust-building leadership, virtue ethics, humanistic management, social innovations and stakeholder dialogues in business: these were the first major topics of research and application of the Institute under Director Claus Dierksmeier. They substantiate an insight of Karl Schlecht: “True leadership success is based on trust, on good decisions and on the love of doing. This requires an active and productive character orientation based on humanistic education.” In 2016, Dierksmeier presented two foundational works on this subject: “Qualitative Freedom. Selbstbestimmung in weltbürgerlicher Verantwortung” was, with a foreword by Hans Küng, a secular, philosophical justification of the Global Ethic project. The book “Reframing Economic Ethics. The Philosophical Foundations of Humanistic Management” then applied the basic idea of “qualitative freedom” to economics and made the Institute a center for the substantiation, research and application of humanistic management in the spirit of cosmopolitan responsibility.

Dierksmeier also succeeded in involving experienced entrepreneurs and consultants in the Institute’s work, including Klaus Schuler, Detlef Lohmann, Dr. Alexander Insam, and Dr. Raban D. Fuhrmann (in 2017 the founding chairman of the Friends of WEIT). They showed and show how global ethic ideas could work in companies and organizations, thus spurring research as well as teaching. Since 2014, entrepreneur and philosopher Dr. Friedrich Glauner has played a particularly prominent and productive role. With numerous case studies and conceptual contributions, he has highlighted the importance of global ethic values for sustainable, innovative and resilient business models. His contributions in research and teaching have been and are pacesetters of the discussion on global ethics in business. The most recent fruit of his work is the publication “Everything New. Geschäftsidee, Geschäftsmodell, Unternehmensplanung”, published together with Dr. Bernd Villhauer.

The research and contributions of Dr. Christopher Gohl, Dr. Bernd Villhauer, Hanna Schirovsky and Anna Tomfeah were and are also in the same vein. They tied in with already existing social, economic and financial discourses of the Global Ethic Project, unfold them with the ideas of world-ethically responsible freedom and humanistic management and introduce them into their own and new networks. An insight into the diversity and fruitfulness of all these approaches is provided by the 2020 anthology edited by Ulrich Hemel at Herder Verlag, “Weltethos für das 21. Jahrhundert. How a better globalization can be achieved“.

  • With a focus on the emergence and impact of values, Dr. Christopher Gohl has been researching interfaces, dialogs and learning processes between business, civil society and politics since 2012. He is driven by the question of how we can learn to live and do business together in a world-ethically responsible freedom. As coordinator of teaching at the Global Ethic Institute, he regularly organizes lecture series (in the Studium Generale) and “city talks” on the topicality of global ethic values, which he also advocates publicly on many occasions. Regular colloquia together with Dr. Raban Daniel Fuhrmann are dedicated to transformative teaching, in-depth on topics of global learning and democracy development.
  • Dr. Bernd Villhauer, a trained industrial clerk and doctor of philosophy, focuses on the topic of global ethics in finance – a topic that was already particularly important to Hans Küng – in addition to his work as managing director (succeeding Dr. Stephan Schlensog since 2015). This has not only made him a sought-after expert and host of numerous talks, research groups, working groups and seminars on the topic, but has also made the Institute an internationally respected forum on topics of Responsible Finance.
  • Between 2016 and 2020, Hanna Schirovsky devoted particular theoretical and practical attention to the global ethic in relation to life chances for refugees in cooperation with Prof. Jürgen Volkert of Pforzheim University. She also coordinated research at the Institute and bid farewell by organizing the anthology anthology “Global Ethic for the 21st Century”.
  • Anna Tomfeah, responsible for the Institute’s public relations since late 2017, founded the Responsible Communication (ResCom) project in 2019. Together with partners from the communication industry, she is developing a learning program for the continuing education of communication professionals with the goal of strengthening global ethics in public communication. In July 2021, the project group’s first book, “Credible Corporate Communication – Impulses for Responsible and Effective Practice,” was published by Springer Wissenschaftsverlag.
  • The ideas and focal points of global ethics research also inspired students at an early stage. From the beginning, interested and committed students found their way to the seminars and events of the Global Ethic Institute, where they were able to satisfy their pronounced curiosity about forms of global responsibility. This was all the more so when Michael Wihlenda, himself a doctoral student at the Institute, turned the “Student Hub” (2013) for student initiatives and organizations into first the “School for World Citizens” (2014) and then finally the “World Citizen School” (2015). It is a truly world-ethical educational innovation in that it promotes voluntary student engagement and self-determined, values-based learning in the service of a strong global civil society. To this end, not least by outstandingly creative coordinators such as Katerina Filippidou and Nadja Büchler, it has created its own corporate identity and special learning and training programs. This has met with demand, which has now led Wihlenda as an educational developer to a number of other universities. The World Citizen School, since 2020 on site under the direction of Dr. Julia Schönborn and since November 2021 funded by the German Foundation for Commitment and Volunteerism, thus links “forms of professional learning with forms of pluralistic identity learning.”
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Change of leadership 2018: As successor to Institute Director Claus Dierksmeier, Ulrich Hemel joins the Global Ethic Institute in June 2018 (from left to right).

