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Max Schmidheiny Lectures

The Max Schmidheiny Lecture at the St. Gallen Symposium has become an important part of the Max Schmidheiny Foundation’s engagement for an international debate on long-term issues of economic policy, and in particular on ordnungspolitik. The lecture aims at fostering debate on the fundamental issues relating to sustainable economic policy, and also at encouraging more fruitful communication between academia and the business world. In particular, it is dedicated to key questions concerning the role of individual freedom and responsibility for economic and social prosperity the certainty of which is all too easily taken for granted, even in the Western world today, or increasingly put into question in light of the apparent economic success of authoritarian political systems.

Regularly, leading figures of global public life are invited to make a very special contribution to the keynote programme of the St. Gallen Symposium at the University of St.Gallen/Switzerland and to relate the symposium’s annual topic – reflecting current debates in management and global affairs – to pressing issues of the time from a liberal viewpoint. Thereby, the Max Schmidheiny Lecture is furthering a long tradition of distinguished global leaders and public intellectuals addressing the St. Gallen Symposium on fundamental issues of freedom and responsibility, a tradition closely tied to the history of the Max Schmidheiny Freedom Prize which was presented annually at the St. Gallen Symposium from 1979 to 2003.

Max Schmidheiny Lectures since 2010

Max Schmidheiny Session 2023 - Oleksandra Matviichuk

On 5 May 2023, Oleksandra Matviichuk, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2022 and Head of the Center for Civil Liberties, spoke with Ali Aslan in the context of the Max Schmidheiny Session of the 52nd St. Gallen Symposium at the University of St.Gallen, Switzerland.

Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the strength and resilience of the Ukrainian people has been remarkable. Ukraine and its allies have made it clear that this is not simply a war between two states but between two systems, authoritarianism and democracy. Oleksandra Matviichuk is the head of the Kyiv-based non-profit organisation Center for Civil Liberties, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022. For the Max Schmidheiny Session 2023, she talked about the Center's ongoing work in documenting atrocities and war crimes and how Ukraine, ultimately, is not only defending its own freedom, but the freedom of liberal democracies around the world. 

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Oleksandra Matviichuk

Oleksandra Matviichuk is a fearless advocate for human rights who has dedicated her life to protecting democracy, especially in Ukraine and the OSCE region. She currently serves as the head of the Center for Civil Liberties, which was awarded the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to promote human rights and protect the fundamental rights of citizens, as well as its outstanding work documenting war crimes, human rights abuses, and abuse of power. Under her leadership, the Center for Civil Liberties has been at the forefront of promoting human rights values and documenting violations, making her an instrumental figure in the fight for justice and democracy. In recognition of her contributions, Oleksandra Matviichuk was also awarded the first Democracy Defender Award for "Exclusive Contribution to Promoting Democracy and Human Rights" by 16 delegations to the OSCE in 2016. She earned her LL.M. from Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv in 2007 and became the first woman to participate in the Ukrainian Emerging Leaders Program at Stanford University in 2017. Her extensive experience in human rights and documenting violations during armed conflicts has led her to author several alternative reports to various international bodies, including the UN, the Council of Europe, the European Union, the OSCE, and the International Criminal Court.

Max Schmidheiny Session 2022 - Maria Ressa

On 5 May 2022, Maria Ressa, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and CEO of Rappler, spoke as the Max Schmidheiny Lecturer in the context of the 51st St. Gallen Symposium at the University of St.Gallen, Switzerland.

Throughout the past decade, many of the world’s democracies have seen the rise of leaders whose politics are a mix of populism, nationalism, and authoritarianism. Whether in the US, Hungary, or the Philippines, a free and independent press is often one of their primary targets. For the public 2022 Max Schmidheiny Lecture, Maria Ressa, CEO of Philippine news platform Rappler and 2021 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and Christophe Deloire, Secretary-General of RSF, discussed the current challenges for independent journalists in the wake of authoritarian tendencies in democracies. 

The Max Schmidheiny Session took place at the HSG SQUARE, on 5 May 2022 and was open to the public. 

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Maria Ressa

A journalist in Asia for more than 35 years, Maria Ressa co-founded Rappler, the top digital only news site that is leading the fight for press freedom in the Philippines. In October 2021, Maria Ressa, alongside Dmitry Muratov, received the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel committee bestowed the award "for her efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace".  

