Social commitment

23.02.20232 minutes reading time

How do you select the fields for your commitments?

It is important to me that my personal engagement catalyses and drives forward essential social, societal and environmental projects. Apart from implementing individual projects, I also want to raise people’s awareness for particular topics, initiate ideas and get something going that others can pick up on and develop further. Merely donating money generously is simply not enough if you want to change things for the better in the long run. The guiding principle for all my initiatives and foundations is therefore that they should take fresh approaches and contribute to the sustainable development of our society. In doing so, there has to be a win-win situation for all participants. That’s the only way that these projects have a chance of surviving in the long term and creating permanent change.

Your late father, Professor Werner Otto, set standards with his social commitment. What were his criteria for selecting engagements?

My father wanted to share his great successes – including the financial ones – with others and to give something back to society. His motto was always: “People come first.” Accordingly, he used his money for many cultural projects. But the most important commitment for him was for those who are always described as the weakest members of society: handicapped children. In order to give effective help and to lessen human suffering, he created the Werner Otto Foundation in 1969. This medical foundation helps out particularly wherever the state provides no money, or does not do so quickly enough.

How has your father’s engagement shaped your own social actions?

My father was a role model for me in the sense that he stood up for the employees early on. When the company is doing well, then the employees should do well, too – that was his creed. Of course, my family has also influenced me. I was taught from the beginning also to think of others.

In the area of education, Hamburg has the Initiative for Employment, which you created, as well as the Hamburg Secondary School Model. With these, you make the path from school to a job easier for secondary-school pupils. Helping them help themselves?

Precisely. One of the central challenges in the coming years will be to make access to the working life easier for young people who have completed secondary school, in order to improve their opportunities in the labour market and therefore for a self-determined life. In my view, it’s enormously important not to leave young pupils to their own devices here. On the one hand, a timely transition from school into vocational training is very important for them. And on the other, society and business desperately need well-educated young people. The Hamburg Secondary School Model has developed here to become an outstanding concept for the seamless progression of pupils with secondary school certificates into unsubsidised vocational training. It is especially well-proven for the integration of school leavers with an immigrant background and from socially deprived areas. That’s what delights me about this project!

In cultural areas, you appear in a supportive role time and again. For example, you supported the construction of the Youth Music School in Hamburg and the Elbe Philharmonic Foundation with donations. Why is the support from private individuals so important in this area?

Supporting projects that are part of art and culture is frequently not at the forefront of public budgets. Therefore, the private willingness to help of those who can afford it financially is vitally important here. I enjoy supporting projects as part of musical education, because the unifying power of music not only serves personal development, but also supports creativity and social interaction.

Prof. Dr. Michael Otto as


Prof. Dr. Michael Otto as