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The St. Gallen Symposium, formerly known as the Internationales Management Symposium and the ISC-Symposium, is an annual conference taking place at the University of St. Gallen in St. Gallen, Switzerland. It is one of the world's leading initiatives for intergenerational debates on economic, political, and social developments between decision makers of today and tomorrow.[1] The symposium's goal is to contribute to the preservation and further development of a social and liberal economic order.

St. Gallen Symposium
St Gallen Symposium Logo.svg
FormationFebruary 1970
FounderClemens Ernst Brenninkmeyer, Franz Karl Kriegler, Urs Schneider, Wolfgang Schürer, Terje I. Wölner–Hanssen
TypeNon-profit organisation
Legal statusClub
HeadquartersSt. Gallen, Switzerland
Region served

The St. Gallen Symposium was founded in 1969 as a response to the international student unrests of 1968 and has since then been organised by the International Students’ Committee (ISC), a student initiative at the University of St. Gallen.[2] Currently, this platform for dialogue welcomes more than 1.000 participants every year. Personalities such as Josef Ackermann, Mohammad Khatami, Laurence D. Fink, Dominic Barton, Sigmar Gabriel and Christine Lagarde have attended the symposium in recent years.[3]


The goalEdit

Aerial view of the campus of the University of St. Gallen during the 41st St. Gallen Symposium

The St. Gallen Symposium as a platform for dialogue strives to foster constructive debates on current economic, political and social developments.[4] This event gives particular attention to an intergenerational dialogue, characterised by mutual respect. Thus, particular focus is given to discussion in smaller, more informal settings, where the so-called Leaders of Tomorrow can debate with the Leaders of Today on equal footing.[5]

The topic of the symposium is chosen each year based on relevant issues and current events. In recent years, the topic has developed from being more business-oriented to more holistic themes, as embodied by the topics Growth – the good, the bad, and the ugly (2016), The dilemma of disruption (2017) and Beyond the end of work (2018).[6][7]



Five students of the University of St. Gallen – Clemens Ernst Brenninkmeyer, Franz Karl Kriegler, Urs Schneider, Wolfgang Schürer and Terje I. Wølner-Hanssen – founded the International Students’ Committee (ISC), which has since organised the St. Gallen Symposium annually.[8] It was established in February 1970 as an alternative to the international student unrests of 1968. The name International Students’ Committee was chosen because of the five different countries the founders originated from, namely Austria, Germany, Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland. On 30 June and 1 July 1970 the first International Management Dialogue was held at the University of St. Gallen, with 100 outstanding students and as many business leaders taking part.[9]

First yearsEdit

The Club of Rome study The Limits to Growth,[10] which analysed the effect of exponential growth on a finite planet, was presented at the third symposium in 1972. The global economic downturn caused by the 1973 oil crisis and problems with securing the continuity of the student initiative led to the symposium not being held in 1974. In response, the St. Gallen Foundation for International Studies was founded in order to safeguard the continuity of the International Students’ Committee.[9]

The 1980sEdit

A big change was introduced in 1989, when the International Students’ Committee founded the St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award, which today counts as one of the largest and most renowned student essay competitions worldwide. Students were now required to submit an essay, of which only the 200 best were selected for a participation in the St. Gallen Symposium. Moreover, authors of the best contributions were bestowed with the St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award, CHF 20,000.– in prize money, and the chance to present their essays at the St. Gallen Symposium (see below).[2]


Kofi Annan at the bestowal of the Freedom-Prize of the Max Schmidheiny Foundation

Since the mid-1990s, the ISC has tried to raise the international profile of the symposium, as well as improve the quality of the dialogue. In this restructuring, a new logo was introduced and the name "International Management Symposium" was changed to ISC-Symposium. Moreover, the ISC gave a financial support for the construction of the Executive Campus HSG at the University of St. Gallen during this period.

With the burst of the dot-com bubble, the September 11 attacks and the bankruptcy of Swissair – one of the symposium's most important benefactors – the beginning of the new millennium posed great challenges for the subsequent year.

In 2002 the Swiss Federal Council commissioned the ISC to organise the International Conference on Federalism while maintaining the structure of the symposium.[11]

The current name, St. Gallen Symposium, was introduced in 2005.

