LONDON — Nadja Swarovski is back, with big plans for the Swarovski Foundation, including a sustainability project with the United Nations set to be unveiled on Tuesday.
Swarovski has moved on following a management reshuffle at the family-run business last year, and is dedicating herself full-time to the foundation, which she created in 2013 and which has sustainability, environmental and social issues at its core. She remains a member of the Swarovski executive board.
On Tuesday the Swarovski Foundation will unveil a program aimed at challenging creative talents across a variety of sectors, including design, fashion and engineering, to create, invent and make in a sustainable manner.
Known as Swarovski Foundation Institute: Creatives for Our Future, the new global grant program has been devised with the United Nations Office for Partnerships.
The aim is to “identify and accelerate” the next generation of creative leaders in sustainability in this year which the U.N. has declared the International Year of the Creative Economy for Sustainable Development.
In an exclusive interview, Swarovski said she’s excited to be working with young talent once again.
She supported generations of emerging designers, notably Lee Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan, Julien Macdonald, Philip Treacy and Mary Katrantzou, inviting them to work with new and recycled Swarovski crystals, and for years partnered with Central Saint Martins and Parsons School of Design, challenging students to do the same.
“This is a new chapter,” said Swarovski in a telephone interview. “I now have the time and, quite frankly, the curiosity and the interest,” to work with young designers and creatives. She said this U.N. project reminds her of her early days at Swarovski when she was working with the young McQueen.
She added that the Creatives for Our Future project kicks the foundation’s work up a notch.
“We’re not just giving grants to institutions or to students. We’re now a platform, connecting various students with the know-how and knowledge of sustainability that we have gathered in the last eight years. And, hopefully, we’ll go from strength to strength,” said Swarovski, who has 10 full-time employees working with her at the foundation in New York, London and Austria.
Starting Tuesday, there will be a four-week open call for young talent worldwide, aged 18 to 25. The successful applicants must have a keen interest in, demonstration of, or exemplary potential to use the creative process to accelerate awareness, technologies or solutions for sustainable development, according to the foundation.
“Sustainability is the driving force of the project. We certainly know there are sustainable ways of producing, manufacturing, handcrafting out there, and that is what we want to see. That’s the future,” said Swarovski.
She also wants the program to find new approaches to global challenges and to drive progress toward the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Annemarie Hou, acting executive director of the United Nations Office for Partnerships, described the program as “a trailblazing initiative that is keeping the promise” of the U.N.’s goals.
The SDGs are a collection of 17 interlinked global goals set in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly. They are intended to be achieved by 2030, and include eliminating poverty and hunger, promoting well-being and gender equality and building sustainable cities and communities.
With the project, the Swarovski Foundation said it wants to draw in a diverse pool of applicants from across the globe. Nine grants of $15,000 each will be handed out so that the chosen creatives can further their practice and design “new pathways for a better world.”
Successful grantees and a complete list of mentors and master teachers will be revealed on April 21 to coincide with U.N. World Creativity and Innovation Day.
The funding will be paired with an educational program in collaboration with top international institutions, tailored mentorship and industry networking connections with guidance from the Swarovski Foundation.
Each participating mentor will represent the broadest range of creative disciplines from fashion and art to technology and science.
Swarovski said she’ll be pulling in engineers, professors, manufacturers, and industry experts to mentor and guide the students who will receive the grants.
“We’re creating a community, and human kindness has been an incredibly important ingredient in this exercise. Money is not the only currency. It’s really that human network — very considerate people who have that same end-game in mind,” said Swarovski.
Throughout the program, grantees will be given support to develop the innovations and practices outlined in their applications and drive progress toward the SDGs.
The grantees will be invited to present around the high-level segment of the U.N. General Assembly, while in December the case studies and collective progress reports will be released.
Swarovski set up the foundation in the philanthropic spirit of her great great-grandfather Daniel Swarovski, who founded the crystal business 125 years ago in the Tyrolean Alps.
It works chiefly in three areas — culture and creativity, human empowerment and preserving the environment — and funds educational charities and institutions working across fashion, jewelry and design.
The foundation’s partners include The Nature Conservancy, Waterkeeper Alliance, NEST, Women for Women International, the United Nations Population Fund, the Design Museum London and Whitechapel Gallery.
Swarovski said what makes her feel especially energized is the engagement she’s able to have with new generations of family members. She is a fifth-generation Swarovski, and said she’s seeing much interest from the sixth generation.
“They’re thinking about their careers now, and we’ve had a lot of interest from them to volunteer and to work at the foundation. I think it’s a wonderful way to start a young person’s career, in a foundation that is very linked to the family values, and extends into the international arena,” said Swarovski, who was forced to pivot her own career last year following the management shake-up.
As reported, Swarovski left her role last year as head of the Atelier Swarovski business (the retail jewelry business which she had founded, and which has since shut) and as chief of corporate branding, communications and corporate social responsibility.
Robert Buchbauer, the chairman of the board and head of the consumer goods division, took over several areas that were held by Swarovski and assumed the role of chief executive officer.