A bridge to the community (and back)
Hager Group commitment to the community
Thanks to the Peter und Luise Hager Foundation, established in 2010, Hager Group is involved in a variety of projects all over the world. The Foundation management board, Evi Hager, Susanne Trockle and Oswald Bubel, explain the Foundation’s work and what motivates the company.
There are already more than 21,000 charities operating in Germany. What inspired you to set up another one?
Companies also have a social responsibility. As a family business we believe this goes hand-in-hand with a responsibility to do something for the community, so it made sense to consolidate our community engagement in a single charitable foundation.
For us, it’s important that we’re close to what we do. When deciding which projects to get involved in, the Peter und Luise Hager Foundation (PLHF) focuses on countries and regions where Hager Group operates. At the moment, we won’t be launching any projects in Japan or Canada, for example, whereas we have done so in India. Also, when it comes to our work, we focus on projects that we are able to personally monitor and support. Our Foundation is not one to get out the chequebook and leave it at that.
You get involved in a wide range of projects. What kinds of project are relevant to the Peter und Luise Hager Foundation, and which ones aren’t?
When setting out our charter, we settled on five particular areas that we’d like the work of the Foundation to focus on: education and training, science and research, art and culture, the environment and social issues. We are open to new proposals and projects that fall within these five Foundation areas.
We don’t support any projects that are entirely church-based or ideological in nature. Furthermore, we only promote sporting activities inasmuch as we support children with particular sporting talent as part of our Opportunities project.
Who founded the PLHF?
The PLHF was founded by Hager Group in December 2010. In 2017 we could invest some 700,000 euros in a range of projects. The story doesn’t end there. I am very much of the opinion that the Foundation should continue to grow, just like the company, without which we wouldn’t exist. The scale of our community engagement should be commensurate with the size of Hager Group.
Incidentally, our work for the Foundation has always been done on a purely voluntary basis. With the exception of a few office expenses and material costs, all PLHF funds are channelled directly into project work.
How would you characterise the relationship between the Foundation and the company? To what extent are they interlinked, or are they autonomous?
The Foundation operates independently from Hager Group, and the company doesn’t influence our choice of projects in any way. Of course, having said that, we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the company. Also Hager Group employees support us on a voluntary basis and by recommending projects. One such project is called ’Rounding up makes cents’, which enables staff members based in Germany or France to round their salaries down to the nearest euro and donate the extra cents to the Foundation. The donation is more than doubled by the PLHF and donated to food banks in Germany and France.
The extent to which the Foundation and the company are interconnected is also demonstrated by the fact that a number of our projects are based at company sites. This is because, on the one hand, it allows us to give something back directly to the organisation that we depend on and coexist with. On the other, there is also a practical consideration, as it enables us to draw on the company’s network as a volunteering initiative. When it came to the Perspectiva project, for example, we received a great deal of help from Spanish colleagues at Hager Group.
We have been supporting up-and-coming talent in the science industry for some time now thanks to the Helmholtz Science Award. In close cooperation with the Helmholtz Institute of the Technical University of Karlsruhe, we support doctoral and master students in their research projects.
Looking forward, we want to strenghten the profile of the Foundation’s work among Hager Group employees. We would like to show them that we recognise our social responsibilities, and give them the opportunity to support us as volunteers with their time and energy. I think that’s what defines a family business: the people who work for us aren’t ’just employees’, they’re partners. We share the same values of courage, authenticity and integrity, along with also the values of compassion and sustainability.
The Foundation is named after the parents of the two company founders. Why is this?
Because our grandparents had a big impact on us. Both shouldered a lot of the responsibility when it came to holding our large family together. It wasn’t always easy for them however they helped where they could. Peter and Luise Hager were authentic persons and they lived their lifes by values that still hold great importance for us today.
What would you do differently if you could turn back the clock and Hager Group could set up the Foundation for a second time?
