User:Seadart/St. Gallen Symposium

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St. Gallen Symposium
Formation 1969
Founder Clemens Ernst Brenninkmeyer, Franz Karl Kriegler, Urs Schneider, Wolfgang Schürer, Terje I. Wölner–Hanssen
Type Non-profit organisation
Legal status Club
Headquarters St. Gallen, Switzerland
Region served

The St. Gallen Symposium, formerly known as the Internationales Management Symposium and the ISC-Symposium, is an annual conference taking place at the University of St. Gallen in St. Gallen, Switzerland, aimed at fostering intergenerational and intercultural dialogue between the decision makers of today and tomorrow. The symposium’s goal is to contribute to the preservation and further development of a social and liberal economic order.

The St. Gallen Symposium was founded as a response to the international student unrests of 1968 and has since then been organised by the International Students’ Committee (ISC), a student initiative at the University of St. Gallen.[1] Currently, this platform for dialogue welcomes more than 1.000 participants every year and is among the largest and most eminent events, completely run by students. Personalities such as Josef Ackermann, Mohammad Khatami, Bob Dudley and Ratan Naval Tata have attended the symposium in recent years.[2]

The goal[edit]

The St. Gallen Symposium as a platform for dialogue strives to foster constructive debates on current economic, political and social issues.[3] This event gives particular attention to an intergenerational dialogue that is characterised by mutual respect. Therefore, particular focus is given to discussion in smaller, more informal settings, where the Leaders of Tomorrow can debate the leaders of today on equal footing.[4]

The topic of the symposium is selected each year based on relevant issues and events moving the world. In recent years, the topic has developed from being more business-oriented to more holistic themes, as embodied by the topics The Revival of Political and Economic Boundaries (2009), Just Power (2011) and Facing Risk (2012).[5]



Five students of the University of St. Gallen – Clemens Ernst Brenninkmeyer, Franz Karl Kriegler, Urs Schneider, Wolfgang Schürer and Terje I. Wölner-Hanssen – founded the International Students’ Committee (ISC), which has since then organised the St. Gallen Symposium annually.[6] It was established in 1969 as an alternative to the international student unrests of 1968. The name International Students’ Committee was chosen because of the five different countries from which the founders originated from, namely Austria, Germany, Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland. In May 1970 the first International Management Dialogue could be held at the University of St. Gallen, with 100 outstanding students and business leaders taking part.[7]

First years[edit]

The Club of Rome Study The Limits to Growth, which emphasised the worldwide scarcity of oil and energy resources was presented at the third symposium in 1972.[8] The global economic downturn caused by the 1973 oil crisis and problems with securing the continuity of the student initiative led to symposium not being held in 1974. In response, the St. Gallen Foundation for International Studies was founded in order to safeguard the continuity of the International Students’ Committee.[7]

The 1980s[edit]

In 1986 a first IT-Project was launched in cooperation with Hewlett-Packard Switzerland, resulting in the International Students’ Committee being one of the first institutions in Switzerland to own its own server. Another change was introduced in 1989, when the International Students’ Committee introduced the St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award, which today counts as one of the largest and most renowned student essay competitions worldwide. Students were now required to submit an essay, of which only the best were selected for participation in the St. Gallen Symposium. Moreover, authors of the best contributions were bestowed with the St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award, EUR 20,000.– in prize money, and the chance to present their essays at the St. Gallen Symposium (see below).[1]

Reorientation since 1995[edit]

Since the mid-1990s, the ISC has tried to raise the international profile of the symposium, as well as improve the quality of the dialogue. In this restructuring, a new logo was introduced and the name “International Management Symposium” was changed to ISC-Symposium. Moreover, financial support for the construction of the Executive Campus HSG at the University of St. Gallen was given during this period.

With the burst of the dot-com bubble, the September 11 attacks and the bankruptcy of Swissair – one of the symposium’s most important benefactors – the beginning of the new millennium poses great challenges for the subsequent year.

In 2002 the Swiss Federal Council commissioned the ISC to organise the International Conference on Federalism while maintaining the structure of the symposium.[9]

The current name, St. Gallen Symposium, was introduced in 2005.

