Former President Barack Obama will sit side-by-side with German Chancellor Angela Merkel Thursday in the first event of what will eventually become his worldwide program to inspire young people to create change.
Obama will join Merkel at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to highlight his foundation’s new global effort to inspire and support young people active in narrowing inequality, combating climate change, working on public health, empowering women and girls and boosting young entrepreneurs.
“He and Mrs. Obama have been pretty clear that the foundation will have a global reach. They want to be really involved in programing throughout the world,” an Obama Foundation official said.
The program will draw on Obama’s own heritage as a grassroots organizer who built a campaign from the bottom up and eventually created a political movement with his 2008 election victory. Obama also held events during almost every foreign tour he made as President, talking to young people about their aspirations and ideas. But his new venture won’t be confined to politics.
“When they’re talking about young leaders they are not just talking about politicians, they are talking about who is the person, let’s say, in the Brazilian rainforest who is working on really amazing renewable energy ideas,” the foundation official said.
“They just need a little bit of a bump and they could be a game changer. How do we connect them with someone in Borneo working on the same thing that could benefit from the knowledge of the person working in the Brazilian rainforest?”
On Thursday, Obama and Merkel will have a conversation titled “Being Involved in Democracy: Taking on Responsibility Locally and Globally,” stressing the role of faith-based organizations at the congress of the German Evangelical Protestant church which takes place every two years.
Obama’s appearance in Germany will coincide with President Donald Trump’s first trip to Europe and will inevitably promote comparisons about their relative popularity across the Atlantic and their policies.
But the Obama Foundation official said Merkel extended the invitation to Obama last spring, well before Trump was elected and made his own plans to attend the NATO summit in Brussels and the G7 summit in Sicily.
Obama has no plans to discuss politics or his successor’s presidency and is hoping to focus on his foundation’s goals, the aide said.
Obama and Merkel forged a close friendship during his presidency, as she wrestled with issues like the European financial crisis and Russia’s annexation of Crimea as Europe’s most powerful political leader.
The German Chancellor is running for her fourth term in September and Trump is the third US President she has encountered after first taking office during George W. Bush’s administration.
Obama, in one of his first major post-presidential appearances, said he had been impressed with the sharp, astute and tolerant nature of young people he met on his travels.
“Are there ways in which we can knock down some of the barriers that are discouraging young people about a life of service? And if there are, I want to work with them to knock down those barriers,” he said in April at the University of Chicago.
His foundation will look for ways to partner with local organizations working in areas like faith-based programs, academia, government and civil society.
Thursday’s event will also feature four young people – two Germans and two Americans – who epitomize his focus on local organizing and community work.
They include Sierra Sims, a teacher, and Imani Abernathy, an actor, both from the South Side of Chicago. The Germans are social worker Filiz Kuyucu and student Benedikt Wichtlhuber from Mannheim.
Sims said in an audio interview released by the foundation that she used to play teacher as a girl and wonder if her dream of becoming one would ever be realized because of the opposition she faced in her community growing up.
“Now I get to nurture the seventh- and eight-graders who have those kinds of goals and aspirations. It is just life coming back around, full circle,” she said.