Nothing at all. Everything we’ve done reflects the Foundation and its values. We set ourselves suitable goals and, in terms of our project, we brought on board people who carry the spirit of the Foundation forward with us. We are proud of the growth that we have achieved so far.
We have a good idea by now of what we’re capable of and what we want to achieve. We now look for sustainable, distinctive projects that we can actively get involved in first-hand. That makes us very authentic as well. A while ago, Susanne Trockle and I travelled to Rajasthan to attend the grand opening of two dams built as part of our Water for India project. Everyone knows that words, images and the internet can be deceiving, yet personally meeting the people we support is a deeply moving experience. I learned, for example, about the level of discrimination that women and girls in India still face today. There is an urgent need for change, and I would be very happy if we could successfully contribute in some small way.
My motivation is the incredibly positive effect that a project like Perspectiva can have on people’s lives. The project is aimed at young, educated men and women who had no prospects of finding work corresponding to their professional qualifications in their home country, Spain. The majority of Perspectiva participants found a permanent job, as well as a new outlook, thanks to our intervention.
One project that I feel very strongly about is called Early Excellence. We are working in association with the Heinz and Heide Dürr Foundation to foster the talents of children in ’difficult’ nursery schools in Neunkirchen and Saarbrücken in Saarland, where children of a wide variety of nationalities and family backgrounds rub shoulders. I think it’s great that we can help these children to discover their strengths.
If we met again in five or ten years, in what ways do you think that the PLHF will have changed in that time?
After around seven years and some 40 projects, it’s almost as though we’ve reached a point where we can no longer continue to grow. Going forward, if we want to take on more projects of an international nature and treat them with the level of care they deserve, we can’t do it without the support of full-time staff. We owe it to ourselves, our Foundation and the regulatory authorities. I would like to see our Foundation take this next step in the direction of growth.
We recently launched several international projects in Portugal, the US and the Netherlands, and other projects – in England, for example – are in the planning phase. Hager Group colleagues are acting as country mentors to recommend projects and supervise them as they get underway. Our Foundation has made it out of the early stages and we are currently growing into our next stage of development. We will continue to raise our profile and see where we can use our resources to help people. And if our experience so far has taught us anything, it’s that we can help a great deal.
The Peter und Luise Hager Prize
Since 2011, the Foundation has been supporting young artists in association with the Saar Academy of Fine Arts and Design (HBKsaar). The Peter und Luise Hager Prize is awarded under a new theme every year. Although the theme may vary from year to year, the creativity shown by the artists who take part in the competition never ceases to delight us. Alongside HBKsaar, the Foundation supports art, music and education in its home state of Saarland in several different ways. One such project involves supporting the Modern Gallery, part of the Saarland Museum, which was reopened in 2017 after it underwent a large-scale expansion. It also works with the Saar University of Music and therefore all art and music academies in the Saarland, the Perspectives Festival, OPUS and ArtWalk.
Peter und Luise Hager Prize 2018
1. Prize 2018: Lukas Ratius and Frederic Zenner – Contactu Fungi
Presented in the style of a clinical laboratory situation, bacterial cultures demonstrate just how many microorganisms there are around us every day. Although they’re invisible, they accompany many kinds of human contact – from a handshake to a quick peck on the cheek to a passionate kiss. In these situations, bacteria and fungi are hidden, but always there. Although microorganisms are essential to the human body, they quickly trigger disgust when we see their effect on rotting food, for example. In their work, Lukas Ratius and Frederic Zenner transform this ambivalence. A handshake, two pecks on the cheek and a kiss have left their mark on a carrier substance that encourages microbes to grow. The microbes flourish, creating delicate visual representations of human contact.