In the following year Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, received the Freedom Prize of the Schmidheiny-Foundation, which was already awarded to him in 2003.[10]

In the years 2008–2010 the symposium took place in a purposely built tent city because of the renovation of the University of St. Gallen, whereas invitations from other universities, for example the ETH Zurich, were rejected.[11][12]

For the 40th St. Gallen Symposium in 2010, a comprehensive modernisation of the conceptual design followed in order to foster intergenerational dialogue. The duration of the symposium was reduced by half a day to two days and so-called Topic Leaders, who are responsible for the moderation of several sessions, joined the group of speakers. Furthermore, the selection of student participants was enlarged by the so-called Knowledge Pool. The Knowledge Pool consists of students who are handpicked by the ISC and aims at setting an antipole to the mainly academical student essay competition, the St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award.[13] Furthermore, the Global Perspectives Barometer was introduced, which has since been conducted yearly in collaboration with Credit Suisse among current and past student participants to survey their opinion on prevailing challenges.[14]

Programme and sessions[edit]

The St. Gallen Symposium takes place traditionally in May on two – formerly three – days. On Wednesday evening, the members of the Circle of Benefactors are invited to a gala dinner by the ISC, whereas the student participants are invited to the so-called Pre-Conference.[15] The Wednesday-evening programme is only open to selected participant groups and does not count as an official part of the programme. The official programme of the St. Gallen Symposium includes different kinds of sessions taking place on Thursday and Friday:[16]

  • The Plenary Sessions lead into the main topics and raise controversial issues, which serve as the starting point for following Work Sessions. Plenary Sessions are divided into the One-on-One, where two people meet on stage as on BBC HARDtalk, the Keynote Panel, a traditional panel discussion, and the Keynote Address, where a speaker delivers a speech.
  • The roughly 30 Work Sessions are held in smaller groups with about 25–35 attendees and serve as a follow-up to the Plenary Sessions. A characteristic of Work Sessions is the very personal framework. A speaker initiates the discussion, the main part of a Work Session however consists of a vibrant discussion moderated by a Topic Leader. To achieve a lively discussion the Chatham House Rule is applied.
  • Furthermore, there are Background Sessions, which aim to introduce the participants into complex issues and theories. Those sessions often only deal in a distant way with the topic of the St. Gallen Symposium.
  • The Social Sessions enable the participants to continue to engage in informal dialogue beyond the official programme, for example in Dinner Nights or lunches.

Apart from a few sessions – in past symposia two Background Sessions – the sessions are generally not open to the public. However, selected sessions, mostly Plenary Sessions, are broadcast to the main lecture hall of the University of St. Gallen.[17] Every year, over 100 journalists report about the St. Gallen Symposium.[18] In the past there have been for example several reports by the Swiss Television[19] and CNBC[20] as well as an interview series in Der Spiegel[21].


The St. Gallen Symposium has two equally important participant groups: the Leaders of Today and the Leaders of Tomorrow, which differ in their recruiting process.[14][22]

The Leaders of Today consist of 600 decision makers from the economic, political, social and academic fields. These Leaders of Today can be separated into the Circle of Benefactors, business participants, guests, speakers and Topic Leaders. The speakers’ role is to stimulate the debates with their speeches. The Topic Leaders are responsible for the moderation of those discussions and building bridges between Leaders of Tomorrow and Leaders of Today.[23]

The Leaders of Tomorrow are 200 outstanding students below 30 who are invited to the St. Gallen Symposium by the ISC – all expenses covered.[24] Their qualification is evaluated according to the criteria for the St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award or the Knowledge Pool.[25] The students who are elected through the Knowledge Pool must fulfill several criteria, such as a relation to the topic of the St. Gallen Symposium or special achievements in economics, politics, science or civil society. The St. Gallen Symposium wants to offer a platform for dialogue to the student participants where they are able to discuss on one level with today’s decision makers. Furthermore, the students should challenge these decision makers, allowing new lines of thought and potential solutions for current issues to evolve.[26]

Prize ceremony[edit]

Every year, the St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award is awarded at the St. Gallen Symposium. The St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award is an essay competition for students from all over the world. From 1979 to 2003 the St. Gallen Symposium was also a platform for the bestowal of the Max Schmidheiny Foundation’s Freedom Prize.

