The Future in the Hands of Children

The artist, entrepreneurial activist, and researcher on childhood, Bernhard Hanel, from Oberried, is campaigning for and setting up the World Child Forum, which is to be on a par with the World Economic Forum in Davos. Because childhood is the key to the future and its disregard is a symptom of our times and crises. ‹The World We Want› is the subtitle for the 1st WCF to be held in Davos in July, 2023. Gilda Bartel talked to him about his venture.


The poetry of childhood moves us, warms our hearts, but remains strangely inconsequential. Why?

Although we have been increasingly concerned with the topic of childhood for several decades – there are countless guides in the bookshops on how best to organise this first period, countless professionals dealing with children’s lives, and there is a huge market for useless childhood stuff – yet the inability to recognise childhood as the most worthy of protection and thus the most valuable thing we have has remained. It is more at risk than ever, and it was never really intended to be so. The, ‹Why?› is a good question to which I do not know a satisfactory answer. It is a mystery to me why it is not absolutely self-evident to always put the needs, wishes and questions of children at the forefront and to adjust all actions accordingly. The UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child states: «Humankind owes to the child the best it has to give.» That says it all, but it is far from all being done. At the beginning of December, the German Ethics Council pointed out in a press release that children and young people were not given sufficient consideration in the recent crises. Here is an excerpt: «As a society, we owe children, adolescents and young adults not only thanks and respect, but concrete action. Therefore supporting services must be expanded, gaps in care must be closed, and it is imperative to avoid young people being the first to bear the burdens, or bearing particularly many of the burdens in current and future crises of society.»

How did the idea of a ‹World Child Forum› come into your life?

Bernhard Hanel

Exactly two years ago, I had a few days off in the Engadine, in Sils Maria. Here I concerned myself intensively with the World Economic Form. On the third night, I woke up around 3.30am and asked myself what bothered me about the self-appointed ‹World Future Forum›. And I noticed that the concept of freedom does not appear, much less the view and needs of children and young people. But how can a future forum function and be sustainable if those who carry the future and the necessary impulses for it within themselves, namely the young people, are not involved. It simply should not continue to take place in this way, or rather it needs a supplement, a complement.

How concrete is the World Child Forum already?

I am intensively preparing the first World Child Forum from July 18th to 21st, 2023. From then on, it will take place annually. As the WCF is a complementary event to the World Economic Forum, it will take place in Davos at the same location, in the same premises. But rather than a view to the future, it is focused on the perspective of the people who carry the future within them – the children and young people. All the preparatory work so far for the success of the first World Child Forum is based on voluntary work and personal initiative. All the organisational requirements for the implementation of the event have meanwhile been created: preliminary talks in Davos, the event format and much more. For the implementation, however, I am now very close to the limits of what is feasible and, as is so often the case, I lack the starter capital. So I am urgently looking for support in the organisation and financing of the event.

Willie Nyati, ‹Rocks and Flowers›, 1945. Photo: Gilda Bartel

The Rosa and Bernhard Merz Foundation from Switzerland and the Zukunftsraum Weilersbach from Germany are your supporters so far. What else do you need?

Both the Swiss foundation and the German association are merely sponsoring institutions and interim solutions until a separate World Child Forum Foundation is established. What is missing most of all, and what makes the work enormously strenuous and also slows it down, is the still non-existent starter funding. This is needed on the one hand to secure the event in 2023, and even more to finance two co-organisers for the organisation and further development of the project.

How will children and young people ‹play› a part in the forum? What formats can adults expect?

Main entrance to the venue of the event: Congress Centre in Davos. Photo: Davos Congress/Stefano Candito

The design of the event is still being developed and will then be further developed with children and young people at the Laboratory Forum 2023. The entire corporate identity, for example, is being designed by students at the University of Applied Sciences in Constance. We have provided an initial overview in the form of a schematic diagram (see Ill.).

What effect do you hope to have on society?

With the WCF we will give children and young people a voice, an opportunity to lobby, due attention, and above all one thing: confidence in themselves and in the future. We see the ‹marketplace of success› as an essential part of the WCF. Here, in contrast to our everyday narratives of failure present in all the media, successful projects, initiatives, thoughts, ideas and inventions of young people are to be made visible and celebrated. The associated impact for the next generation is to increase self-efficacy, initiative and agency in community; and for the adult participants, the connection to the living sphere and thus more future-oriented, qualitatively better decisions that will pass the grandchild test. For the public, a voice for children and young people becomes visible and attention is drawn to political, cultural, social, economic, ecological and meaningful approaches that bring about change.


Translation Christian von Arnim

Cover image Mi Pham

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