Professional learning” and “pluralistic identity learning“: these are two aspects of the idea introduced by Prof. Dr. Dr. Ulrich Hemel from 2018 to understand global ethics as a “learning program for self- and world responsibility“. It had been the founder’s wish to strengthen the practical orientation of the institute with the experienced entrepreneur and manager Ulrich Hemel. Since then, however, research and teaching at the Institute have also benefited from the academic perspectives of Hemel, who holds a doctorate in Catholic theology and a postdoctoral qualification in religious education. For understanding global ethics as a learning program means strengthening the practical ethical ability of actors to speak and act – and this closes the circle to Hans Küng and Claus Dierksmeier, to organize encounters in the sign of freedom responsible for global ethics as learning processes. “Dialogue ability is peace ability” (Hans Küng), because dialogue ability is a certain kind of learning ability: the ability to derive from the experience of successes and mistakes the knowledge of how we should behave more humanly, more fairly, more truthfully and in partnership.

These insights also inform the Global Ethic Ambassador program Hemel launched. This executive learning offering, initially organized by Hanna Schirovsky (2018 -2019) and Elena van den Berg (2020-2021), is aimed at leaders in companies and organizations. Participants are provided with extensive basic and orientation knowledge so that they are sensitized to ethical, social, and intercultural conflicts in the workplace, strengthen their ethical language and action skills, and represent the global ethic idea in their own company and beyond. For example, by aligning their risk management in a sustainable manner or leading their teams in a culture of trust. The Ambassadors’ network also generates its own ideas and initiatives that enrich the Global Ethic project.

With Prof. Hemel, the Global Ethic Institute has also once again focused more strongly on megatrends. First of all, this included digitalization. With his work “Critique of Digital Reason. Why Humanity Must Be the Benchmark” (2020), Hemel makes the global ethical central value of humanity the benchmark of the digital transformation and shows what social, political and cultural effects it could have. In doing so, he not only opens up a future topic for the Global Ethic Project, but also a topic of practical local significance. After all, since 2017, the Tübingen Cyber Valley Initiative has become Europe’s largest research consortium in the field of artificial intelligence. In 2019, following suggestions from Hemel, a “Public Advisory Board” was set up as a public advisory board to evaluate research projects in terms of their ethical and social implications. Hemel serves as deputy spokesperson.

The institute recognizes a second megatrend in the increasing importance of religions as actors in civil society. This raises the question of “religions capable of democracy,” but also “democracies capable of religion.” Hemel, who is also chairman of the Federation of Catholic Entrepreneurs, is working on these questions together with Christopher Gohl. It is important to both of them to work out the religious aspects of the social market economy. Together with Prof. Dr. Nils Goldschmidt, chairman of the long-established Aktionsgemeinschaft Soziale Marktwirtschaft, and Prof. Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, they have proposed in this context that the social market economy be understood and expanded as an international peace project. This proposal has found particular resonance in Asia, but especially in Latin America.

