23.02.20234 minutes reading time

Why did you create your foundations?

I am firmly convinced that every one of us should make a contribution to society, according to their means. Only then can it be vital and viable. Property entails obligations, particularly here. And gratitude that society has given you the opportunity for successful development.
It's really important to me not just to ‘do good’ as part of my Foundations. Alongside implementing individual projects, I also want to raise people’s awareness for particular topics. Every one of us has to make our contribution to preserve our world for future generations in a liveable way.

How important in general is the work of foundations? How can they be more effective?

That depends first of all on the purpose of the foundation. The effectiveness of foundation work is otherwise a question of good management.

How far are you involved in the work of the foundations?

Naturally, the amount of time I have available for the foundations depends primarily on the needs of my business. Besides this, I still need to find time for my family and friends. However, foundation work genuinely enriches me, so that I gladly contribute the time that is needed. This has also become easier since I have become the Chairman of the Otto Group Supervisory Board and have withdrawn from the operational side of the Otto Group.
I actively accompany the foundation projects and attend meetings on-site and in person.

How is the foundations’ work financed?

By an annual inflow of money that I make available. In addition, we receive public funding as well as money from other private partners − in the case of the Aid by Trade Foundation through cotton companies and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for instance.

In 1993, you first created the Michael Otto Foundation for Environmental Protection. It is dedicated to protecting water as the basis of life. What were your motives for establishing it?

Water is a resource that is becoming scarcer. The needs of people and nature meet in this topic to the same extent. I experienced this fact particularly strikingly during a journey to Africa. The gnus that populate the savannah in their thousands during their migration, can delay the timing of giving birth and wait until the rain comes. Once the savannah becomes green, it is filled at the same time with thousands of gnu calves: an impressive image with great symbolism: water is life!

The Michael Otto Foundation has defined an action field for Support, Education and Dialogue, amongst others. What exactly does that mean?

The foundation’s activities are intended to provide incentives, give food for thought and trigger an initial effect. Therefore, there are three pillars of activity: Funding, Education and Dialogue. The Foundation supports projects which directly benefit water and/or the affected habitats. It is active in the education area through establishing Foundation professorships and financial support for research and education centres. In addition, the Foundation moderates between social interest groups. It initiates conversations and offers a platform for dialogue events. As part of the Hamburg Forum for Nature Conservation or the Berlin Climate Meetings, representatives from industry, environmental protection, politics and science come together to work on pragmatic solutions for current environmental policy questions.

With Aqua Agents you are working to bring young people into the Foundation’s work. How important is it, in your opinion, to raise awareness among children and young people for such topics?

Tomorrow’s decision-makers are young people today. Their awareness deserves our particular attention. The Aqua Agents serve to protect water as a resource. The goal is to increase the own initiative of students and young people in the area of protecting nature, to increase their readiness to participate and to motivate them to change their behaviour.

In 2005, you established a new foundation, which is now the Aid by Trade Foundation. What exactly are its goals and what were your motivations?

The Foundation promotes the sustainable cultivation of agricultural and forestry products in developing countries. Many of these countries possess high-quality products, which so far have not found ready purchasers on the global market. The Foundation’s projects are intended to create the environmental, social, technical, political and economic framework conditions necessary for the production, finishing and sale of these products. The projects’ philosophy is that ‘trade can contribute towards fighting poverty’. The Foundation has also been tasked with bundling demand from industrialised countries for sustainable products from developing countries. The goal is for retail companies, together with consumers and manufacturers, to trigger permanently effective improvement stimuli through a targeted Demand Alliance. This innovative approach is orientated toward the market and aims to become financially self-sufficient in the long term.

The Cotton made in Africa initiative is currently one of the largest public-private partnership projects in German development cooperation and is carried by your foundation. What is the goal of the initiative?

The initiative stands for my convictions and core attitude. Every one of us can take on responsibility within our own capabilities. For me, that means promoting helping people to help themselves.
Together with industry, the German Federal government and non-governmental organisations, the Aid by Trade Foundation intends to create better and more reliable sales opportunities for African cotton as part of the Cotton made in Africa initiative and to fight poverty in the cotton-growing regions of Africa by targeting demand. The goal of the initiative is to support African smallholder farmers in producing cotton in line with sustainability criteria in a particularly efficient way, helping the farmers to achieve higher crop yields and thus a better income. At the same time, through a Demand Alliance organised by the Foundation we want to provide sales opportunities for this cotton on the European market. From the licence fees for Cotton made in Africa, the Foundation pays a dividend to the African cotton farmers, thereby securing an additional income for them, and supports the construction of schools and adult education. The farmers’ children therefore have the opportunity to go to school instead of working in the fields. Another focus of the project is in protecting nature and the environment: more than 450,000 cotton smallholder farmers in seven African countries are currently being trained to improve their cultivation methods and yields and therefore achieve higher income.

Prof. Dr. Michael Otto as


Prof. Dr. Michael Otto as