Max Schmidheiny Lecture 2021 - Prof. Michael Sandel

On 6 May 2021, Prof. Michael Sandel, Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government at Harvard University, gave the Max Schmidheiny Lecture in the context of the 50th St. Gallen Symposium at the University of St.Gallen, Switzerland.

Recent years have been marked by a lack of public trust in liberal democracy and capitalist markets. Populist challengers have grown in size and power. Building on the arguments from his most recent book "The Tyranny of Merit: What's Become of the Common Good?", Prof. Michael Sandel explored the drivers and consequences of contemporary societal and political challenges. 

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Prof. Michael Sandel

Prof. Michael Sandel teaches political philosophy at Harvard University, USA. His writings on justice, ethics, democracy, and markets have been translated into 27 languages. Prof. Sandel’s course Justice is the first Harvard course to be made freely available online and on television. It has been viewed by tens of millions of people around the world, including in China, where Sandel was named the “most influential foreign figure of the year” (China Newsweek).

Max Schmidheiny Lecture 2017 - Prof. Timothy Garton Ash

On 4 May 2017, Prof. Timothy Garton Ash, Professor of European Studies at the University of Oxford, gave the Max Schmidheiny Lecture in the context of the 47th St. Gallen Symposium at the University of St.Gallen, Switzerland.

As one of the world’s foremost historians of his generation, Prof. Timothy Garton Ash reflected on the topic of this year’s St. Gallen Symposium, „The Dilemma of Disruption“, and spoke about the future of freedom of speech in the age of new media.

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Prof. Timothy Garton Ash

Timothy Garton Ash, an internationally acclaimed contemporary historian whose work has focused on Europe’s history since 1945, is professor of European studies and the Isaiah Berlin Professorial Fellow at St. Antony’s College, Oxford University.

Among the topics he has covered are the liberation of Central Europe from communism, Germany before and after its reunification, how countries deal with a difficult past, and the European Union’s relationships with partners including the United States and rising non-Western powers such as China. His current research focuses on global free speech in the age of the Internet and mass migration (see the 13-language interactive Oxford University project Free Speech Debate).

His most recent book is Facts Are Subversive: Political Writing from a Decade without a Name (2010), and he edited Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-Violent Action from Gandhi to the Present (2009). His previous books include Free World: America, Europe and the Surprising Future of the West (2004); The File: A Personal History (1998); In Europe’s Name: Germany and the Divided Continent (1993); The Magic Lantern: The Revolution of 1989 as Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin, and Prague (1990); The Polish Revolution: Solidarity, 1980–82 (1983); and Und Willst Du Nicht Mein Bruder Sein.

Garton Ash, who holds a BA and MA in modern history from the University of Oxford, did graduate studies at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, at the Free University in West Berlin, and at Humboldt University in East Berlin.

Max Schmidheiny Lecture 2015 - Prof. Daron Acemoglu

On 8 May 2015, Prof. Daron Acemoglu, Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) gave the Max Schmidheiny Lecture in the context of the 45th St. Gallen Symposium at the University of St.Gallen, Switzerland.

In his Max Schmidheiny Lecture on “Europe 70 Years After the End of World War II”, Prof. Daron Acemoglu presented an analysis of Europe’s institutional evolution since the Second World War and the resulting implications for overcoming Europe’s current challenges. As one of the most prominent academic analysts of the political economy of institutions, Prof. Acemoglu contributed a highly relevant perspective on the options and constraints shaping the future of Europe.

Held 70 years to the day after the end of the Second World War, the Max Schmidheiny Lecture offered a special opportunity to celebrate Europe’s peaceful development from the ashes of complete destruction two generations ago. By embedding this remarkable political, economic, and societal success story in his wide-ranging theoretical and empirical findings on institutional evolution and development patterns, Prof. Acemoglu underpinned his perspective with a robust theoretical basis.

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Prof. Daron Acemoglu

Daron Acemoglu (born in 1967) is the Elizabeth & James Killian Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and one of the ten most cited economists in the world. He has written numerous journal articles and is the Editor-in-chief of Econometrica, a publication of the Econometric Society. Recently, his research has focused on the role of institutions in a political economy. He co-authored the book Why Nations Fail about this subject, which was published in 2012. According to him, the reason for a nation’s success are functioning political and economic institutions and not geographical factors. In 2005, he received the John Bates Clark Medal, which is awarded annually to an economist under forty who has made the most significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge. Additionally, he has been named to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences (NAS). He obtained his Master’s degree in econometrics and mathematical economics and his Ph.D. at the London School of Economics.

