Dr. Corinne Michaela Flick studied both law and literature, and is Founder and Chair of the Convoco! Foundation. Dr. Flick is Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Aspen Institute Germany, Co-Founder of the Friends of the Bavarian State Library, Munich, and a member of the Executive Committee of the International Council of the Tate Gallery, London.
You are the Founder and Chair of the Convoco! Foundation. Can you please tell me, what is your mission?
The name Convoco! comes from the Latin word convocare, to convene. The idea is to bring people together to think seriously and have a proper exchange on a high level about subjects that concern society and its future. Convoco! is a platform that brings together academics and business people for an interdisciplinary discussion. We have fantastic thinkers in each country, but they are not heard enough. We don’t take advantage of our thinkers. Convoco! gives them a voice, a platform for exchange with the economic world.
Is Convoco! a think tank?
Yes, in a special way. Convoco! brings together a broad variety of fields and disciplines. There are enough specialised think tanks. I believe in serendipity – we find new approaches and new ways of dealing with today’s issues and problems through diverse perspectives, and we inspire each other by thinking outside of our field.
How does Convoco! operate?
Convoco! was founded 13 years ago and offers five platforms: the Forum, a two-day conference that takes place in Salzburg at the end of July, lectures in Berlin and London, a website www.convoco.co.uk, a newsletter (Convoco! Notes) and book publications in German and English.
Why does Convoco! portray itself with the colour pink?
The colour of Convoco! is ‘shocking pink’ because proper thinking is sparkling and joyful. We needed the fun colour for people to come and get engaged. Pink communicates. It is young and inspiring.
What was the result of your 2016 Forum on “Authority in Transformation”?
We had fifteen thinkers over two days of exchange – there cannot be one conclusion, and, anyway, that’s not the aim. The purpose is the exchange and through the exchange we change our point of view. We broaden, we get more open, flexible and inspired. So with “Authority in Transformation” one big aspect was democracy. How has democracy changed, especially in view of direct democracy.
What do you mean by that?
Today people want to participate more. Everywhere we see the wish for referendums. One could say it even goes back to the idea of radical democracy in the sense of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Democracy is definitely not at its end, but it changes, as all things in life that want to stay need to change. The internet and social media changed things, obviously, but the new social media and the internet create a dramatic change as to how we live. We are still not aware what is going to happen or the extent of what is happening. It’s a much more profound change than what we have experienced before. Now we really know that we are in a different century and a new millennium.
Brexit was not predictable, and now there are unpredictable knock-on effects. These are complex changes?
We don’t yet know the consequences. It’s all up in the air. Schiller in Wallenstein says: “But time must tell, if good or ill shall rise.” We are definitely seeing phenomena we were never expecting.
Look at Trump and his language! Look at Putin! Are we reverting to being barbarians? Nowadays politics, economics and social implications are very much linked. How do you deal with this at Convoco!?
Populism is not a new phenomenon, but what we see now is a different kind of populism than in history. I don’t see direct parallels with 20th Century history. Still, I fear for our civil liberties and worry about our tolerant society. I don’t fear racism in the sense of the last century. The majority of civil society is firmly grounded and I am optimistic that this will help to overcome these new phenomena that we see in nearly all European countries and in America.
How will we come through these changes?
Our times require very good, responsible politicians as leaders, because if we ask as a population for more participation we need politicians who can explain to us the issues in a proper way. Then we can participate and have properly informed referendums. The Brexit campaign was more like an election campaign than a referendum. The voters were neither sufficiently informed nor did they receive enough explanation about the consequences. The real subject was not sufficiently the focus of the debate.
Where are we going to find responsible politicians and how can people understand what the issues are?
For example, the German chancellor Angela Merkel is a genuinely responsible person. The lack of proper information and explanation frustrates the voters, and that’s largely why people go for irresponsible populist leaders, who explain everything in a very simplistic black and white way. Convoco! provides a forum for intellectual and policy-related exchange on a high level, but in a way that everybody can understand, can follow and can profit from, because the best thinkers discuss the issues in a way that is clear and simple and stays focused on the question at hand. The better the thinkers are, the more straightforward their language.
