Press Release

Of Children, Worlds, Cultures, Bridge Builders and of Happiness
In conversation with Ali Taşbaşı, Director of the Peter Ustinov Foundation since January 1, 2021

Frankfurt, November 2021 - The Peter Ustinov Foundation in Frankfurt am Main was founded by the film star Sir Peter Ustinov († 2004) and his son Igor. Its goal is to give children and young people the chance of an independent and optimistic future through access to education and creativity - regardless of their origin, skin color, religious affiliation, or social background. Since the beginning of 2021, Ali Taşbaşı has headed the foundation as a director. In an interview, he explains his reception of Sir Peter Ustinov, the challenges of his new position, how his cultural and professional background opens new opportunities for the foundation's further development, and where happiness unexpectedly appears in the foundation's work.



Where do you see the opportunities and challenges as a new director?

Dealing with social and cultural issues is not new to me. Nevertheless, it is a new and welcome challenge in this intensity. I am particularly keen to refocus the foundation's work on its core objectives, namely, to help children in social, physical, or psychological need and to enable educational opportunities through equal chances. This includes revising the aid project portfolio and sharpening it in line with these goals. At the same time, I see how, over time, Sir Peter Ustinov's profile is declining, and with it that of his foundation. In the spirit of "Do good and talk about it", I would like to actively strengthen the external impact of the Peter Ustinov Foundation and make it visible to a younger public - which in turn will benefit the many children in the aid projects. Around 4,200 children at seven public schools in Germany know about Sir Peter Ustinov's humanitarian commitment because their schools are named after him. Of course, we need to increase public interest; social media in particular play a key role here, as does digitization as part of the great educational mission that the Peter Ustinov Foundation also follows.

As a management consultant, you come from the world of investment banking. Do you see the worlds of the financial sector and the nonprofit sector as a contradiction?

I am very honored to hold this position on the board. Especially because I was asked by Sir Peter Ustinov's son, Foundation Council Chairman Igor Ustinov, to strengthen the board. Nevertheless, aware of the great responsibility as a director, I accepted the offer only after a long period of reflection. Finally, I am also a shareholder and managing director of Roots Advisory GmbH, a corporate finance consulting firm, especially for family-owned companies. Working in the financial sector contrasts with foundation work: it is more performance-driven and leads a faster pace. In the foundation, we follow a different rhythm. There is great synergistic potential in this contradiction. Education and training are important topics in all of the foundation's aid projects. There is also a great openness within the team itself to discover new things and develop further. In addition, I hope to drive the foundation forward through my own network as well.

How would you describe the founder's personality, Sir Peter Ustinov?

Despite his celebrity, he was a down-to-earth and reflective person. He never lost touch with reality, but he also never lost his childlike joy in life. Being open to facts and perceiving them is the basis for finding concrete solutions to social inequality and injustice. This made Sir Peter Ustinov unique as a personality and gives him a human depth even in memory. It is the reason for his commitment to children. Children embody their own future. How important this still is today, Sir Peter Ustinov had recognized very well, today one misses this thought unfortunately increasingly in the German culture.  His fight against prejudices and stereotypes is also particularly topical. Education helps to find a common language to talk to each other. Democracy was not just an abstract concept for him, he actively campaigned for peaceful coexistence worldwide. Even before the establishment of our foundation, he was active in the UN and later also in UNICEF, the children's aid organization associated with the UN.

You studied political science at Johann Wolfgang von Goethe University in Frankfurt. How do you see the role of the Peter Ustinov Foundation in today's political and social situation?

My major fields of study were international relations and economics. I consider the values of our namesake and his son Igor Ustinov, our Foundation Board Chairman, to be timeless, and their assessment of the need for action is astute, precise, and forward-looking. The values of democracy, peace, justice, tolerance, and respect are both political and social pillars of peaceful coexistence, to which I too am committed. That is why it is very important for the Foundation to take an active stance and take a stand. Against the backdrop of current events, we must represent our position even more intensively and visibly than we have done in the past!

Where do you see the position of the foundation in Frankfurt, but also within the foundation landscape in Germany?

The city of Frankfurt has the highest density of foundations in Germany. Our prominent namesake makes us unique but is also a commitment to the humanitarian values he represented. This is also reflected in the aid projects we support. We are not a large foundation, but we operate worldwide. My goal is to continue along this path, but to strengthen the foundation's project activities and its project portfolio. By the way, we are very proud that the Mayor of Frankfurt, Peter Feldmann, did not miss the opportunity to send us a personal congratulation on the occasion of Sir Peter Ustinov's 100th birthday.

Reducing prejudice and discrimination is one of the goals of the Peter Ustinov Foundation. Which prejudice bothers you the most? 

Sir Peter Ustinov is often referred to as a "bridge builder". I still see this as the task of the Ustinov Foundation, to show the different generations, cultures, and nationalities ways to each other. As a foundation in the Rhine-Main region, we are committed to cultural diversity and the spirit of tolerance. I see it as a mission to make society much more aware of these issues. Today, more than 40 percent of Frankfurt's population has a migration background, up to the fourth generation. The most common country of origin is Turkey, where my family also comes from. But living and working in this international city also makes me proud. It all has its light and dark sides. In addition to discrimination, I also see success stories that deserve just as much attention and recognition. Promoting integration, equal opportunities, and mutual respect more strongly at a local level would certainly also have been in the spirit of the founder, Sir Peter Ustinov.

Equal opportunities and access to education for all children worldwide is one of the goals of the Peter Ustinov Foundation. How do you assess the current education situation?

In Germany, the Corona situation has intensified the already existing competition in education. That's why the goal of equal opportunities is more topical than ever. Germany is actually a rich country, even by European standards, and is the economic locomotive, but in the past, it invested far too little in education. It only ever reacts to deficiencies, for example in digitization and digital learning. There are very few initiatives in this area. Changing this and drawing attention to it is one of the foundation's central challenges. However, creating educational equality worldwide should not only be the task of non-profit organizations, but is a task for the whole of politics. Here we hope to continue to raise awareness.

To which country, where the Foundation's aid projects can be found, would you most like to travel?

Recently, on the occasion of the 100th birthday of our founder Sir Peter Ustinov, we received a large traditional congratulatory picture on canvas, like a large thangka, from Bhutan. To this country, where there is a "gross national happiness", I want to travel as soon as possible and visit our sponsorship project on site. One of many unprecedented projects that our foundation has been supporting for a long time.