Max Schmidheiny Lecture 2014 - Robert Collymore

On 9 May 2014, Robert Collymore, Chief Executive Officer of Safaricom, the Kenyan mobile telecommunications company which stands out for enabling an ecosystem of innovative entrepreneurial solutions in developing East Africa, gave the Max Schmidheiny Lecture at the 44th St. Gallen Symposium that was held at the University of St.Gallen, Switzerland.

In his Max Schmidheiny Lecture, Robert Collymore contributed his thoughts and vision on crafting a global path towards more open societies as engines for economic and social development. Traditionally most companies see their principal raison d’être to be to deliver superior returns for shareholders. Despite many CEOs professing to look beyond the financial bottom line, the reality is that the concept of “Purpose beyond Profit” remains an alien concept to most business leaders. The lecture sought to demonstrate how a company can measure its success not by the profit it makes but rather by the difference it makes. Robert Collymore discussed how Safaricom, a small Kenyan mobile operator, has taken a deliberate step to define its purpose as that of “Transforming Lives” and how this purpose not only positively impacts the environment in which it operates but also has a very positive impact on all its key metrics.

Robert Collymore and Safaricom stand for economic development and participation within organised markets as a precondition for people to take their fate into their own hands. Safaricom and its flagship mobile money system M-Pesa have acted as a trigger for a wealth of innovations and new services for large parts of the population that previously had no or very little access to organised markets. It is an example of how innovation driven by the private sector can not only make good business sense but also serve as an enabler for social inclusion and economic participation. In this regard, Safaricom serves as a role model for those who believe that good forces come out of a free economic and social order.

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Robert Collymore

Robert Collymore (born in 1958) is Chief Executive Officer of Safaricom Limited, the largest network provider in Kenya. Safaricom is famous for its world leading mobile money system called M-PESA that allows people to transfer money with their phones. Prior to joining Safaricom, Robert Collymore was Chief Officer for Corporate Affairs within the Vodacom Group and held several director positions in Asia and Africa. In 2012, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon appointed Robert Collymore to the United Nations Global Compact Board, an initiative for businesses committed to aligning their operations and strategies in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. The appointment is seen as recognition of Safaricom’s commitment to environmental sustainability and anti-corruption issues. Moreover, he serves as a Commissioner on the United Nations Commission on life-saving commodities for women and children.

Max Schmidheiny Lecture 2012 - Prof. Dr. Peter Sloterdijk

On 4 May 2012, Prof. Dr. Peter Sloterdijk, the German philosopher and public intellectual, gave the Max Schmidheiny Lecture in the context of the 42nd St. Gallen Symposium.

The Max Schmidheiny Lecture by Prof. Dr. Peter Sloterdijk closed the St. Gallen Symposium on a very special note. Peter Sloterdijk reflected on the symposium’s topic of “Facing Risk” from his particular viewpoint as a philosopher, speaking on the relationship between immunity, risk awareness and a culture of failure. His radical analyses on modern societies, their driving forces and the future role of the individual have made Peter Sloterdijk arguably the most prominent German philosopher of his generation and one of Europe’s foremost public intellectuals.

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Prof. Dr. Peter Sloterdijk

Peter Sloterdijk (born in 1947) is Director and Professor for Philosophy and Aesthetics at Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design. Prior to this, he was head of the Institute of Cultural Philosophy at the Academy of Arts in Vienna. Peter Sloterdijk has been a freelance writer with publications in the areas of philosophy of religions and cultures as well as psychology. He is recognised as one of the most reputable contemporary philosophers who also comments sharply on current events. Currently, Peter Sloterdijk co-heads the programme ‘Das Philosophische Quartett’ broadcasted on the German television channel ZDF. Sloterdijk received his Ph.D. in Hamburg.

Max Schmidheiny Lecture 2011 - Ayaan Hirsi Ali

On 12 May 2011, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali/Dutch author, politician and women’s rights activist, gave the Max Schmidheiny Lecture at the 41st St. Gallen Symposium. The title of Ms. Hirsi Ali’s lecture was "Open Society and Its Enemies".

Addressing the St. Gallen Symposium on the opening morning, Ayaan Hirsi Ali put the general topic of this year’s Symposium, “Just Power”, in the latest context of the Arab spring and the high hopes for democracy and freedom that have come along. This oppressed region, for so long deprived of fundamental civil rights and liberties and marked by economic shortfalls, has witnessed one of the most astonishing revolutions the world has experienced since the fall of the Iron Curtain. Toppling rulers with long records of brutality, disdain for their own people and economic ignorance is undoubtedly welcome.