Are there any positive signs and how do you see them?
As human beings, I think, we should have very open eyes and see what’s going on and how our lives have changed because of the new technologies. You could not have thought of a phenomenon like Uber 10 years ago and it will change, and is changing, the whole idea of transport. It has many more implications for our cities than we realise. It changes also social behaviour in cities. In LA suddenly you have a totally different behavioural nightlife structure – this is one minor example.
You seem optimistic?
We are now in the 21st Century. There is no way back to the 20th Century, but our thinking has yet to catch up. We better jump in quick. Convoco! is looking at the transition from the 20th to the 21st Century. I have a young Convoco! group, Convoco! 3.0. The participants have just finished university or are start-up entrepreneurs.
How do you engage with them?
The Convoco! 3.0 group talks about the yearly subject of Convoco! specifically from the digital perspective. How do digital life and society meet? We don’t talk about innovation in itself, we talk about how it influences and effects society. At the same time, it is very important for the tech generation to get together with traditional thinkers who are fifty plus. The young group acknowledges that it has things to learn from the experience and philosophical wisdom of earlier generations. These classic thinkers are what they are missing, and they want to get inspired by the “old knowledge”- old wisdom. The new tech generation doesn’t get in touch with it enough.
Why do you think there is this need?
For example, strategies will always be important. You can’t live a successful life without a strategy. So you have to reflect. In Germany it goes back to such figures as Carl von Clausewitz. Having a strategy means to have options in place if things go wrong. We have to understand that not everything can always work out as we want. For instance, what do we do if we have to deal with a major economic downturn?
How is Germany facing these generational and technological changes?
Germany has been through a big challenge already with the reunification of the country, so Germany is already in a process of changing. Berlin came up as a truly international metropolis on the map after the reunification and Germany is opening up more and more. Berlin today is a real capital city once more, very popular with young people, and in the average restaurant the menu is in German and in English. The German language is not easy to learn and so in the past people didn’t move to Germany. Now it’s opening up, and with immigration it gets more international, more diverse.
The use of the English language as a kind of Esperanto has changed many things?
Yes, language is communication and makes people more tolerant and is essential for a global society in a humanistic way. Nevertheless, we live in an age of images. An image can tell us more than a written page and can be understood all over the world. That’s one of the reasons why apps such as Instagram or Snapchat are so successful.
If I understand well, in one way you are very concerned about today’s political leadership, but you are also optimistic and curious about the new technological world of today?
Yes. Definitely. I think it’s very exciting, and there are big opportunities, and it’s great to be witness to such profound change. For example, look at genetic tests. You suddenly find out where you come from, 10% Italian, 20% German, a little African – or whatever it may be.
What will be the subject of the next Convoco! Forum in 2017?
The common good, which in Latin is Bonum Commune. For the Americans it’s the pursuit of happiness. Has it changed in our new millennium? We are going to discuss which are the important values in today’s society that are the constituents of the common good in the modern world, among them: access to fresh water, lack of pollution, food safety, access to knowledge.
Do you talk for a global community?
I fear that at the moment there is a tendency of being less global, and we can see in the figures of world trade, which are recently declining, that this has already been an ongoing phenomenon for a decade. We live in a world full of contradictions. The problems we are facing are global: migration, pollution, climate change. Problems are a bridge for us to reunite. One has to work together to get it managed.
After Brexit will Germany be in a weaker position in Europe?
I know people fear Germany is too strong in Europe, and I think this could have also been one motive, among others, behind Brexit. Brexit is sad, but now it is also an opportunity to make necessary reforms.
Has Germany really changed?
Germany has changed and it is not the Germany of the first half of the 20th century anymore, it’s very pacifistic, horrified by war. The German people like Europe, but all Europeans are aware that the EU needs reform. Personally I believe that the need for us to work together is more urgent than ever. I believe in cooperation. Europe will lose its global role if we don’t succeed in making this happen.
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14th October 2016
Photo Portrait of Dr. Flick by Sabine Brauer.