From the Head of Programs: This Year's FUTURE FORUM

We caught up with Dr. Kathrin DiPaola on the eve of her first FUTURE FORUM to check in on her thoughts and ambitions for this year’s event. Read on to see our questions and Dr. DiPaola’s responses.

DWIH New York: Reflecting on the last 18 months, what led you to conceptualizing this year’s FUTURE FORUM as Before After?

Kathrin DiPaola: Looking back at the last 18 months – the majority of which I have spent in Germany with a very different experience from many neighboring European countries and also the US – there is one very strong,  and in a way also amazing learning that stuck with me particularly and that was a great inspiration for conceptualizing this year’s FUTURE FORUM as Before After (by the way, the title credit goes to Jarred Johnson who at the time was our Communications Officer): no matter where we were during the time between December of 2019 and March 2020, no matter who we were, and no matter how we were educated and socialized up until this point, we all shared a common experience that needed and needs no specific of further explanation.

Whereas all past major world historical events also had a significant point of “Before After” – and I would like to understand this moment as a Before the After – they were usually limited to geography. For example, the assassination of Kennedy, the moon landing, the Fall of the Berlin Wall or each of the horrific wars – all of these events shared a collective emotion of certain groups, countries and socio-history, but they were never fully universal. But the COVID pandemic is universal. Every single human on this planet can relate. I find that fascinating because for the first time in the history of mankind do we share one common experience – an experience that hit us on an emotional level and thus does not need translation or explanation. We all had this pivotal Before After moment.

The greatest danger in conquering something is to fall back into one’s old ways immediately. So, let’s not think in terms of conquering COVID but propelling and creating from it.

Dr. Kathrin DiPaola

DWIH NY: What’s one or some key objective you hope to see realized at this year’s FUTURE FORUM?

KD: I have a few ambitions for this year’s FORUM.

Mostly, I would like to see a creative and innovative break with how we discussed the topics work, health and society in the past year. Work is more than remote working and flexible hours, health is more than mental health and society is more than the exterior shell of how we see humans interacting with one another.

While all of these discussions are extremely important, of course, I feel that they fall short in that they are too occupied with comparing everything to the past and thus hold us back from really looking forward. We have the unique chance to think bigger. Beyond questions like how many days people should come back to the office but rather towards “does it still make sense what we are doing and producing? What is the greater value of my contribution to the planet and society? Are my business model and product still up to date with the signs of our times or should I create something else with my knowledge and expertise?” Pretty radical questions. Of course, the FUTURE FORUM is certainly too small to explore all this in-depth, but I always like to plant some provocative thoughts. So, just sparking different thought processes would be one ambition.

I also think that we should be more critical when using the term “post;” we are not post-pandemic as it is not over yet. We are still very much in it. But that is what makes it fascinating, so rich for new opportunities in all its misery and pain for the millions of people who lost a lot. I think the greatest danger in conquering something is to fall back into one’s old ways immediately. So, let’s not think in terms of conquering COVID but propelling and creating from it.

Lastly, I would like to go beyond measuring the pandemic. Beyond incident numbers, social distance recommendations, number of deaths. Science is extremely important and trying to contain uncertainty with logic and measurable proof is a normal and necessary reaction, but what is equally interesting is that all of sudden, we abandoned cultural practices and traditions. No more kisses on the cheek, shaking hands, etc. Sure, we can measure the pandemic and by doing so feel that we can get it under control, but these numbers do not play a significant role when it comes to the willingness to get vaccinated, finding a solution to our growing climate problems, or teaching people how to open up intimately online.

It is these commonly shared moments beyond what can be measured that we are trying to capture with Before After.  I think it would be exciting if we all kept this moment of change, the Before After in our collective memory to rethink our common and individual futures and perhaps give it a different direction.


As Program Manager, Kathrin oversees the German Center for Research and Innovation’s day-to-day operations and supports the Executive Director in its strategic development. She is responsible for growing the center’s vast network and membership base and for raising awareness of its activities in the science and innovation community.

Dr. Kathrin DiPaola took over as Head of Programs for DWIH New York in March 2021. She looks back at an impressive record of academic and industry endeavors, having worked with institutions and companies in Europe and the U.S. Until 2010, she held appointments as Assistant Professor and was the youngest and first female Director of Deutsches Haus at New York University. In 2012, she left academia to pursue a career in mobility consulting, where she worked the intersection between products/technologies in social and cultural processes. Clients included OEMs, city governments, suppliers, urban planners, etc. In October 2018, she joined Business Sweden as a Senior Investment Advisor. Until February 2021 and before joining the DWIH, Dr. DiPaola held the position of Managing Director Germany for the Swedish tech scale-up TechBuddy.
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