In the following year Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, received the Freedom Prize of the Max Schmidheiny Foundation, which was already awarded to him in 2003.[12]

Strategic reorientation since 2010Edit

For the 40th St. Gallen Symposium in 2010, a comprehensive modernisation of the conceptual design followed in order to foster intergenerational dialogue. The duration of the symposium was reduced by half a day to two days and so-called Topic Leaders, who are responsible for the moderation of several sessions, joined the group of speakers. Furthermore, the so-called Knowledge Pool enlarged the selection of student participants. The Knowledge Pool consists of 100 students who are handpicked by the ISC and aims at setting an antipole to the 100 winners of the mainly academical student essay competition, the St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award.[13] Furthermore, the Global Perspectives Barometer was introduced, which has since been conducted annually in collaboration with GfK-Verein (Credit Suisse until 2013) among current and past student participants to survey their opinion on prevailing challenges.[14][15]

To enhance the awareness about the St. Gallen Symposium in Asia, the ISC opened an office in Singapore in 2012. Furthermore, due to the strategic reorientation, a new group of participants, the Aspiring Leaders, and Year-Round Events were introduced. The Aspiring Leaders are young decision makers who reached their first milestones and thus fill the gap between the Leaders of Tomorrow and Leaders of Today.[16] The Year-Round Events fulfill the aim of the St. Gallen Symposium to create an intergenerational dialogue throughout the whole year, as opposed to only the St. Gallen Symposium itself. The biggest Year-Round Events are the Singapore Reception in November and the Zurich Reception in January.[17]

Programme and sessionsEdit

The St. Gallen Symposium takes place during three days in the beginning of May. The official program includes different kind of sessions: [18] [19]

  • Plenary Sessions serve as an introduction to the main topics and raise controversial issues, which serve as the starting point for the following Insight Sessions. Plenary Sessions are divided into the One-on-One, where two people meet on stage, the Keynote Panel, a traditional panel discussion, and the Keynote Address, where a speaker delivers a speech.
  • The roughly 30 Insight Sessions are held in smaller groups of about 25–35 attendees and serve as a follow-up to the Plenary Sessions. A characteristic of Insight Sessions is the very personal framework. A speaker initiates the discussion, whereas the main part of an Insight Session consists of a vibrant discussion moderated by a Topic Leader. To achieve a lively discussion the Chatham House Rule is applied.
  • Interactive Sessions take place simultaneously as the Insight Sessions. Compared to Insight Sessions, the focus of Interactive Sessions is laid on the Topic itself rather than on the Topic Leader and Speaker. With this environment, participants can elaborate possible solutions in an interactive and intimate environment. Insight Sessions are held in a small setting with 20 participants at most.
  • Social Sessions enable the participants to continue to engage in an informal dialogue beyond the official programme, for example in Dinner Nights or lunches.
  • Furthermore, Public Insight Sessions aim to introduce the participants into complex issues and theories. Those sessions often only deal in a distant way with the topic of the St. Gallen Symposium. Public Insight Sessions are public to anyone interested in the St. Gallen Symposium and its initiative.

Apart from Public Insight Sessions, the sessions are snot open to the public. However, selected Plenary Sessions are live and broadcast on the St. Gallen Symposium's official YouTube channel.[20] Furthermore, with the support of the Ria & Arthur Dietschweiler Foundation, key findings of the annual symposium are presented and discussed in the St. Gallen Symposium Public Forum.


The St. Gallen Symposium has three participant groups: the "Leaders of Today", the "Leaders of Tomorrow", and the "Aspiring Leaders".[14][21]

The "Leaders of Today" consist of 600 people from economic, political, social and academic fields.[22]

The "Leaders of Tomorrow" are 200 participants below the age of 30. Their qualification is evaluated according to the criteria for the "St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award" or the Knowledge Pool.[23][24]

The "Aspiring Leaders" are participants who have the potential to take on a leading role in an industry.[16]

Prize ceremonyEdit

Every year, during the St. Gallen Symposium, the St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award is awarded. The St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award is an essay competition for students from all over the world. In addition, from 1979 to 2003, the St. Gallen Symposium was the platform for the bestowal of the Max Schmidheiny Foundation's Freedom Prize.

