The award ceremony of the Leonardo - European Corporate Learning Award 2016 on 19 September in the Kameha Grand Bonn was held under the motto the future of learning in times of ignorance. “An evening full of enlightenment, but also full of joy”, promised Prof. Michael Spencer, who was the host of the event. The European education award this year went to the following bold visionaries and energetic pragmatists, who have explored new ways in the areas of education and social development: Dr. C. Otto Scharmer in the category “Thought Leadership”, Dr. Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund in the category “Crossing Borders”, and the founders of Kiron Open Higher Education, Vincent Zimmer and Markus Kreßler, in the category “Young Leonardo”.
“Exploring new paths in the field of education is more important than ever," confirmed the Mayor of Bonn, Gabriele Klingmüller, in her welcoming speech. She went on to encourage the award winners to “keep hold of your visions for a sustainable future for everyone on our planet and maintain the passion for your valuable work!” Markku Markkula, President of the EU Committee of the Regions and the Finnish Leonardo Ambassador, added: “As city and regional decision-makers it is our duty to participate in what Europe needs and deserves. We can make a difference. However, not alone and only with the help of the industry, universities and research institutions”. Being a part of the Leonardo provides a unique opportunity to meet with people who have great ideas and can make a significant contribution in this respect. “We want to learn what we can actually do in concrete terms in our own organizations, in our own cities, in our own companies”.
Overcoming one's limits – co-creating the world
The first award of the evening went to Dr. C. Otto Scharmer. The MIT professor and founder of the Presencing Institute in Cambridge received the Leonardo in the category “Thought Leadership” for his “Theory U”. With his “social technology of freedom”, he describes how to use presence, sensing and mindfulness – i.e. a more conscious perception of one’s self and the environment – to lead “from the future”. “There is good and bad ignorance. The difference is whether I feel comfortable remaining in that “ignorance bubble” and do nothing – or whether I consciously access my ignorance as a tool in order to transcend existing boundaries”, he explained.
“I am very grateful that the work of Otto Scharmer is recognized in this way”, the famous neurobiologist Gerald Hüther said in his honorific speech. “We need to open our minds and allow new things to happen, but not by feeding our minds and by loading them with even more information, nor by using even better training programmes”. These are the strategies of the last millennium. “In the 21st century the secret of success is learning together, learning from each other, working and solving problems together, and in particular: co-creating. Co-creativity is the outstanding feature of our species”. Which in turn corresponds to recent findings in neurobiology and social sciences.
Providing prospects for the future – unlocking potential
The two founders of Kiron Open Higher Education, Markus Kreßler and Vincent Zimmer, received the “Young Leonardo”. Kiron provides a continuing education programme for refugees. The “Young Leonardo Award” was first awarded in 2015 to four young pioneers in learning; this year it became a separate category.
Kreßler and Zimmer, who are heavily involved in refugee work, quickly realized how frustrating it is. “There were people who had to wait two years for their interview, which, for example, also meant that they were not given a language course for two years", explained Kreßler and added: “What they really needed was a real perspective for integration into society and the labour market”. And they then got that in the form of Kiron: “Providing refugees with higher education, and then facilitating access to traditional educational institutions for which they previously lacked papers is a real Game Changer for us. We unlock the potential of these people, turn them into ambassadors in their hosting communities and help them in rebuilding their countries after the war", said Vincent Zimmer.
For the Leonardo Jury and Advisory Board, the outstanding performance of Kreßler and Zimmer lies in the social innovation and humanitarian achievement of the project, explained Prof. Dr. Peter Pawlowsky, one of the Leonardo Ambassadors for Germany, in his speech for the two award winners. What he also found remarkable was the incredible speed with which the two developed Kiron and in doing so crossed borders and build bridges between political and human needs as well as traditional systems. “You are truly exceptional”, confirmed Dr. Shyamal Majumdar, Director of UNESCO UNEVOC, the UN institution responsible for professional and technical learning, at the award ceremony and emphasized his confidence in the young generation: “We people at the age of retirement have created a world that is not always nice; we know that. But you are our hope!”
Putting the world view into the right perspective
In the category “Crossing Borders”, Anna Rosling Rönnlund accepted the award, which she was awarded together with her father-in-law Dr. Hans Rosling, professor of international health at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, and her husband Ola Rosling. Together, they are the founders of the Gapminder Foundation in Sweden. For 18 years they have been processing official data on living conditions and standards of people around the world and feeding them into a self-developed open source programme for visually animated statistics. The result: They have unmasked “shifted worldviews and old socio-cultural comparisons, which are characterized by prejudice and false assessments, and thus ensure an impressive plea against prejudice and artificial disaster scenarios in the world. “We are trying to make the world more understandable and objective”, explained Rosling Rönnlund during the award ceremony. “What we see in the media on a daily basis is mostly the extraordinary, the extreme – and from this we create our very negative view of the world”. That is why objective facts are needed. Because they show, for example, that the living conditions have steadily improved over the centuries in all parts of the world. “However, as people do not like statistics, we have found a way around of making the people behind the statistics visible and of making the figures comparable in a more objective way“.
“What you have done is a mind-shifting process, to help people to abandon their preconceived perceptions that were wrong,” said Prof. Dr. Wim Veen, Leonardo Ambassador for the Netherlands, in his eulogy for the Gapminder project. Through their work, the Roslings have given data importance, he explained further. “You have moved many, many people and made clear to them that their idea of the world they live in today is not the same as what they learnt in school”.
“Prejudices are a poison that works its way into the hearts and minds of the people, that separates thinking and acting from responsibility, and in this way paves the way for injustices," is how Leonardo Secretary Günther M. Szogs quoted former Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher from the eulogy for the first Leonardo award winner Jaques Delors in 2010. Openness to others and knowledge of others are what count in order to enable mutual understanding and coming together.
“With these words, Hans-Dietrich Genscher could also have sat at our tables today”, Szogs mused. The challenge of overcoming this is still relevant today, which is the bad news. “But the good news is that we have moved on a bit. Today we discussed a lot, not only regarding ignorance and prejudices, but also regarding the mechanisms of prejudice and the logic of ignorance, so that we can leave that behind us, can make better judgments, and can act more responsibly”.
Think tank of knowledge and education experts
The opportunity of dealing intensively with the award winners, their visions and projects, and talking about the issue of the day – ignorance – was already seized by the guests during the day in the Leonardo Transfer Meeting before the award ceremony in the evening. “We all have a passion for learning – and today we are celebrating it!” That is how Alexander R. Petsch, Managing Director of the HRM Research Institute and co-initiator of the Leonardo Award, welcomed the participants of the Transfer Meeting in the morning. This was already the second time that the workshop took place immediately before the award ceremony. It is where the award winners are given ample opportunity not only to present their projects, but also to work together with stakeholders from education, the economy and society on the design possibilities for a meaningful “future of learning”.