Corona crisis: "We remain one hundred percent reliable"

Dr. Schütte, since March 17 the Foundation’s offices in Hanover have been closed. Nevertheless, it seems to be business as usual. How does that work?

The decision to ask our employees to work from home was made on the morning of March 15. By the evening of the following day, the Foundation building was empty. This was a tremendous logistical feat that naturally put a lot of stress on everyone involved. But the exercise was successful. After the inevitable technical hiccups at the beginning, almost all home offices are now up and running. The teams communicate with each other via digital channels. In a nutshell: It’s all systems go – albeit under unfamiliar and sometimes testing conditions.

What do you have to say to those who want to apply for funding from the Volkswagen Foundation or who are already receiving funding? Are there any restrictions?

I would like to answer your question from two perspectives. Firstly, from that of potential applicants: In an attempt to take a little pressure off in these stressful days, we have already moved some deadlines to the second half of the year. After all, who has the time and nerves in the present situation to prepare a complex funding proposal, often in collaboration with one or more partners? The updates on deadlines can be found on our homepage via "Our funding portfolio at a glance".

And the second perspective…?

... is aimed at those already in receipt of funding. I would like to send them a clear signal that our funding commitments will of course remain in place and without restriction. It has always been the case that once the Secretary General or the Board of Trustees has issued approval, every grant is fully financed until the end of its term. Nobody has to worry that their funding will suddenly be cut off.

And if the funds originally promised are not sufficient? What about cancellation costs, for example, which are due for cancelled trips or meetings but could not be foreseen in proposed budgets?

We clearly find ourselves in an exceptional situation. And we don't know how long it will last or what the ultimate impact will be. Everything is in disarray and in a state of dynamic change. That's why we at the Foundation don't have an off-the-cuff answer for every problem we may have to face. Just this much: The colleagues in the funding department are in close contact with our community. We collect the questions we get from outside and then try to find constructive solutions in-house; often quite individual ones. All our organizational units are making every effort to keep the Foundation running in such a way that it can continue to live up to its reputation as a reliable partner for science – at all times.

Are there any services that the Foundation can no longer offer at present?

Frankly, I can't think of an example. Of course, in individual cases, processes do sometimes run more slowly. And it can't be ruled out that it takes a little longer than usual to get an answer to an e-mail. Please bear with us on this.

Blick auf Schloss Herrenhausen
The conference center Schloss Herrenhausen in Hanover (Eberhard Franke for Volkswagen Foundation)

However, we do greatly regret that we can no longer offer events in the Xplanatorium at Herrenhausen Palace. Here, we have had to cancel everything up to and including May 15, 2020. This is most regrettable, also in view of the intense conceptual preparation that our grantees had already invested in their symposia, workshops or conferences. It is, of course, also disappointing for our own event team, who offer a varied popular science program for a wide audience in the Hanover region. Around the end of April, we will decide when and with what events the program can be resumed in Herrenhausen.

You yourself are not in home office. Why?

That’s right. When we decided to more or less evacuate the Foundation, I wondered whether I should not lead by example. But then I chose the old-fashioned way: The captain is the last to leave the ship. So I hold out here; but I’m not alone. Every day, the heads of the three departments and the head of communication are here to join me in crisis meetings. Fortunately for us all, a few other colleagues, who are, so to speak, systemically important, are still in the building to make sure that the technology is running, that bills are paid on time – and that we ‘inmates’ get a hot meal at lunchtime. This is an advantage we have over our colleagues in home office. But it is also a funny feeling to be sitting in front of our plates at individual tables, several meters apart from each other.

So everything's really almost business as usual? 

No, you can't say that. However, the fact that the outside world may have the impression that everything is running as usual is solely thanks to the unparalleled commitment of all members of staff. They keep the Foundation running under extremely difficult conditions. If anything positive at all can be attributed to the Corona crisis, it is a strengthened sense of community. Despite the forced isolation, I have the impression that we are all moving closer together, in all the Foundation’s organizational units. I am confident that this solidarity will continue to carry us well through these disturbing times.

Click here for updated information on how the Volkswagen Foundation is dealing with the corona crisis.