THILO BODE, Former Director of Greenpeace International, Founder and Director of Foodwatch

Courtesy of Thilo Bode Autorenseite,

If you want to change things you need to join an organisation that makes change its goal!

As he stormed out of the political arena he cried, “If you want to change things you need to join an organisation that makes change its goal!” One may imagine this as a fitting exit from bureaucracy for Thilo Bode, the man who strikes the jugular of society with incisive ad campaigns and has been described by Ilse Aigner, Germany’s Federal Minister of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, as “he who lives by the scandal.”

Despite a conservative upbringing in Upper Bavaria, Germany, Thilo is a professional risk-taker and career re-inventor. After studying Sociology and Economics at Munich University he plunged into politics and founded a local group, Yusos (Young Social Democrats), the youth division of the Social Democratic Party. This five-year experience of leading the group, taught him that real change can be achieved only partially in the political arena, and Thilo went in search of a field where he could practically apply his knowledge of economics and policy. He dedicated the next twelve years to supporting foreign aid in developing countries where he supervised water and energy supplies for the Reconstruction Credit Institute (KFW, Kreditanstalt für Wideraufbau).

Like many working in foreign aid, Thilo became disillusioned by the paternalistic approach to ‘development’, and the lack of business ethos in comparison to the surplus of bureaucracy. His next transformation took place within a mid-sized metal processing firm, where for three years as Management Assistant he came to respect the owners of enterprises who were truly invested in their company, employees and products. The skills of managing emplyees, stakeholder interests and finances he learnt here led to his successful leadership of national and international NGOs, and he wholeheartedly advises, “Anyone who plans on saving the world by working in an NGO would do well to work for a company in preparation.”

Thilo’s mid-size industry experience also instilled two key values: efficiency and teamwork. Eventually his activist impulses (e.g. protesting in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and rallying against nuclear weapons testing) combined with business know-how led to his position as Director of Greenpeace, Germany. Always a proponent of truth and transparency, Thilo “reserved the right to make unpopular decisions” within the NGO, which due to rapid growth had developed flaws in its global organisation and leadership. The success of the national branch led to his becoming Director of Greenpeace International. Under his leadership the organisation underwent legal restructuring and substantially increased its public profile with consumer-based campaigns against nuclear waste and Brent Spar, Royal Dutch Shell’s offshore disposal for radioactive drilling waste. Then, after six years as Director, again Thilo followed his gut feeling by stepping down; Greenpeace was not ready for more change.

The most rewarding experiences of his career both occurred in his post-Greenpeace period: writing his first book, Democracy is Betraying Its Children and founding Foodwatch. Over his career he had become more and more incensed that democracy had become a masquerade: “We are witnessing an erosion of democracy in favour of powerful interest groups, to the detriment of the common good.” Like a banner-man, Thilo waves the Foodwatch flag as a symbol of democracy. “We do not have a knowledge problem, we have an implementation problem.” In other words, it is not a lack of information but a hindering of information that is stifling change. Foodwatch has made change its goal, releasing information to the public in order to raise awareness and combat the abuses of democracy carried out by large corporations. To guarantee its independence, the organisation financed by donations and memberships, and maintains strict distance from corporations so as to avoid possible conflicts of interest.

Foodwatch calls upon ‘the power of the people’, to make change a reality: in October 2011, it released “The Hunger-Makers” to the public, a report that connected the speculation with food by investment banks and insurance companies to the further impoverishment of the poor. Information transparency is key: “The most efficient way to make change happen lies in uniting individual interests… this is democracy for and by the people.” Decades have passed since Thilo founded Yusos, and he remains in politics; both food and access to information are inherently political. The motivation underlying all of Thilo’s risk-taking and reinventing is a deep-seated care for fellow human beings.

Additional quotes

“The most effective lever for change is the union of individual interests.”

“Before you can effectively make changes, you have to first understand the weaknesses and opportunities of an organisation.”

In 2005, three years after the founding of Foodwatch: “It is no easy task to inform the public that in the field of nutrition there is a democratic deficit. Transparency is hardly employed and there is very little protection available for consumers.”

About Foodwatch

Its mission is to build a strong, European campaign organisation that is represented in all major EU Member States and that provides consumer-focused input into European legislative processes, advocating for more consumer rights. In order to promote the need for transparency in regards to our food system, Foodwatch annually awards ‘Die Goldene Windbeutel’(the biggest lie in advertisement).

For more information, visit Foodwatch’s homepage: and follow their latest findings and campaigns: and on Twitter @foodwatch_de


Country: Germany

Type of Education: University – Studied Sociology and Economics; PHD – direct investments in Asia, Malaysia 1975

Awards: Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Germany Schwab, 2009

Foundation Affiliation: Schwab

Pathway to Impact: Path of Effect

Impact Area/s: Basic Material Needs; Freedom of Choice & Action

Organisation Type: Non-profit, member funded.

Facts & Figures: Ten years after its founding, Foodwatch has a membership of 25ooo, and in 2012 alone there was a 17% increase. Foodwatch has now expanded to France and the Netherlands to tackle consumer awareness around food and influence food policy.

Other media

What is really in our food?

Is a regular contributor to Spiegel Online, (in German)



About the author Helena Rosebery

After completing a Master of Communication (Food & Culture) from Slow Food’s University of Gastronomic Sciences, Italy, Helena Rosebery followed her heart to Zürich where she is inspired everyday by the resilience and greenness of her home-grown herbs. Helena employs words and coloured pencils to professionally communicate all that is – and is not – in the pursuit of a more ethical world.

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!

Leave a Comment


— required *

— required *