2. Prize 2018: Felix Bronko Noll – „kontAKT“
The artist takes the word “Akt” (English: “nude”) from the topic “Kontakt” (English: “contact”). He says his work is based on the belief that an honest connection with one’s own body is one of the most important forms of contact. This is not meant in a narcissistic sense, but as an honest questioning of the self as a prerequisite for genuine contact to others. Felix Noll enlarged sections of photographs to different scales and put them together in a way that combines details of parts of the body that do not actually belong together. But in his photo installation, the individual photographs nevertheless create a uniquely coherent overall picture of tensions and possible connections. In this sense, contact between people always remains a puzzle, but one that is worthwhile – and the jury agrees.
3. Prize 2018: Jenny Tran – „Die Suche“
Jenny Tran addresses the theme of contact as a kind of search. This is the title of her work (“Suche” translates as “search”), which is reminiscent of comic strips and Frans Masereel’s woodcuts. Her picture stories deal with modern-day life and the difficulties it can pose for the individual in terms of making contact with others in the real world. Digital means of communication do not prove to be a guarantee of successful communication, of genuine contact. Rather, the individual builds up a digital image as a reflection of himself, almost losing himself in the process. The picture stories visualise these problems in harsh graphic contrasts before finally hinting at a solution.
Peter und Luise Hager Prize 2017
1. Prize 2017: Ida Kammerloch – “I was a circle”
Ida Kammerloch’s photographic work layers several circles on top of each other. She began by stopping passers-by in the street, offering them a piece of paper and asking them to draw their “personal circle”. She then photographed them. Each photo depicts the tension between the person and their circle drawing. What reveals more about the people in the photos? Their faces or the drawings of the circles – some precise, some free, some playful and some messy? Which elements were created by a slip of the pen and which were a deliberate statement? Why are some lines jagged, and why are there other, curved lines that don’t end back at the point where they started? Is it a lapse? Or an act of opening up – and freeing oneself from – a vicious circle? By this point, at the latest, possible interpretations will start spinning round in the observer’s mind. A very wide circle of people was portrayed, turning the work into a kind of social reportage achieved through purely visual means. Finally, the act of hanging a selection of the photos in the exhibition space creates another kind of circle. The people in the photos appear to be standing in a semi-circle, which the observer completes. Using a seemingly simple process, Ida Kammerloch has constructed a variety of very different circles: in the social space of the everyday, the individual space of the psyche, the space of the observer’s imagination and the exhibition space. In an artistically convincing way, she manages to leave us uncertain about whether we are seeing closed or open circles.
2. Prize 2017: Michael Voigt – “colighd – circles of gravity in light hey du”
“colighd” – the title of Michael Voigt’s installation – is a play on words. The artist explains the string of letters in the subtitle: “circles of light in gravity hey du” (“hey du” translates as “hey you”). The idea is that the circles of light speak to and catch the attention of the observer, as if to say, “hey you”. The name “colighd“ sounds like “collide” – which makes it reminiscent of the science fiction classic When Worlds Collide . In Michael Voigt’s work, worlds also collide, but in a much more meditative and playful way than in the 1951 disaster film. The work combines darkness and bright flashes of light, moments of shock and periods of quiet, water and electronics, gravity and reflection, coincidence and absolute precision. In a dark room, a drop of water falls from the ceiling into a cylindrical glass container and is illuminated for a split second as it hits the surface of the water. This causes irregular circles to form on the surface. They produce shimmering reflections on the ceiling of the room – as soon as the observer’s eyes have recovered from the optical shock of the very bright flash generated as the drop of water hit the surface. The flash is like a snapshot, and it makes a one-second sculpture appear on the surface of the water before the eyes of the observer, like something from a dream but completely real at the same time. Using cleverly designed electronics and subtle humour, Michael Voigt manages to present an experience that combines the technical and the magical.
