The Volkswagen Foundation (German: Volkswagenstiftung) is the largest German private nonprofit organization for the promotional of research and education in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. It is not affiliated to the present company, the Volkswagen Group.
It was established in 1961 as Stiftung Volkswagenwerk with a portion of the confiscated assets of the Volkswagenwerk GmbH.
With a capital of 2.9 billion euros, as of 2016 it is the largest German scientific foundation. Since its founding, it has distributed 4.2 billion Euros in grants for over 30000 projects, and now funds new projects at the rate of 100 million Euros per year.
The Volkswagen Foundation is an independent foundation incorporated under private law with registered office in Hanover. Its overall funding volume of around 150 million euros per year makes it Germany‘s largest private research funding foundation, and indeed one of the country’s largest foundations altogether. The Foundation provides funds only to academic institutions. Since 1962, the Volkswagen Foundation has allocated more than 5.1 billion euros in support of over 33,000 projects. It is thereby one of the largest common benefit foundations under private law in all of Germany.
A strong basis for a foundation of knowledge
The founding capital for the Volkswagen Foundation was provided by the German Federal Government and the Federal State of Lower Saxony with proceeds generated from the privatization of what is now the Volkswagen AG automobile company. The Volkswagen Foundation is neither a corporate foundation nor affiliated to the company; its decision-making bodies are autonomous and independent.
The funds allocated by the Foundation are, on the one hand, generated from its capital and assets of currently about 3.2 billion euros (mainly benefitting the “General Funding” category). On the other hand, the funds stem from the dividends earned from the circa 30 million Volkswagen AG shares held by Lower Saxony with the Foundation as beneficiary (part of “Niedersächsisches Vorab”). The Foundation’s Board of Trustees and the Secretary General decide how the funding is allocated; funding within the context of “Niedersächsisches Vorab” is provided in close cooperation with the government of Lower Saxony.
Impulses for science
In accordance with its statutes, the Volkswagen Foundation supports the humanities and social sciences as well as science and technology in higher education and research by providing targeted impulses through its funding. The Foundation develops its own funding initiatives with a focus on pioneering future-oriented fields of research. The Foundation’s initiatives provide the framework for its funding activities as well as topics for the events organized by the Foundation. The number of funding initiatives is deliberately restricted as part of a strategy to ensure the funds are put to the best effect. A main objective is to make sure the themes addressed by each initiative become firmly anchored in the scientific community by the time the respective initiative has run its course.
The Volkswagen Foundation perceives a special mission in providing support for junior researchers and fostering cooperation between researchers across the borders of disciplines, cultures, and national states. Another strong emphasis is placed on facilitating structural improvements to education and research in Germany. Frequently, the Foundation’s objectives are pursued in collaboration with other foundations and public funding organizations.