It all began with inherited money
In 1986, a Berlin pharmaceutical company was sold to an American corporation, and the proceeds were distributed to four heirs. One of them – Ulf Mann – did not want to keep these many millions for himself, but rather wanted to work with others to redistribute them. When the company was up for sale, he gathered some friends who first contacted the company′s works council to clarify whether the workforce agreed with the sale, and if so, to ensure that their jobs would remain safe for a certain period of time. The works council voted in favor of the corporation and against family ownership, so the sale went through, producing an unimaginably real fortune: 30 million DM (approximately 15 million euros), including a villa in Berlin-Zehlendorf and an apartment building in Berlin-Kreuzberg.
The small group agreed that the money was to be used to support the struggle against exploitation, oppression, discrimination and poverty. In other words, against the capitalist system that had made this inheritance possible.
But discussions lasting for months ensued about how this was to happen. Was all the money to be spent at once? Was it to be used for one issue/one project, and if so, which one? Was it to be spent on political work here in Germany or transferred to the Third World (the term we used in those days)? Who would decide about the allocation of the money, and how?
In the end, we decided to invest the money and to spend only the interest income, that is, to get involved in something very long-term. We understood that in collecting interest income on our capital, we were resorting to something we were uncomfortable with on political grounds. However, in the late 1980s, there were plenty of projects and collectives that preferred to borrow money from us than from a bank, or who preferred to rent or lease from us than from private owners because they knew that their money was then making our work possible.
The decision to establish a foundation was paradoxical in a similar way. As there is always the risk that money can be misspent, we wanted to establish a structure that would prevent the income from being spent in a way fundamentally different from the intended one and that ruled out any form of private appropriation. No taxes are due on interest income if a foundation′s objectives are recognized as being in the public interest. A foundation is subject to government oversight and must comply with the statutes determined by the original donor. For this reason, we discussed procedures and structures within the Foundation very precisely and extensively before putting them in writing in the statutes.
The Foundation statutes are available in the
Inception of group structures
Just as the Foundation itself was planned by a group, it was to be groups who made decisions within the Foundation regarding investments and awarding funds, and they were to operate as independently as possible. The Foundation′s founders formed the Board of Trustees whose responsibilities were to include managing the Foundation as well as its investments. In addition, every member of this Board of Trustees selected a subject area and approached competent people to form an independent working group for awarding grants. These working groups in turn elected representatives to a Steering Committee that was to allocate the funds made available by the Board of Trustees.