3. Prize 2017: Valerian Polienko – “o.T.”
Valerian Polienko’s paintings are the result of an experiment. What makes his series of circular pictures artistically interesting is the fact that he let the colours do what they wanted, as it were. It took a lot of careful preparation to achieve this seemingly simple outcome. Valerian Polienko took carrier film coated with a binding agent and laid it in tubs of water. He then added different amounts of pigments or coloured inks to the tubs. The different colours, plus the evaporative effect or the addition of more water, influenced the way in which traces of colour settled on the film – and the patterns and shapes that they created after a few weeks. Over longer periods of time, Valerian Polienko allowed coloured structures to grow – not so much through deliberate or artistic painting as through a kind of patient cultivation, like a gardener. When he then examined what the materials had decided to do, he discovered finely graduated compositions of colour with concentric forms like tree rings, which show how long they took to form. These vibrant paintings combine paint and colour in a completely new way.
Experiencing science up close
The schoolchildren of Saarlouis are able to get up close and personal with science, thanks to a state-of-the-art facility that’s practically on their doorstep. The town’s Student Research Centre, which opened in 2015, houses three large laboratories, as well as conference and meeting rooms. Each laboratory has space for 20 schoolchildren, who take part in various experiments in groups. They are guided by video tutorials on desktop computers, similar to the videos found on YouTube. This allows each group of schoolchildren to pursue their interests and work at their own pace. The research assistants or teachers whose role it is to supervise laboratory work in the Student Research Centre are then able to focus entirely on individual needs.
The laboratory equipment was almost exclusively funded by foundations such as the ME Saar Foundation, set up by the Saarland Metal and Electrical Industry Association, as well as the PLHF. “If it wasn’t for the Peter und Luise Hager Foundation, I’d be packing my bags”, says Benjamin Brück, Head of the Student Research Centre. “In addition to funding the basic lab equipment, the Foundation also opens the door to other sponsors who help us to buy the materials for our experiments.”
Water for India
In spring 2015, the PLHF organised the construction of two check dams in the Indian state of Rajasthan in association with Philippe Dangelser of the PHD Rural Development Foundation. Check dams are simple dam walls that are built in smaller valleys and adapted to the local geography, allowing them to be sealed off. During the rainy season, the reservoirs fill up with water, providing an additional, safe water source for local residents. Although the Peter und Luise Hager Foundation provided 30,000 euros for the necessary materials, the structures themselves were built by men from neighbouring villages. This makes it possible for the check dams to be serviced by the residents themselves in future, who will also be able to carry out any necessary repair work themselves.
Since then, both reservoirs have become a water source for five villages with 4,000 people and 9,000 cows. The Foundation further increased its involvement by introducing the Wash in School programme, which operates in five schools in the region. It funds sanitary kits and facilities for these schools as well as hygiene classes for the schoolchildren. Increased awareness of hygiene makes it possible to prevent a number of infectious diseases. This is another reason why clean water is essential to the people of Rajasthan.
With our neighbours
Many of the projects support initiatives and communities based in the vicinity of Hager Group sites. These projects are often selected, recommended and supervised by Hager Group colleagues. For example, Larry Darst, President of IBOCO Corporation a member of Hager Group based in Edison, New Jersey, kicked off a project that revolves around a school in the company’s neighbourhood. An above-average proportion of students at Lakewood High School in Lakewood, New Jersey, have difficult family situations. Many of them are forced to take on part-time work alongside their school commitments to make ends meet, which is reflected in the low proportion of Lakewood students who successfully graduate High School. PLHF wants to help to change this situation; the Positive Behaviour Support in Schools programme provides support to students who successfully apply themselves despite the difficulties they face.
For our neighbours
In Cascais, Portugal, the Associaçao Hipica Terapeutica offers therapeutic horse-riding sessions for people with physical disabilities and/or learning difficulties. Some 80 people enjoy the accompanied excursions on horseback; riding is a sport that improves self-confidence as well as flexibility and body awareness. When the economic crisis left many parents unable to afford the service for their children, the Peter und Luise Hager Foundation decided to step in. The project was recommended by Nuno Gonçalo Pina, Marketing Communication Manager at Hager – Sistemas Eléctricos Modulares in Portugal. Like many of his colleagues, he is personally involved in providing support to the riding centre.