“Communication” was the key message at this year’s annual general meeting of Britain’s Federation of Swiss Societies (Fossuk), which had a strong focus on encouraging more dialogue between the 28 Swiss clubs scattered around the country.
During a packed day of activities and presentations at the Swiss Church in London on Saturday, Fossuk launched a new interactive and user-friendly website. A morning workshop demonstrated the benefits of the social media platform, SwissCommunity and participants were given an insight into how expats living in France actively and successfully come together to share experiences.
Ariane Rustichelli, head of communications and marketing for the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA), kicked off the day with an introduction to SwissCommunity.
Just a few weeks shy of celebrating its second anniversary, Switzerland’s global online community has 12,000 active members, a figure that is expected to increase substantially by the end of the year.
It would seem the Swiss social network site has captured the imagination of the expat community. Rustichelli, the brains behind the site, was keen to encourage Swiss clubs in Britain to use its success as an additional tool to promote their own organisations and activities, as well as to generate new club members.
“In Marseille, I was approached by an elderly club president who wasn’t particularly computer literate, but who had decided to link up his club with SwissCommunity,” Rustichelli told swissinfo.ch.
“Every week he kept an eye on what was happening online, especially around Marseille. On several occasions he made contact with recently arrived Swiss to the area, making them aware of upcoming events and after only a few weeks he had a handful of new members.”
Rustichelli went on to stress the importance of keeping SwissCommunity members actively involved and engaged, given that in the age of social networking giants like Facebook and LinkedIn competition is great.
“This means constantly promoting forums and discussion groups, as well as generally keeping the pages of the website looking fresh,” she said.
Joining the dots
This was timely advice, as the meeting also saw the launch of a revised and interactive Fossuk website, which aims to be inclusive, lively and bring “a breath of fresh air” to its users, explained web designer Ané-Mari Peter.
“For years, clubs have appeared as individual dots on a map, where each organisation has done its own thing with little cohesion between them,” she said. “The purpose of the website really is to have one space, where people in Britain can come and see who is doing what and what is going on where.”
The new-look website will also serve as an information portal combining news from swissinfo.ch, as well as promoting SwissCommunity.
“It’s really just a platform, where we combine as much information as possible in one location to drive traffic and create a sense of the active community that we are,” Peter concluded.
These new developments have been tenaciously followed through by Fossuk president Margrit Lyster.
“The overall aim has been to bring a bit more life and dialogue to Fossuk,” she explained.
“Some clubs are struggling with membership numbers, others have followed the same agenda for decades. We need to be more creative and share ideas. We already share a lot of common ground. Let’s learn from each other’s experiences.”
Continuing with the theme of communication, OSA vice president Jean-Paul Aeschlimann, who is also the Swiss Honorary Consul in Montpellier, France, was on hand to offer personal advice on how an umbrella organisation like Fossuk could do more to capture the imagination of its members by being “bolder and more pro-active.”
“In France, it is common for the expat community to organise two- or even three-day gatherings with honorary consuls, club presidents and members actively involved in the event,” Aeschlimann explained.
Aeschlimann continued by describing the most recent trip to Clermont-Ferrand, a mountainous area in south central France where farming, and especially cheese production, is a main source of income for the local community.
“We compared this area of France with what we considered a similar region of Switzerland,” he explained.
“We then looked at how successfully foodstuffs were being produced in Clermont-Ferrand and compared this to production levels in Switzerland. We invited a number of Swiss cheese producers and tourist board officials to take part in this project, which led to them sitting with their French counterparts to discuss problems both regions were trying to overcome. We then all jointly tried to come up with solutions to the issues raised.”
At the end of this long day of talks and presentations, it was clear that all those attending the 47th Fossuk annual general meeting had plenty to mull over. The next endeavour must surely be communicating these new ideas with the wider community.
There are more than 700,000 Swiss citizens living outside Switzerland, with the majority in European Union countries. The second-largest expatriate community is in the United States.
The interests of the expat community are defended by the Bern-based Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA). Over 750 Swiss expatriates' associations and Swiss institutions abroad are affiliated to OSA.
Fossuk, is a voluntary, non-profit making, non-party political organisation of a co-coordinating and interactive nature.
Fossuk and its constituent societies, clubs and institutions, otherwise known as corporate members, operates within the general guidelines of the OSA.