Understandably, expectations for a turn towards democracy and civil liberties are high. However, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali has highlighted repeatedly, it would be foolish to believe in any near-term remedies. Giving the power to the people does not make a proper democracy, neither is the toppling of despots a political programme for the future. But this is exactly the impression one can get from the West’s clumsy reaction to the upheaval, ranging from obscure hopes for change of system to an uncoordinated military intervention.

However, the reality on the ground does not reflect these wishes. Starting from there, Ayaan Hirsi Ali set forth that no short-term results were to be expected from the recent turmoil and that a proper revolution – as happened in Eastern Europe – must address not only the political and economic roots but most importantly the cultural and religious foundation as well. The road to an open and democratic society will most likely be littered with economic steps backwards, shaky political institutions and instability. Western-like societies are relatively stable thanks to their high level of freedom and mobility of goods, people and ideas. Ayaan Hirsi Ali has pointed out that unless the culture of individual submission in the Arab world is being challenged, no real change is to be expected. And she has repeatedly stressed that this sort of change cannot be imposed from outside, but has to grow within Arab societies.

The turn towards an open society will have its enemies too, and they will exploit the freshly gained liberties to enforce their ideas. Ayaan Hirsi Ali turned to these issues both in her Max Schmidheiny Lecture as well as in a workshop at the St. Gallen Symposium.

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Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (born in 1969) is Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research in Washington D.C. In this position she is currently researching on the relationship between the West and the Islam. Besides, Hirsi Ali is Founder of the AHA Foundation that aims to protect the rights of women in the western world against militant Islam and tribal custom. As a daughter of a political opponent of the Somali dictatorship, she grew up in exile. After having received her Master of Arts in political science from the University of Leiden, Netherlands, she worked as a researcher for the Wiardi Beckman Foundation in Amsterdam. Hirsi Ali then served as an elected member of the Dutch parliament from 2003 to 2006, where she found her voice as an advocate for an enlightened Islam.

Max Schmidheiny Lecture 2010 - Prof. Niall Ferguson

On 7 May 2010, Prof. Niall Ferguson, Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University & William Ziegler Professor at Harvard Business School, gave the first Max Schmidheiny Lecture at the 40th St. Gallen Symposium. The title of Prof. Ferguson’s lecture was "Entrepreneurial Freedom in the New Global Financial System".

The global financial and economic crisis revealed all too clearly how relevant and controversial the questions about a sustained framework for a thriving economy and a prosperous society continue to be. Since the fall of the Berlin wall two decades ago, this has been pushed into the background. From all sides, the financial crisis led to a call for a new balance between market and state, and between the financial world and the real economy. Amidst the intensity and controversy surrounding global debate, one conclusion seemed to be reached quickly: the state, as the lender of last resort in the crisis, should regulate more strictly, while the financial sector, which came to the brink of collapse through its grave mistakes, should be severely curtailed. For the most part, critical questions about the limits of the state’s ability to act, about the complex relationship between the financial system and the real economy, or about the basis for individual and social affluence in a global, knowledge-based economy, were being sidelined.

As a historian of world repute and a leading observer of past and present developments in the global economy and financial system, Niall Ferguson scrutinized some of these aspects, which tended to be overlooked. In his research and publications, he has long focused his attention on the interaction between the evolutionary forces within the financial system and political/social developments, and also on the complex structures of the various participants in the financial markets, in politics, the military, the academic world and civil society.

In the Max Schmidheiny Lecture: “Entrepreneurial freedom in the new global financial system“, Niall Ferguson forged a link between the discussions at the 40th St. Gallen Symposium, which was dedicated to the role of entrepreneurs in a period of economic change, and the core question of the future framework of the global economy.

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Prof. Niall Ferguson

Prof. Niall Ferguson is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and William Ziegler Professor at Harvard Business School. He is a prolific commentator on contemporary politics and economics and author of several award winning and bestselling books focussing on foreign policy and economic history. Among his many prizes, he won the GetAbstract International Book Award (2009) and the Benjamin Franklin Prize for Public Service (2010). In 2004, he was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine. Prof. Niall Ferguson received his Doctorate degree in philosophy from Magdalen College, Oxford, GB.


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