Interview with Klaus Brill
For Bayer, "Science For A Better Life" means more than manufacturing innovative products: the tagline also applies when it comes to improving people's living conditions and making these improvements permanent. In 2002 the company co-founded a series of conferences called the International Dialogue on Population and Sustainable Development to promote a lively exchange of information and ideas between people from many countries and interest groups. Today the Dialogue is highly regarded by all its participants and has become a permanent fixture on the international calendar. In this interview, Klaus Brill tells us which subjects are at the center of attention, what role the Dialogue plays in the drive for sustainability, and what prospects it opens up.
Why is a social dialogue on population and sustainability necessary?
When the population grows too quickly, this always increases the risk of poverty, because the resources and infrastructure which a country needs to feed its people, care for their health and offer them career prospects can be overwhelmed. But we need to understand the complex interrelations involved here in order not only to provide the necessary goods and services – drugs, food, educational facilities – but also to change something permanently. Some sustainability issues are so deeply ingrained in society that a single government or organization is unable to have much of an impact. Rather, it takes strong – national and international – alliances of governments, NGOs, development-aid agencies and private businesses to develop comprehensive solutions.
The International Dialogue on Population and Sustainable Development has been bringing the partners round the table since 2002. What are the main issues discussed?
The most important questions are 'what aspects are relevant to sustainable development', 'how are they interrelated?', and 'where must conditions be changed to create sustainability?' The topic of family planning was discussed a lot in the early years, but the spectrum has broadened in the meantime. Big issues now include education, cultural diversity, the equality of men and women, the right to health, the demographic development, and future-related issues like food, energy and the environment. For the countries the question of governance is also important, i.e. how must a project be designed to ensure that it really achieves its intended goal? Such a dialogue on principles is not very common in the field of sustainability. Discussions often immediately turn to specific projects which are negotiated bilaterally between a national government and an NGO or a company.
What can the Dialogue contribute to sustainability in concrete terms?
A broadly based exchange of ideas and views can above all expand the knowledge base, thus making it easier for all involved to initiate projects that will have a permanent impact. "In addition, of course, an international conference generates public attention - an important step toward encouraging more potential partners to come on board."
Do the partners usually agree on strategies or are there conflict issues?
It's usually quite evident where the shortcomings are: increasing educational opportunities, improving healthcare services and protecting resources are goals everyone agrees on. However, there are controversial discussions about how to achieve them. After all, what good does it do if all people have a right to medical care or sexual self-determination on paper, but cannot assert this right in real life in their respective country? Such critical aspects are essential for the exchange.
Because the final aim is not noble desires, but realistic suggestions for improvement, right?
Exactly - practical relevance to the reality of life in the countries is a major concern for everyone involved. We make sure that we work with lots of examples from the countries to show what is really needed, what progress has been made, and what obstacles used to - or still do - stand in the way of progress. International discourse helps a lot when it comes to actually reaching objectives: there are often some countries that are more advanced and can report on what specific measures enabled them to succeed.
What can the Bayer company contribute to the Dialogue?
Content for one thing: in addition to our many years of experience in family planning, in 2012 for example we were able to contribute a lot of knowledge on the theme of nutrition; this was based on our expertise at Bayer CropScience. As a global business enterprise with expertise in the organizational field, we also provide support, for instance, on issues such as 'how do I design a project?', 'how do I plan the implementation?', 'how do I measure success?', and 'how do I reach long-term goals step by step?' In some cases, companies take a different approach than governments in such situations. I believe this angle is an important contribution to the Dialogue.
For Bayer, sustainability issues - such as family planning or crop protection - are simultaneously connected with commercial interests. How is the company perceived in the Dialogue?
Well, all over the world it's usually private companies that supply the population with medicines, energy, water, food, as well as many other goods and services. In order to successfully win these companies over as partners for sustainability projects, therefore, it's important for NGOs and governments to understand how companies 'think', what contributions they can and cannot make. So in the Dialogue people are interested to hear our opinions - so we're a true partner, not just the sponsor of the event. Granted, there's a certain amount of resentment here and there toward private business - but the Dialogue really helps to create mutual understanding and trust. Discussions on practical issues are the main focus for all participants.
In your view, what is the Dialogue's most important achievement?
The very fact that the forum has been well attended for ten years and is supported by such high-profile partners as IPPF is a great success! The representatives of the countries sit around the table, exchange ideas, develop joint strategies and derive – and publish – recommendations for politicians based on the information they receive. This is something unique In the field of population development and sustainability – a true think tank has emerged over the years. I'm especially pleased that today one third of participants are younger than 35. The young generation bring a different slant on things; they don't first think of possible problems, they want to change something – and that's a big step forward.
And what is your hope for the Dialogue in the future?
My wish is that the Dialogue will open up to more sustainability issues and that we increasingly manage to link up the many individual aspects. We must understand the overall picture and its interrelations, only then can we start working on the causes and prevent the results of measures fizzling out within a short time. I hope the young generation will get even more involved in the future and that, again and again, the participants will take fresh ideas and inspiration away with them from the Dialogue which will help them to initiate real improvements in their countries. Don't underestimate the motivation for individuals that can grow out of such an international discourse – having the self-confidence that you can change something in your own country is the most important foundation you can build on to try to improve a situation.