The St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award[edit]

The St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award is an essay competition for students on graduate or postgraduate level and is endowed with EUR 20,000.–. Moreover, the authors of the 100 best submissions get the chance to participate in the St. Gallen Symposium.[24] The St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award belongs to the biggest student essay competitions of its kind with more than 1000 contributors annually from over 60 countries. [27][28]

The evaluation is carried out by a preliminary jury and a main jury. The preliminary jury consists of PhD students of the University of St. Gallen as well as the ETH Zurich whereas the main jury comprises professors, corporate executives, entrepreneurs and politicians.[29] The current president of the main jury is Georg F. von Krogh, and the preliminary jury’s president is Günter Müller-Stewens. Other members of the main jury are Christoph Bitzer, Peter Day, Odd Gisholt and many more.[30]

The St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award was launched in 1989 to select the student participants for the symposium and has been modified several times in the past. The most essential adjustment was the restriction of the eligibility to graduate and postgraduate students in the year 2009 and a simultaneous reduction of the invitations based on the essay competition from 200 to 100 invitations. The other 100 students have since then been recruited by the ISC through the so-called Knowledge Pool.[31]

Freedom-Prize of the Max Schmidheiny-Foundation[edit]

Since 1979 the Max Schmidheiny-Foundation has awarded its Freedom Prize at the St. Gallen Symposium. The prestigious honorees include Kofi Annan, Nicolas Hayek, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jorma Ollila or Muhammad Yunus. In 2003 the Max-Schmidheiny-Foundation decided to focus on other activities and to abandon the Freedom Prize.


International Students’ Committee (ISC)[edit]

Since its establishment in 1969, the St. Gallen Symposium has been organised by the International Students’ Committee, an independent non-profit organisation and accredited association of the University of St. Gallen. It comprises every year a team of about 30 students from the University of St. Gallen, who interrupt their studies for one year. This team includes three – in former years two – members of the previous ISC-Team who form the Head of the Organising Committee and therefore interrupt their studies for a second year.[32] [1] During the Symposium the ISC is supported by a crew of 300 people, all students from the University of St. Gallen.[1] Martin Blessing, Konrad Hummler and Walter Kielholz are among the most famous alumni of the ISC.

St. Gallen Foundation for International Studies[edit]

The St. Gallen Foundation for International Studies acts as the supervisory body and ensures the continuity of the symposium given the annually changing organising team.[33] The Foundation consists of about six members and its CEO is Philip Erzinger. Former CEOs include Andreas Kirchschläger and Wolfgang Schürer.

The highest entity of the St. Gallen Foundation for International Studies is the 12-headed Board of Trustees, with Josef Ackermann and Karin Keller-Sutter as its Chairman and Vice Chairman respectively. Further members are Thomas Bieger, Alexander Biner, Peter Gomez, Bénédict G. F. Hentsch, Nicola Leibinger-Kammüller, Manfred Leo Mautner Markhof, Walter Kielholz, Peter M. Schmidhuber, Ralph Schmitz-Dräger and Gerhard Schwarz.[34]


The 1974 established Circle of Benefactors constitutes the key element in the non-profit organisation’s funding. At present it encompasses more than 400 companies which commit themselves for three years at a time to the financially support the St. Gallen Symposium with a certain amount. By establishing this long-term relation, the continuity is secured and a situation as in 1974, when the symposium had to be cancelled, can be prevented. In return, the members of the Circle of Benefactors are given some privileges. Besides the participation in the St. Gallen Symposium, these privileges include the invitation to the Dinner for the Circle of Benefactors.[35] Within this circle there are currently ten Main Partners, which provide special support in their respective areas: Accenture, BMW, Credit Suisse, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Orange, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Swiss Re, UBS, and Xerox.[36]

In addition, there are numerous donators, which contribute to the funding. Furthermore, the St. Gallen Symposium has established a close cooperation and partnership with the Max Schmidheiny-Foundation and the University of St. Gallen, which puts its grounds every year at the symposium’s disposal.[37] A budget of CHF 6.2 million for the symposium was declared in 2005, 2/3 of which were material donations.[32]


In 2000 the ISC received the Lilienberg Prize in the category of institutions[38], which is granted for outstanding entrepreneurial performance.[39]

Similar events[edit]

Several events that are modeled on the St. Gallen Symposium have been founded at different universities. Especially mentionable are the World Business Dialogue at the University of Cologne, founded in 1987, or the EBS Symposium, which takes place at the European Business School (EBS), founded in 1989.



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