I was a ‘little scientist’ when I was a child,” says Dietmar Hopp. “Since there were hardly any toys 70 years ago, nature was our playground and we used natural materials to make things, build and experiment.” This curiosity and flexibility had a lasting impact on the communications engineer Hopp, particularly in the formative stage of his career. “Later, as we built SAP, I also thought of myself as a scientist in some ways. I was open to new ideas and wanted to try things out, understand them and move them forward,” adds Hopp, who was one of the co-founders in 1972 of what is still today the youngest German global conglomerate. The SAP founder is proud that this attitude made him so successful, but he is certainly not cocky. Quite the opposite: The businessman and biotech startup investor has remained humble, and this humility combined with his incredible drive has also made him a successful philanthropist and patron. Founded in 1995, the Dietmar Hopp Foundation has already distributed more than €500 million. Originally it was started to help children suffering from cancer as well as their families, but today the foundation also supports projects in the areas of medicine, sports, education and social programs. Hopp says this corresponds with his own “personal understanding of a holistic approach,” adding: “As a child in the postwar period, the things I experienced shaped my life. But every era has its own special challenges. How one addresses them ultimately depends on the individual and the opportunities that one takes advantage of.” That is why it is important to him to improve the chances of disadvantaged people as well as support youth.
This is the reason why Hopp also played a role in establishing the Berlin-based foundation Little Scientists’ House 10 years ago. Throughout Germany, the foundation aims to foster children’s natural inquisitiveness in the areas of science, mathematics and technology. McKinsey and the Helmholtz Association approached the Dietmar Hopp Foundation with this idea, where it fell on sympathetic ears. Together with the Siemens Foundation, Hopp provided the seed capital for the educational initiative and has been supporting the Little Scientists’ House as a foundation partner ever since. So far, the Dietmar Hopp Foundation has directed around €4.1 million to the project, which is now also receiving significant support from the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research. The foundation currently has 136 employees. The Little Scientists’ House has built up a network with more than 225 partners all across Germany, including museums, organizations, childcare center operators, youth welfare offices and companies. One cooperation partner is Wissensfabrik – Unternehmen für Deutschland e.V. (Knowledge Factory), in which BASF and around 120 other companies and foundations are active.
The Little Scientists’ House supports educators and teachers to guide children as they discover, research and learn. It provides suggestions for child-friendly experiments in 15 subject areas – ranging from astronomy to magnetism and time. For example, children can make rockets out of straws, magnets out of spoons and clocks out of cakes. And 76-year-old Hopp is not immune to joining in the fun. “At the 20th anniversary of my foundation, the Little Scientists’ House demonstrated the ‘tornado in a bottle.’ I immediately tried that out at home with my grandchildren,” Hopp says. Using two plastic bottles, an adaptor and tap water, the experiment shows how to best empty a bottle – by rotating it when it is upside down.
Educators from more than 26,500 childcare centers, afterschool programs and elementary schools have already taken advantage of the continuing education offerings of the Little Scientists’ House. This makes it the largest initiative offering early childhood education training in Germany.
The BASF project “Curiosity Plus Pipette” takes children between the ages of four and six on a journey of discovery into the world of science. Under the supervision of BASF apprentices, the children dissolve salt or chalk in water. They screen, filter and pipette to build a real magnetic stirrer. The apprentices regularly visit the childcare centers over a period of several weeks. They provide exciting inspiration to awaken scientific curiosity among children, parents and educators. At the same time, the apprentices strengthen their social skills and increase their own technical knowledge by conveying information in a child-friendly way. The project is part of the education initiative “Offensive Bildung,” in which BASF and partners have been actively promoting diverse early childhood education in the Rhine-Neckar metropolitan region, Germany, since 2005. Besides scientific education, the 17 projects also focus on areas such as language skills, inclusion and strengthening emotional resilience.