The Waldorf school movement has been international from the very beginning. In 1923 a Waldorf School was founded in The Hague, in 1925 a school was opened in London, in 1926 in Basel, Budapest, Oslo and in 1928 in New York. Since then Waldorf school have generally been underfunded and required financial assistance. Furthermore the concept of Waldorf School was designed as a research-based educational movement from the outset.
Die Freunde der Erziehungskunst Rudolf Steiners e.V. were founded on 10 October 1971 to serve this educational movement. Optimism and new awareness of the social tasks that lay ahead prevailed at the time when Ernst Weißert and Dr. Manfred Leist established the Friends.
At first, the friends remained only a small seed. The many tasks of Ernst Weißert and Manfred Leist at the German Federation of Waldorf Schools did not allow for enough time to build up the association, which was intended to be an organization for mutual economic support.
In 1976 former Waldorf students from Germany, Holland and England, Andreas Büttner, Christa Büttner, Nana Göbel, Jean-Claude Lin, Andreas Maurer and Paul Vink, approached Ernst Weißert with the idea of doing something for the “worldwide Waldorf movement”. These former students were welcomed with open arms and founded the international relief fund. Up to today, many people donate to this account, out of which schools and kindergartens around the world receive help when in need.
Successively several people of this generation have taken the helm of the association: Andreas Büttner, Justus Wittich, Christian Schulz, Winfried Tauer, Bernd Ruf and Nana Göbel. The idea was to create a school system for the future, in which educational principles and the content of the curriculum would be determined by all parties involved, without any external intervention. This idea was not intended to be confined to Western Europe only. Moreover, the aim was to help Waldorf initiatives in countries where they did not receive state funding, and to enable children, whose parents were not able to pay fees to attend school.
Between 1976 and 2010 the Friends of Waldorf Education have supported 684 Waldorf initiatives with a total of € 66.8 million. This sum has been raised by private donors, foundations and the public sector (especially by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development).
The Friends of Waldorf Education are not a foundation and therefore do not pile up money. Instead the association forwards donations and thus serves in a sense as a “donation bank”. In all the years the Friends of Waldorf Education have always paid attention to not only support schools and kindergartens, but also curative education facilities, initiatives for social work and the training of its teachers and social workers. Obviously throughout the geographic scope has increased significantly. Starting out in Western Europe and the United States the Friends support has grown with the Waldorf movement to include initiatives in South America and Africa, as well as facilities in Eastern Europe and Asia.
To date, the Friends of Waldorf Education have managed to comply to their core principle of separating funds for administrative tasks and donations received to help the worldwide Waldorf movement. All project related donations are directly forwarded without deduction at 100%. This happens thanks to the loyalty of its members, including many Waldorf schools in Germany. Whenever there is an urgent need, the Friends are looking for people and institutions willing want to help and donate. Unlike a foundation the association has no money available itself but it can help by raising awareness and willingness to help thus creating a movement of many individuals that are willing to wholeheartedly support the cause.
One milestone in the development of the Friends of Waldorf Education was certainly the invitation from UNESCO, to attend the International Conference on Education in 1994 in Geneva. There the Friends presented Waldorf Education with a major exhibition and also released its publication “Waldorf Education”, available in 17 languages. As a result of the cooperation with UNESCO, in May 2001 the Friends of Waldorf Education became part of the associations that maintain official relations with UNESCO during the 161st recorded meeting of the Executive Board of UNESCO. Another milestone was the 30st anniversary in 2001 for which the Friends of Waldorf Education have endowed the worldwide Waldorf school movement with the publication of a commemorative print issue "Waldorf Education worldwide", which provides a country by country overview of the development of Waldorf education and Anthroposophical curative education. Today, the Friends provide and update this information on this website under “Waldorf Worldwide”.
Since 1993, the office in Karlsruhe organizes and manages international voluntary services and thus far has provided volunteering opportunities to more than 25,000 people in more than 350 projects in more than 60 countries. Since 2006, as one of the few organizations in Germany, the Friends of Waldorf Education facilitate 12-month incoming voluntary service for volunteers from abroad in Anthroposophical institutions in Germany. This domestic program is now also open to domestic volunteers as part of the new Federal Volunteer Service introduced in 2011 as a substitute for the so-called civil service. Overall, the Friends of Waldorf Education now serve about 1,500 volunteers per year and are one of the largest international organizations for volunteer services.
WOW-Day is a campaign for students organised by the Friends of Waldorf Education since 1994. For one day per year an ever-increasing number of Waldorf students from Germany and around the globe work and donate their earnings to support partner schools and kindergartens in poorer regions of the world. In 2010 alone, the campaign raised almost € 320 thousand that were directly forwarded to projects in need of support. In addition to doing good, the campaign promotes the growing awareness of the worldwide Waldorf movement.
In 2006, the Friends added another field of work. The emergency education program aims to support children, who suffer under the senseless violence of war or have encountered the devastating power of nature. To date, 25 operations were conducted in war zones or areas affected by natural disasters. Even after 40 years, the Friends are committed to the serve Waldorf education. As long as it is necessary the association will continue to work to ensure that children will be given a real chance to education and grow up in conditions that value their dignity.