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What kind of Future do we want to live in?

Thomas Jorberg (born 1957) has a degree in economics and is CEO of GLS Bank. He lives with his family in Bochum.
Photo: Stephanie Schweigert

Bank uses the advertising slogan: „Money is there for the people.“ What does this mean to you?

Thomas Jorberg:

The purpose of any business activity should only ever be to meet human needs. Money is a means of building society and should have a merely auxiliary role. It is a tool, but not the goal.

What role does sustainability play?

Thomas Jorberg:

Let’s take paper as an example. Humans have a requirement, a need, for paper. From our point of view, while satisfying this need, they should pay attention to how it is made and how it is disposed of after use. So satisfying needs should not be a one-sided process, otherwise we end up exploiting ourselves and nature. It is the duty of the economy to keep everything in balance. Anyone who acts unconsciously or with purely profit-driven interests is shaping society in a certain way – and one that is not exactly beneficial. Here in our part of the world we live in prosperity, in a society of surplus. We could easily and gladly contribute some of what we have. And yet neither money nor goods reach the places where there is need and scarcity.

It's a problem of distribution...

Thomas Jorberg:

Yes, you could put it that way. We need new ideas, new framework conditions. The fundamental question is: How do we want to live in the future? What visions do we have?

Wilhelm Ernst Barkhoff, co-founder of GLS Bank, once said: „Fear of a future that we’re afraid of can only be overcome by imagining a future that we want.“

Thomas Jorberg:

That‘s a very meaningful quote and interesting in that fear of the future seems to be something inherently human.

View of the picturesque green courtyard of the GLS Bank headquarters in Bochum
Photo: Stephanie Schweigert

Do you think that value-based management is forward-thinking?

Thomas Jorberg:

As humans, we have definitive values. But it’s sometimes hard to implement these in everyday life. On the one hand, we need good examples – companies that make an effort to act differently and get their customers involved. On the other hand, we need responsible citizens who know that they can decide how they want to live in the future. They not only can but must choose what values are important to them at the end of the day. You see, there have only ever been two drivers behind fundamental change in the history of humankind: need or insight. I sometimes wonder how much more need is required for the existing insight to come to the fore. Economy means achieving a certain goal with the fewest resources as possible. When we no longer have goals, we manage the economy ad absurdum. Then economy becomes an end in itself, which it absolutely is not and should not be.

GLS Bank talks about a „basic contribution“ that clients should make to fight against the interest crisis. In this case, are the people there for the money or for the bank?

Thomas Jorberg:

No, that principle should never be twisted! The fundamental question is: „How we can strengthen our society with money?“ Based on that consideration, we discuss GLS‘ contribution with our clients.

Why did you become a banker?

Thomas Jorberg (laughs):

Because it’s a great thing to do! Every day I learn so much more about different areas of life – for example how nursery schools develop, how renewable energy is evolving, or what happens in health food shops. We at GLS Bank only work with people who do things differently, who truly want to build a positive future. And I find being able to work towards that incredibly motivating.




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            This article was first published in via WALA December 2016.