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Gathering of Scholars, Fellows, and Alumni 2020

 
 

The 2020 gathering of current and former scholarship-holders took place under very special circumstances: In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Association of Alumni and Scholars decided for the first time to stage a purely virtual gathering. For this reason, a lecture by Dr. Janina Urussowa was streamed on June 8. Around 30 alumni and scholars worldwide participated online.

In her lecture "ALL_INCLUSIVE. The Blue Ocean of Life" the architect and cultural scientist Dr. Janina Urussowa reported on her work as a management consultant, and how she succeeded over the past few years together with companies from various lines of business and artists in developing innovative products for people with disabilities. Urussowa, one of the first scholars of the Daimler and Benz Foundation in 1993, received support for her research into "Development of Urban Space in Metropolises and Concepts of Time in Russian Architecture and Russian Film from 1917 to 1930." Following periods of professional activity with the German Hygiene Museum and at Expo 2000 she transferred to Siemens in Moscow, where she established and headed the Corporate Communication department. "Russia is a very important market for Siemens, so this position presented me with many challenges. I made every effort to match my experience from science and research to the business requirements of this broadly based technology company. Siemens was celebrating its 150th anniversary in Russia, and it was my task to create an image of the enterprise in that country," said Urussowa.

Although she mastered her task very well, Urussowa decided to give her life a new turn after a few years - a comprehensive down-shifting. Together with her life partner she set out on a cruise which took them from Senegal to Martinique in an old fishing boat. "But since we couldn't sail properly, we constantly lost our way and ended up spending six weeks in the Atlantic. Our experiences from that time helped me gain entirely new perspectives: I discovered a new slowness, and I felt as vulnerable as a crab that had deserted its old shell but still hadn't managed to find a new one."

After her return to a frosty turbo-capitalist Moscow in December 2004, Urussowa came across a quote that then came to serve as a leitmotif for her work: "Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and chance": The topos "disability = vulnerability" relates not only to individuals, but also to institutions and the whole of society. "This issue is of personal concern to all of us - and to our business and our culture. At the same time, we don't really know what disability is when we talk about it, and that scares us." If this fear is overcome, she says, new growth opportunities open up nevertheless. Urussowa explained this by example of the project "Acropolis: How I Found My Body" (2014 to 2016): By analogy with a scenic depiction of ancient Greek deities, young people with disabilities posed lying on an underlay - outstandingly interpreted in images by female Russian photographers.

This was followed by fashion projects, for example at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia together with the British Higher School of Art and Design. This "rebranding" for a target group with disabilities is a huge market from a global perspective, says Urussowa: After all, the focus here is on 1.2 billion people with a spending power of some 8 trillion dollars annually. Along with designers, technicians and engineers, she succeeded in the following years in winning over numerous globally operating enterprises for innovative applications and products, from clothing to mobility concepts. "People with disabilities have to be innovative, because the world doesn't cater to their requirements. To a certain extent, this applies to all of us. We must therefore help each other to see one another, and ourselves, as worthy and valuable.

The Foundation is planning to stage further virtual gatherings of scholars in future. The video of Ms. Uruosswa's lecture can be found here.


© Janina Urussowa