The St. Gallen Wings of Excellence AwardEdit

The St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award is an essay competition for students on graduate or postgraduate level. The authors of the 100 best submissions get the chance travel to St. Gallen for one week and participate in the St. Gallen Symposium. Since the essay's topic is always related to the symposium's main topic of discussion, the five best authors have the possibility to present their essay in front of the global audience during the Conference. It is endowed with CHF 20’000. With more than 1000 contributions from over 60 different countries annually, the St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award belongs to one of the biggest student essay competitions of its kind.[25][26] The evaluation process is completely anonymous and carried out by a preliminary jury and a main jury. The preliminary jury consists of PhD students of the University of St. Gallen as well as the ETH Zurich whereas the main jury comprises professors, corporate executives, entrepreneurs and politicians. The current president of the preliminary jury is Heike Bruch and the main jury's president is Georg F. von Krogh. Other members of the main jury are Peter Day, Nigel Fretwell, Aditya Ghosh, and Riz Khan.[27] [28]

The St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award was first launched in 1989 to select the student participants for the symposium and has been modified several times in the past. The most essential adjustment was the restriction of the eligibility to graduate and postgraduate students in 2009 and a simultaneous reduction of the invitations based on the essay competition from 200 to 100 invitations. The other 100 students have since then been recruited by the ISC through the so-called Knowledge Pool.[29]

Freedom-Prize of the Max Schmidheiny FoundationEdit

From 1979 until 2003 the Max Schmidheiny Foundation annually awarded its Freedom Prize during the symposium. The prestigious honourees include Kofi Annan, Nicolas Hayek, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jorma Ollila and Muhammad Yunus. In 2003 the Max Schmidheiny Foundation decided to focus on other activities and abandoned the Freedom Prize.


International Students’ Committee (ISC)Edit

Since its establishment in 1969, the St. Gallen Symposium has been organised by the International Students’ Committee, an independent non-profit organisation and an accredited association of the University of St. Gallen. Every year, it consists of a team of about 30 students from the University of St. Gallen, who pause their studies for one year. This team includes three – in former years two – members of the previous ISC-Team who form the Head of the Organising Committee.[2][30] During the Symposium, the ISC is supported by a crew of about 400 volunteers, all students from the University of St. Gallen. Martin Blessing, Konrad Hummler, Walter Kielholz and Christoph Loos are among the most famous alumni of the ISC.

St. Gallen Foundation for International Studies (SSIS)Edit

Josef Ackermann, former president of the St. Gallen Foundation for International Studies, at the 40. St. Gallen Symposium

The St. Gallen Foundation for International Studies acts as the supervisory body and ensures the continuity of the symposium given the annually changing organising team.[31] The foundation consists of about twelve members, with Beat Ulrich being the current CEO. Former CEOs include Philip Erzinger, Andreas Kirchschläger and Wolfgang Schürer.

The Board of Trustees supervises the St. Gallen Foundation for International Studies with Peter Voser and Karin Keller-Sutter as its Chairman and Vice Chairman respectively. Further members are Thomas Bieger, Peter Gomez, Bénédict G. F. Hentsch, Christian Mumenthaler, Christoph Loos, Walter Kielholz, Ralph Schmitz-Dräger, Gerhard Schwarz and Bettina Würth.[32] Josef Ackermann is the honorary chairman and former member of the board.[33]


The 1974 established Circle of Benefactors constitutes the key element in the non-profit organisation's funding. Currently, it encompasses more than 400 companies, which commit themselves for three years at a time to support the St. Gallen Symposium with a certain financial amount. By establishing this long-term relation, the continuity is secured and a situation as in 1974, when the symposium had to be cancelled, can be prevented. Besides the participation in the St. Gallen Symposium, these partners receive an invitation to the Dinner for the Circle of Benefactors, taking place on the Wednesday of the Symposium.[34]

Within this circle are currently eleven Main Partners, who provide special support in their respective areas: ABB, Accenture, BMW, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Interbrand, Microsoft, UBS and Xerox. In addition, there are three Main Partners exclusively supporting the Leaders of Tomorrow: Credit Suisse, Swiss Re and ZF Friedrichshafen.[35]

The St. Gallen Symposium has established a close cooperation and partnership with the Max Schmidheiny Foundation as well as the University of St. Gallen, which puts its infrastructure at the symposium's disposal every year. Through the support of the St. Gallen based Ria & Arthur Dietschweiler Foundation, the St. Gallen Symposium Public Forum is enabled.[36]