In addition, the Global Ethic Institute has become an important networking hub in the field of “Responsible Finance“. Managing Director Bernd Villhauer has put global ethic thinking on the strategic maps of finance and financial science through numerous publications and lectures, but above all through networking with other partners in business and civil society. This is also evidenced by the establishment of Prof. Johannes Hoffmann’s renowned research group at our institute, which developed the “Frankfurt-Hohenheim Guidelines,” an essential basis for eco-ratings in the financial industry. The research group has organized two high-profile congresses on the European Central Bank’s sustainability policy and is preparing further work on the financial market in cooperation with the Club of Rome.

These exemplary mentioned, but also so many other cooperations show: The Global Ethic Institute is much more than just the staff to be found at Hintere Grabenstraße 26 in Tübingen. From the very beginning, it understood itself in the spirit of the participatory-minded director Claus Dierksmeier (“Freedom as Method”) as a project of the partners at the University of Tübingen, the Global Ethic Foundation and the Karl Schlecht Foundation. The foundation for this emerges in the advisory board, which since 2013 has been led as circumspectly as farsightedly by the president of the Global Ethic Foundation, Eberhard Stilz, the long-time president of the Baden-Württemberg State Court.

But the work of the Institute also lived and lives from staff members such as Jonathan Keir, who initially sat in on the seminars as a doctoral student on the subject of global ethics before, beginning as a lecturer in 2015, he himself has since enriched the project in many functions and in many places. Or it benefits from the partners of the neighboring institutes, the Erich Fromm Institute and the China Institute. Or from “Project Cassandra,” a cooperation between the German Federal Ministry of Defense and the Global Ethic Institute for the early recognition of crises and prevention of violence under the direction of Prof. Dr. Jürgen Wertheimer. And it is supported by so many other friends of the Institute, not least by the Association of Friends of the Global Ethic Institute, now led by Maurizio Gasperi and Michael Kohlhaas.

Ten years of the Global Ethic Institute at the University of Tübingen would not have been possible without the day-to-day care for infrastructure, organization, appointments and correspondence. In the first decade, the good and sustaining spirits of the work at the Institute included the assistants Christina Illek (2012-2020) and Esther Nezere (since 2015), the project coordinators Marie Joo Weber (2012-2014), Katharina Hoegl (2012-2016), and the man for technology, sound, and social media, Arben Kukaj (since 2019). The entire team was supported by over 50 research assistants, who often implemented their own ideas and initiatives and have since carried the spirit of the Global Ethic idea out into research, business, media, culture and politics. Which, of course, has also been the task of the public relations work always expected of the Institute, to which Beata Beier (2012-2014), Claire-Marie Vagedes (2016-2017) and Anna Tomfeah (since the end of 2017), together with Annette Guthy (since 2016), have rendered particularly outstanding services.

Ten years of the Global Ethic Institute at the University of Tübingen show: The project’s source code links diverse contributions to the unity of global responsibility in business. The Global Ethic Project responds to troubled times with encouragement: We can overcome pressing challenges such as climate protection, the Corona pandemic or social polarization together if we align ourselves with elementary values of humanity that are already shared worldwide. This is catching on: Demand for the Global Ethic learning program is growing. The philosophical, secular foundations have been strengthened at the Institute. The connection to social science research is being expanded, and the young generation is being addressed with new forms. Global ethical thinking opens up and permeates new topics, discourses and practices. To the extent that the number of practitioners of the global ethic idea in companies increases, the global ethic project also learns at the same time. Global Ethic lives and moves!

At the beginning as well as at the end, the Global Ethic Project at the Global Ethic Institute is and remains always one thing: an offer for dialogue – an invitation to all people of good will to participate in the learning processes for self-responsibility and world responsibility with their own voice and with their own experiences. Can the upcoming decade of upheavals become a decade of world-responsible awakenings? We want to continue to make our contribution to this in research, teaching and public engagement.

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The team of the Global Ethic Institute in 2021
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