A Marshall Plan in Reverse

The ERP Fund donated one million dollar as a gesture of goodwill from Austria for the reconstruction of New Orleans after the devastation by Hurricane Katrina.

The mission of the Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation is to support and further Atlantic academic partnership and to encourage transfer of knowledge in the area of economics and social sciences and so to intensify research cooperation between Austria and the United States. In 2000 the Marshall Plan Chair for Austrian Studies was endowed at the UN. The MP Chairs at the UN in the years 2006–2009 are dedicated to 'regional economic development'.

The rebuilding of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster in the history of American mankind, is used as a laboratory to study the rebuilding of an entire region. The unprecedented devastation deeply moved officials at the ERP Fund in Vienna. They decided to practice a quasi-'Marshall Plan in reverse' and donate one million dollar through the Marshall Plan Foundation to the UN and New Orleans as a gesture of goodwill from Austria for the reconstruction of the devastated city and university. The Austrian government officially approved this donation in February 2006.

The money is earmarked for three projects
The lion's share of this money was dedicated to building a 'Marshall Plan Center for International Studies' at the University of New Orleans. The university thus can continue and augment what it has done so well in the past – further international student exchange programs such as University of New Orleans programs over more than 30 years with the University of Innsbruck; European and area studies can thereby also be increased at the university.

A second program is geared towards helping those New Orleans schools that are affiliated with the University of New Orleans' College of Education. Some schools are educating underprivileged children from New Orleans. One elite high school, Ben Franklin, started an exchange program with an Austrian high school in Innsbruck, Austria.

In summers 2006 and 2007 30 Benjamin Franklin High School students spent two weeks with host families in Innsbruck. They were selected for the trip after an application process that included an essay, academic achievement and income eligibility. Ben Franklin High School, a Capital One/University of New Orleans Charter School Center supported school, offers a German language program and is one of the premier high schools in the city of New Orleans. It was one of the first high schools to reopen its doors in January 2006 after considerable flood damage by Hurricane Katrina.

A third project was geared towards helping WWNO, the public radio station in New Orleans on the University of New Orleans campus, air more Austrian classical music in the Mozart anniversary year 2006 and develop cooperative ventures with Austrian national radio ORF. A sizable segment of New Orleanians benefited from this through the 'Mozart effect' and its proven soothing of the mind.

'Helping those that help themselves'
The one-million-dollar check was given to Chancellor Timothy Ryan of the University of New Orleans in a highly emotional ceremony on February 17, 2006 in the presence of the Austrian Ambassador Eva Nowotny. Eugen Stark and Wolfgang Stoiber from the ERP Fund, also the executive directors of the Marshall Plan Foundation, handed over the check along with a highly symbolic gift – an empty flour sack.

When Austrians were still hungry after the war, thousands of tons of flour were shipped to Austria in such 100-pound sacks, financed through Marshall aid. In the case of this sack, the milled flour was from New Orleans. The symbolism of uplifting people who are down could not have been more poignant – in 1948-52. The Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation's goals of strengthening Austrian-American ties through the promotion of trans-Atlantic university partnerships were strongly and visibly expressed in keeping with the old Marshall Plan motto: 'Helping those that help themselves.'

Images: