Hermann Gmeiner

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Hermann Gmeiner
Herman Gmeiner cropped.jpg
Statue of Hermann Gmeiner in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
Born(1919-06-23)23 June 1919
Died26 April 1986(1986-04-26) (aged 66)

Hermann Gmeiner (23 June 1919 – 26 April 1986) was an Austrian philanthropist and the founder of SOS Children's Villages.

Philanthropy means the love of humanity. A conventional modern definition is "private initiatives, for the public good, focusing on quality of life", which combines an original humanistic tradition with a social scientific aspect developed in the 20th century. The definition also serves to contrast philanthropy with business endeavors, which are private initiatives for private good, e.g., focusing on material gain, and with government endeavors, which are public initiatives for public good, e.g., focusing on provision of public services. A person who practices philanthropy is called a philanthropist.

SOS Children's Villages is the largest independent, non-governmental, nonprofit international development organization headquartered in Innsbruck, Austria. The organization provides humanitarian and developmental assistance to children in need and protects their interests and rights around the world. The first SOS Children's Village was founded in 1949 in Tyrol, Austria by an Austrian philanthropist Hermann Gmeiner. Today, SOS Children's Villages is active in 135 countries and territories worldwide



Born to a big family of farmers in Vorarlberg (present-day Austria), Gmeiner was a talented child and won a scholarship to attend grammar school. His mother died while he was still a young boy, and his eldest sister Elsa took on the task of caring for the smallest of the children.

Vorarlberg State of Austria

Vorarlberg is the westernmost federal state (Bundesland) of Austria. It has the second-smallest area after Vienna, and although it has the second-smallest population, it also has the second-highest population density. It borders three countries: Germany, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The only Austrian state that shares a border with Vorarlberg is Tyrol to the east.

Austria Federal republic in Central Europe

Austria, officially the Republic of Austria, is a country of nearly 9 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Hungary and Slovakia to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west. The territory of Austria covers 83,879 km2 (32,386 sq mi). The terrain is highly mountainous, lying within the Alps; only 32% of the country is below 500 m (1,640 ft), and its highest point is 3,798 m (12,461 ft). The majority of the population speaks local Bavarian dialects as their native language, and German in its standard form is the country's official language. Other local official languages are Hungarian, Burgenland Croatian, and Slovene.

Having experienced the horrors of war himself as a soldier in Russia, he was then confronted with the isolation and suffering of the many war orphans and homeless children as a child welfare worker after the end of the Second World War. In his conviction that help can never be effective as long as the children have to grow up without a home of their own, he set about implementing his idea for SOS Children's Villages.

Russia transcontinental country in Eastern Europe and Northern Asia

Russia, officially the Russian Federation, is a transcontinental country in Eastern Europe and North Asia. At 17,125,200 square kilometres (6,612,100 sq mi), Russia is the largest country in the world by area, covering more than one-eighth of the Earth's inhabited land area, and the ninth most populous, with about 146.77 million people as of 2019, excluding Crimea. About 77% of the population live in the western, European part of the country. Russia's capital, Moscow, is the largest metropolitan area in Europe proper and one of the largest cities in the world; other major cities include Saint Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg and Nizhny Novgorod. Extending across the entirety of Northern Asia and much of Eastern Europe, Russia spans eleven time zones and incorporates a wide range of environments and landforms. From northwest to southeast, Russia shares land borders with Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and North Korea. It shares maritime borders with Japan by the Sea of Okhotsk and the U.S. state of Alaska across the Bering Strait. However, Russia recognises two more countries that border it, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both of which are internationally recognized as parts of Georgia.

With just 600 Austrian schillings (approx. 40 US dollars) in his pocket Hermann Gmeiner established the SOS Children's Village Association in 1949, and in the same year the foundation stone was laid for the first SOS Children's Village in Imst, in the Austrian state of Tyrol. His work with the children and development of the SOS Children's Village organization kept Hermann Gmeiner so busy that he finally decided to discontinue his medical degree course.

Tyrol (state) State of Austria

Tyrol is a federal state (Bundesland) in western Austria. It comprises the Austrian part of the historical Princely County of Tyrol. It is a constituent part of the present-day Euroregion Tyrol–South Tyrol–Trentino. The capital of Tyrol is Innsbruck.

In the following decades his life was inseparably linked with his commitment to a family-centred child-care concept based on the four pillars of a mother, a house, brothers and sisters, and a village. Given his exclusive focus on the need to help abandoned children, the rest of his biography reads like the history of SOS Children's Villages themselves. He served as Village Director in Imst, organized the construction of further SOS Children's Villages in Austria, and helped to set up SOS Children's Villages in many other countries of Europe.

In 1960 SOS-Kinderdorf International was established in Strasbourg as the umbrella organization for SOS Children's Villages with Hermann Gmeiner as the first president. In the following years the activities of SOS Children's Villages spread beyond Europe. The sensational "grain of rice" campaign raised enough funds to permit the first non-European SOS Children's Village to be built in Daegu, Korea in 1963, and SOS Children's Villages on the American and African continents followed.

By 1985 the result of Hermann Gmeiner's work was a total of 233 SOS Children's Villages in 85 countries. In recognition of his services to orphaned and abandoned children he received numerous awards and was nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize. However, he was always at pains to stress that it was only thanks to the support of millions of people that it had been possible to achieve the goal of providing abandoned children with a permanent home, and that still applies today.

Nobel Peace Prize One of five Nobel Prizes established by Alfred Nobel

The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Swedish industrialist, inventor, and armaments manufacturer Alfred Nobel, along with the prizes in Chemistry, Physics, Physiology or Medicine, and Literature. Since March 1901, it has been awarded annually to those who have "done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses".

Hermann Gmeiner died in Innsbruck in 1986. He is buried at SOS Children's Village Imst.

SOS Children's Villages is currently active in 132 countries and territories. 438 SOS Children's Villages and 346 SOS Youth Facilities provide more than 60,000 children and youths in need with a new home. More than 131,000 children/youths attend SOS Kindergartens, SOS Hermann Gmeiner Schools and SOS Vocational Training Centres. Around 397,000 people benefit from the services provided by SOS Medical Centres, 115,000 people from services provided by SOS Social Centres. SOS Children's Villages also helps in situations of crisis and disaster through emergency relief programmes. The emergency clinic in Mogadishu (provides app. 260,000 check-ups and treatments a year) is one example of a huge long-term relief project.

Quotation by Hermann Gmeiner


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  1. Fisher, Claudia; Christine, Vallaster (Apr 1, 2010). Connective Branding: Building Brand Equity in a Demanding World. John Wiley & Sons. p. 329. ISBN   9780470740873 . Retrieved 2 December 2016.