Focus Digital Transformation

Board Member Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger engages with German business leaders in Bengaluru
Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger in Bangalore
FNF South Asia

It was Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger’s first visit to India – and it took her straight to the heart of this country’s sprawling IT-industry.  More than any other city, Bengaluru, the former Bangalore, symbolizes India’s digital transformation. Also known as India’s Silicon Valley, Bengaluru is home to myriad local and international hi- tech firms, many of whom are from Germany.

To engage in a dialogue with representatives of these firms, the Regional Office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) in cooperation with the General Consulate of the Federal Republic of Germany organized a forum titled “Chances and Challenges of Digital Change”.

Mrs. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger’s opening remark that 90 percent of Germany’s industry perceives digitization as a chance (and less a problem) was well received. Most of those present were from German companies who together with Indian engineers and technicians are involved in the development and design of high tech-projects for the future.

“When we talk about chances and challenges of digitization, we should first think of the chances”, the liberal politician from Germany who is also Member of the FNF-Board of Directors said. Still, the former Federal Minister of Justice also dealt with the challenges:  Globalization, Mrs. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said, has overstrained many people; we need to make sure that this alienation and over-challenge is not repeated when it comes to digital transformation of our economies and societies.

How to deal with social media took up much space in the talk and the ensuing discussions: The social networks open new avenues of communication and, in an international context, create the ground for “intercultural exchanges”, she said. At the same time, Mrs. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger cautioned, social media provides a platform for hate speech and false news. This has become an issue of concern and public discourse in many democracies.

Referring to the debate in Germany, Mrs. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said, it is not a good idea to address this problem with new governmental countermeasures and legislation. The German state is sufficiently equipped to deal with the new challenges in the Internet using the existing legal framework: “What is not allowed in the analogue world, is not permitted in the digital space either”, said the speaker.

Mrs. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger rejected the suggestion to compel operators of popular social networks like Facebook or Twitter to assume tasks which, in her eyes, belong to the judiciary. At the same time, she warned against dramatizing the dangers stemming from the excesses in the social networks: Germany’s democracy is strong enough to deal with the challenge. “In an open society, we need to endure such debates and, if necessary, counter them with resolve”, Mrs. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said and hailed the contributions of civil society and also that of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF).

The speaker had little praise for Germany’s education system when it comes to preparing the young generation for a professional life in a world in which ever more tasks are moving to the digital sphere. It is not enough, she said, to give the pupils a tablet-pc as they enter school. It is high time that German students learn to write Internet-code to prepare them for a professional career in a digitalized world.

The theme digital transformation served as the leitmotif of the visit of Mrs. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger in Bengaluru. She had come to South India for the Regional Office’s strategic conclave, at which senior members of the Foundation discussed and outlined the basic tenets of the project work of the coming three years. Digital transformation is a new focal area of the Foundation. The digital focus will play a crucial role in all new projects we plan to work in.