Over the past three years, more than 60 projects and over 100 activities have helped raise Switzerland’s profile among the American public.This content was published on December 27, 2003 - 13:47
The Presence Switzerland project, sponsored by the government to promote Switzerland in the United States, is now drawing to a close.
A vast network of contacts has been set up, and the alumni party in Washington has evolved into a major late-summer event attended by hundreds of people.
Although the project is ending, the US remains an important country for Presence Switzerland – an organization set up in 2000. Many of the activities initiated will be continued, especially in New York and Washington.
When Americans visit the Swiss Embassy in Washington they are surprised to see statues of a donkey and an elephant, symbols of the US Democratic and Republican parties, in the garden. These were part of an exhibition in Washington DC about two years ago.
Switzerland – represented by Presence Switzerland – was the only foreign country to take part in the event. At the end of the exhibition a collection was held to purchase the donkey and the elephant, created by two Swiss artists.
They have now come to symbolize the work that Presence Switzerland has done not only in Washington DC but throughout the country.
The list of projects the organisation was involved in is long and includes the Swiss Peaks cultural festival, a project which will continue in a reduced form, according to US programme organiser, Carlos Orga.
Gregory Fossedal's book "Direct democracy in Switzerland" was promoted at meetings and round tables. Presence Switzerland also organised exchanges for delegations.
"We focused on personal exchanges,” Orga told swissinfo. Over the three-year period, various delegations have visited Switzerland. These have included people active in the fields of politics, education, media, science and also a group of businesswomen and students.
Some 250-300 people have had a chance to get to know Switzerland directly and, above all, to understand how it functions and what its special characteristics are, Orga said.
Presence Switzerland has also developed an auxiliary contact network.
"Over 5,000 people now receive our bi-monthly newsletter," the retiring project manager said. His colleague will remain in the US until September 2004 to prepare to integrate the project into the embassy's programmes.
The other major success was the alumni meeting, which has been attended by hundreds of people over the past two years.
The event is held in the embassy garden and helps to consolidate contacts established through visits to Switzerland or other activities such as the setting up of an interest group between Swiss and American parliamentarians.
Orga also likes to recall minor projects. Presence Switzerland contributed to the translation of the Swiss children's classic, “Schellen-Ursli” (A Bell for Ursli). A group of Washington schoolchildren read the book and then performed the story as a play.
The fact that this three-year project is drawing to a close does not spell the end of Presence Switzerland's activities. Orga says the US will remain an important focus, and other projects will be realised, albeit with more modest financial resources.
There are plans to continue the Swiss Peak experience and to set up a Swiss centre in New Glarus.
Orga considers it important that projects be developed together with local partners, whether these be individuals, universities or other groups.
He insists that Presence Switzerland must continue to nurture the contacts built up over the past three years, to attract the interest of the American public and to continue to come up with surprises.
swissinfo, Anna Luisa Ferro Mäder in Washington
Presence Switzerland is an organisation of the Swiss government to promote the country abroad.
It was set up in 2000.
The Presence Switzerland US project is coming to an end after three years.
60 projects and 100 activities have been held in the US over the past three years to promote Switzerland.
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