19 Aug 2016 | Jennifer Jun | Europe and its Neighbors
The Transatlantic Core Group (TCG) began in July 2015 as a partnership between two German foundations – the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt and the Robert Bosch Foundation – and two American think tanks – the Atlantic Council and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs – to create an action-oriented network of young German and American leaders that would inject fresh ideas and fresh perspectives into a transatlantic relationship that faces severe challenges.
Returning to the serene Wasan Island generated a sense of homecoming for both the returning members and the new additions to this group of sixteen young leaders from the United States and Germany. While the backdrop offered a familiar atmosphere, the group reflected earnestly on how much has changed in the transatlantic landscape in the span of one year – the rapid influx of refugees into Europe, the disintegration of the European project as was most recently demonstrated by Brexit, and on both sides of the Atlantic, the rising tide of populism as a symptom of widening social and economic disparity.
Compared to the discussion one year ago that focused on differences between American and German perceptions of one another and their engagement and leadership in the wider world, the conversations this time coalesced around shared domestic challenges. The perception that opportunity is further away than ever for the middle class and marginalized groups, the loss of faith in institutions, the deficit of leaders and leadership, and apathy toward civic and political participation were major topics. There was a remarkably strong consensus between both the American and German participants that their countries now find themselves facing a set of common threats – threats from within.
Rather than fearing that these challenges may undermine the transatlantic relationship, the TCG members saw an opportunity to rejuvenate and strengthen the relationship as equal partners. One sub-set of the group, “WIFI – Wasan Island Future Initiative”, comprising mainly social entrepreneurs and business executives, continued to refine their vision for a German-American exchange on entrepreneurship, vocational education and training, and the future of talent in the 21st century. On Wasan Island, the group members worked together to ideate and design a plan to implement a November 2016 workshop in Charlotte, North Carolina that would bring together young American and German stakeholders and practitioners for an exchange of ideas and best practices. Charlotte is one of the most important hubs in North America for German-American economic partnership. It is home to almost 200 German-owned companies including Daimler Trucks and Siemens Energy, and therefore provides the ideal location for practitioner-driven dialogue and site visits.
A second sub-group called “Connected Cities” reported back on a successful immigrant and refugee integration workshop they implemented in April 2016 in Paretz, Germany, and they used the Wasan Island meeting to identify where the group can add further value. Such as to hone in on existing sister city relationships between the US and Germany and to use the existing economic and political ties in order to support the inclusion of newcomers and to broaden inclusivity toward its residents.
The Connected Cities members from Chicago and Hamburg determined that their professional networks serve as an opportune starting place, and they drafted a plan to organize a Chicago-Hamburg exchange workshop in Hamburg in April 2017, with another in Chicago in Fall 2017. These workshops will provide the opportunity for civil society groups, municipal leaders, and public safety officials to exchange common challenges and solutions aimed at transforming their cities into welcoming cities.