Moreover, there are numerous donors, who contribute greatly to the funding.[37]

External linksEdit


  1. ^ "About". St. Gallen Symposium. 23 September 2018. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  2. ^ a b c St. Galler Tagblatt, 13 May 2011, St. Gallen Symposium.
  3. ^ St. Galler Tagblatt, Ab und zu ein Lächeln entlocken, retrieved 10 December 2011.
  4. ^ Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, Rafal Rohozinski and Rex Hughes on Cybercrime at the 41st St. Gallen Symposium, retrieved 11 December 2011.
  5. ^ Handelsblatt News am Abend, 12 May 2011, St. Gallen stellt die Machtfrage.
  6. ^ Lichtensteiner Volksblatt, 8 May 2010, Zukunftsmärkte Brauchen Technologie und Innovation.
  7. ^ "Highlights". St. Gallen Symposium. 12 December 2015. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  8. ^ Student symposium spans tow eras of unrest, retrieved 12 December 2011.
  9. ^ a b International Students' Committee, About us: History[permanent dead link], retrieved 22 November 2011.
  10. ^ Meadows, Donella H; Meadows, Dennis L; Randers, Jørgen; Behrens III, William W (1972). The Limits to Growth; A Report for the Club of Rome's Project on the Predicament of Mankind (PDF). New York: Universe Books. ISBN 0876631650. Retrieved 26 November 2017.[verification needed]
  11. ^ news aktuell, Internationale Föderalismuskonferenz 2002 an der Universität St. Gallen Archived 9 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 22 November 2011.
  12. ^ Max Schmidheiny Stiftung, Preisträger 2003: Kofi Annan, retrieved 22 November 2011.
  13. ^ Dr. Kiyoshi Kurkawa, St. Gallen Symposium, retrieved 11 December 2011.[verification needed]
  14. ^ a b HSG Alumni, 40. St. Gallen Symposium Archived 27 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 11 December 2011.
  15. ^ GfK-Verein, Clash der Generationen – angehende Führungskräfte unzufrieden mit aktuellen Entscheidern, retrieved 29 August 2015.
  16. ^ a b "Communities". St. Gallen Symposium. 12 December 2015. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  17. ^ "Receptions". St. Gallen Symposium. 12 October 2018. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  18. ^ Walliser Bote, 14 May 2011, Energiesicherheit hat einen hohen Preis.
  19. ^ International Students' Committee, Programm[permanent dead link], retrieved 11 December 2011.
  20. ^ St. Galler Tagblatt, HSG bereit für Symposium, retrieved 11 December 2011.
  21. ^ Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 9 May 2011, Prominenz in St. Gallen.
  22. ^ Swiss Embassy China, 14 May 2010, St. Gallen Symposium reaches out in China.
  23. ^, St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award, retrieved 11 December 2011.
  24. ^, 40 Jahre St. Gallen Symposium, retrieved 12 December 2011.
  25. ^ Japan Times, Young urged to pursue St. Gallen Forum, retrieved 11 December 2011.
  26. ^, St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award, retrieved 12 December 2011.
  27. ^ International Students' Committee, Vorjury Archived 9 September 2012 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 11 December 2012.
  28. ^ International Students' Committee, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 9 October 2014. Retrieved 29 September 2014. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link), retrieved 29 September 2014.
  29. ^ Market Magazine, 24 August 2010, Architekten unserer Zukunft – Interview mit Shama Kabani.
  30. ^ Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, ISC-Symposium: Praktisches Management in der Villa Kunterbunt, retrieved 12 December 2011.
  31. ^ International Students' Committee, St. Galler Stiftung für Internationale Studien Archived 16 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 11 December 2011.
  32. ^ International Students' Committee, Stiftungsrat Archived 29 March 2014 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 15 April 2014.
  33. ^ International Students’ Committee, Changes in the Board of Trustees[permanent dead link], retrieved 28 May 2012.
  34. ^ International Students' Committee, Fördererkreis Archived 22 January 2012 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 11 December 2011.
  35. ^ "Circle of Benefactors". St. Gallen Symposium. 12 December 2015. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  36. ^ "Supporting Institutions". St. Gallen Symposium. 28 April 2018. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  37. ^ "Donors". St. Gallen Symposium. 12 December 2015. Retrieved 22 November 2018.