I met Michael Otto for the first time in a circle of women and men who met several times in the middle of the 1990s at Lake Müritz to debate how private initiatives could be used to support the economic and social development of the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
When I first became Federal President, I asked Michael Otto to explain to me in depth the thus-named patronage system among Hamburg’s merchant class. And when I visited the state of Schleswig-Holstein to gain information locally about the cooperation between agriculture and nature conservation, he took the opportunity to personally describe to me the work done by the Michael Otto Institute at the German Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) in Bergenhusen. He revealed an astonishingly detailed knowledge about the life of (and threat to) the storks and grassland birds.
For many years, though, we have been been exchanging views on Africa, and continue to do so today. As a farsighted entrepreneur, Michael Otto has long recognised the great economic and political potential of this continent. But he also recognises that the poverty there calls on his responsibility as a businessman and a world citizen. In Africa, his name has meanwhile become almost synonymous with 'organic cotton', with the environmentally friendly cultivation of cotton. I am delighted that Michael Otto goes out of his way, even in personal conversations in Africa, to lobby for better framework conditions for private economic investment. In his vision for Africa, cotton and other raw materials should increasingly be processed locally. He knows that the general lack of professional prospects for African youths must be counteracted especially through education, training and jobs.
Our constitution guarantees the right to private property. And he says: “Property entails responsibility. Its use should serve the good of all at the same time.” Michael Otto lives up to this commitment.
Entrepreneurs such as Michael Otto are role models and incentives to keep the social market economy alive, for the sake of prosperity in Germany and around the world.
Thank you, Michael Otto. Ad multos annos!
Prof. Dr. Horst Köhler