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development aid begins at the grassroots

Swiss development aid goes to a restricted number of countries, including Kyrgyzstan

(Keystone)

The strength of Swiss development aid lies in working with grassroots communities.

However, without substantial means at its disposal, assistance is about quality not quantity.

Just like the Chinese proverb, instead of giving a man a fish, Swiss aid teaches him to fish or better still to perfect his own fishing methods.

Development aid boomed after the Second World War when the task of helping the poverty-stricken passed from missionaries to non-governmental organisations and states.

In 1955 Switzerland's first private organisation for development co-operation was founded, an innovative idea during the post-war era when Europe was still rebuilding.

The pioneering NGO was Helvetas, which is today one of the largest in the country with about 600 employees, 150 projects in 22

countries and an annual budget of SFr60 million ($48.7 million).

Five years later in 1960, the Department of Technical Cooperation, predecessor of the modern-day Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), was born.

The Swiss government had already been giving foreign aid but mostly through United Nations' agencies.

Lukewarm

In 1961 the Swiss parliament, which had up until then been lukewarm to the idea, had a change of heart and voted to grant the new department a subsidy of SFr60 million over three years. The SDC's annual budget is now nearly SFr1.3 billion,

while the Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs spends around SFr170 million on funding sustainable economic development projects.

As part of the foreign ministry, the SDC adheres to official foreign policy.

It aims to combat poverty, promote democratic institutions and human rights and preserve natural resources while safeguarding national interests.

In 1976 development aid officially became development cooperation.

The change in the term was more than cosmetic since the SDC works at the grassroots level with local organisations, preferring to support

local initiatives and know-how.

"It's also a question of culture," said Bernard Weissbrodt, a former journalist who is familiar with development cooperation.

"The Swiss have decentralisation in the blood, unlike the French for example. The former always begins at the lowest level."

Regular evaluations

The SDC subjects the programmes it supports to regular and in-depth evaluations. And when it feels that the level of local competence is sufficient to carry out the work by itself, the SDC retreats.

The Swiss agency aims to recruit staff locally and use local

resources, which has been lauded by international institutions.

It "attracts the respect of its peers and contributes to the definition of international good practice in the field" said the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in its annual report.

The same document adds that the SDC rests on a healthy technical base and in competent hands.

In contrast, politicians often disagree when voting on the SDC's budget, ignoring a call by the UN for states to devote 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Product to development aid.

Switzerland's amounted to only 0.44 per cent in 2005, putting it no

higher than 11th among developed countries.

swissinfo, Marc-André Miserez

In brief

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) is the national agency for development aid. Their annual budget includes SFr300 million in humanitarian aid.

Together with the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco), the SDC helps about 30 countries mainly in Africa and Eastern Europe.

Some 400 Swiss NGOs of all sizes are active in development aid. The larger ones receive a part of their budget from either the SDC or Seco, which distributes more than SFr200 million to them annually.

end of infobox

Key facts

In 2005 Switzerland gave SFr2.206 billion to development aid.
The figure includes the budgets of the SDC or Seco, international peacekeeping missions, direct contributions to UN agencies and aid from cantons and communes.
Also included is the SFr178 million spent on asylum seekers and SFr279 million of cancelled debts of poor nations.

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