Swisscontact: helping people to help themselves
Swisscontact is a Zurich-based non-governmental organization involved in social, economic and ecological development. Its aim is to create opportunities and to help people to help themselves by training and promoting small and medium enterprises.
When I took the train from Geneva to Zurich, my goal was to better understand the work of Swisscontact. With this in mind, I saw Claudia Ulrike Gminder, Head of Communications and former Project Manager of the Kosovo Women Initiative of Swisscontact and her colleague Walter Horn, Director for Asia and Eastern Europe.
Swisscontact aims to help locals improve their living conditions independently and escape from poverty. In addition, Swisscontact is dedicated to minimizing environmental impact through tackling issues such as improving air quality, waste treatment and recycling; introducing sustainable technology; running awareness campaigns and providing consulting services to government.
First of all, let’s look at the organization’s history.
Members of the Swiss private sector, academia and politics decided to found Swisscontact in 1959. In the preceding years, several initiatives had been started to increase the private promotion and development of countries outside Europe. As awareness increased, a joint effort was needed and as a result, the founders of Swisscontact motivated the Swiss private sector to finance training institutions and workshops in underdeveloped countries.
At the Swiss Liberal Party Congress of 14 January, 1956 Professor Jaques Freymond explained the political dimension of the problematic situation in underdeveloped countries and showed the importance of a small, neutral country like Switzerland in solving these problems. Theodor Waldesbuhl, General Director of Nestlé, discussed the economic importance of cooperating with underdeveloped countries while Professor Doctor R.F. Berhrendt focused on the importance of international development cooperation from the scientific point of view.
One of Swisscontact’s partners once said, “What excites me about the work of Swisscontact is the aspect of helping others to help themselves.” He added, “Vocational education and training provide many examples of how disadvantaged individuals can take control of their own lives for the long term.”
The first expert assignment took place in Nigeria in 1961, followed by projects in India and Benin in 1963.
Around 500 employees and more than 600 retired volunteers work for this organization in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe with the aim of moving towards sustainable social, economic and ecological development.
A project for women in Kosovo
In post-conflict Kosovo, unemployment was particularly high amongst women in the region of Dukagjini.
After the war, widows were the only income earners in many Kosovar families and were forced to become economically active. However, the constraints in accessing skills and resources made and still make it difficult for women to find employment or establish their own business. In order to improve their economic situation, women need tailored encouragement and support to move away from the culturally dictated traditional low-growth and low-profit sectors and enter more dynamic and promising sectors that open up better economic opportunities.
The Women Business Development Project (WBDP) in Kosovo was a project implemented from 2001 to 2008 on behalf of the Swiss Government in collaboration with Swisscontact. The project was designed to increase the effective participation of women and to provide them with opportunities to earn an income. While at the beginning, the project’s main focus was on establishing small-medium enterprises, it later put the emphasis on innovative training for women in order to integrate them into the market. By the end of the project in 2008, almost half of the 500 women who had been trained were in active employment.
For Ms. Gminder, to ensure that women gain from these projects, they should not only hold positions of responsibility in their management, but also be involved in their planning from the beginning. Thanks to programs like the Women Business Development Project in the Dukagjini Region, some women have emerged as small entrepreneurs, thus succeeding in improving their economic situation.
The Training Institute for Technical Instruction in Nepal
Although in the early 90s there were already nearly a dozen professional schools in Nepal, there was no appropriate teacher training. Consequently, there was a shortage of qualified personnel for vocational schools and the quality of much of the professional training did not meet the requirements of the economy. The result was that many vacant jobs in mainly urban areas were filled by migrant workers, mostly from India, leaving many Nepalese graduates unemployed.
In order to overcome this, the Training Institute for Technical Instruction (TITI) was established as a Nepalese national institute in 1991. It provides training for trainers, technical instructors, managers and occupational curriculum development specialists through regular programs and modules or through customized training courses. More than 5000 people have gained from their instruction. The high quality, unique training material used in their modules has been adopted by numerous countries in Asia and worldwide. This lead to the Institute being honoured in 2006 by the Indian Society for Training and Development for its innovative training practices. Swisscontact provided support to build the infrastructure, established the curricula and provided teacher and manager training. The project support to TITI ended in 2009.
These examples demonstrate that one of the most effective ways to fight poverty is to provide opportunities which give others the opportunity to succeed. Consequently, Swisscontact has the objective of seeking to reduce poverty by helping people to be responsible for improving their own quality of life. Swisscontact does this by encouraging the spread of the private economy, contributing to the improvement of basic conditions, strengthening private economic structures and by achieving durable solutions. Thanks to the financial participation of local partners, Swisscontact has the opportunity to achieve these goals.
Swisscontact is not only active in Nepal and Kosovo. Amongst others, it is also involved in projects in East Africa in micro-finance; in Burkina Faso in training professionals; in Indonesia in economic development; and in Bolivia in managing clinical waste. At the end of 2011, the Swiss organization was involved in 90 active projects in 25 countries.