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German Parliamentarian Visits Heinz College for Insight Into Disruption

By Scott Barsotti

Heinz College and Carnegie Mellon University were proud to recently host Metin Hakverdi of the Social Democratic Party of Germany for a day of meetings on campus. MdB Hakverdi has represented a constituency from Hamburg in the Bundestag—the chamber of the German Parliament directly elected by the German people—since 2013. For the two terms prior to that, he was a member of the Hamburg city-state government.

“[Carnegie Mellon] is a great institution, I’m impressed,” Hakverdi said, after a morning meeting with Heinz College Distinguished Service Professor Rick Stafford.

He and Stafford discussed policy challenges and touched on CMU research initiatives such as Metro21 (focusing on livability and quality of life issues in the Pittsburgh metro), Traffic21 (concerning smart transportation efforts), and Mobility21 (a multi-city, multi-university partnership investigating innovations in mobility including smart city technology, autonomous vehicles, and accessibility).

Hakverdi met with Heinz faculty experts Lee Branstetter and Brian Kovak to discuss further policy thrusts, in particular the newly-formed Center for the Future of Work (FOW) at Heinz College.

The future of work is an area of special interest to Hakverdi and his constituents. He visited the U.S. on invitation by the Washington office of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a German think tank, in part to learn more about the transformations affecting Rust Belt economies like Pittsburgh, and how local governments, academia, and civic institutions are addressing technological disruption in the workforce.

“We’re talking about the most complex transition process in the free world. Ever. More complex than the Industrial Revolution,” said Hakverdi.

Of course, such disruptions have political consequences as well. Hakverdi wants to examine those shifts in the U.S., and how similar forces may play out in his home district.

He referenced the election of Donald Trump, the Brexit vote, and the resurgence of right-wing populism in the Western world as evidence that the pace of global technological and economic change is creating significant backlash against political elites—a fallout which is being exacerbated by nationalism and increasing anxiety around immigration.

“It’s a policy effort. We need the political will not to wait for [change to happen] and then adapt, but rather to make decisions [that acknowledge] it’s happening,” said Hakverdi.

Prior to visiting Pittsburgh, Hakverdi was in Washington, D.C. meeting with 14 congressional leaders on Capitol Hill, both Democrats and Republicans. He came to Pittsburgh not only because of CMU, but also because of a kinship he sees between the cities’ histories as industrial heavyweights.

“The harbor has always been the center of [Hamburg’s economy], but it’s getting more diverse,” he said. And who works at that harbor has drastically changed. Harbor workers used to be men of the burlier blue-collar variety, but now dock work is mostly being done by highly skilled specialists with technical prowess. The parallels to Pittsburgh are clear.

Those similarities go beyond industry. Hamburg, like Pittsburgh, is a city with renowned universities. Hakverdi said that Germany, in many ways, has big advantages over the U.S. in terms of its university system, such as financing and accessibility (“You guys are missing out on so much of your population, intellectually. That’s a crime, seriously.”) However, he believes a gap still exists in Germany between academia and civic life. He took note of the relationship between CMU and the City of Pittsburgh, which serves as an urban lab for much of the university’s—and Heinz College’s—groundbreaking research.

Hakverdi says Hamburg needs a similar culture that pushes academic advancement beyond university walls and into the fabric of the city in order to speed innovation and improve quality of life.

On that score, he sees Pittsburgh as a model.

“This city, this state, in this time, it seems to be a special place,” he said. “I will recommend my colleagues to come here too.” German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who is in the same political party as MdB Hakverdi, visited CMU shortly after.

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