Volker Eick, what did you learn from this research?
Volker Eick: SWISSAID has always emphasized that it provides support to people who want to change their situation themselves. As early as 1950 – i.e. very early on – we were talking about “helping people to help themselves”. Today, the guideline is: “We support, sustain and accompany the efforts of our partners until their own ideas become reality.” This is a very powerful concept.
What has SWISSAID achieved?
I was impressed by the fact that in 1981 SWISSAID was the first Swiss NGO to create a position dedicated to gender, and that it closed this position just as decisively when SWISSAID realised that “this is not the way to achieve our goal. We have to take other paths”. That can be tedious, but that is how work is sometimes. Recognising it as such is the first important achievement.
In recent times, the clear shift towards agroecology is evident. This is a core competence of SWISSAID, developed and deepened over the years. This makes sense, because SWISSAID has been focusing on sustainable cultivation in its partner countries since the 1980s, using natural fertilizers, local and varied seeds, and regional sales channels.
Do you think SWISSAID has had any failures?
Well, you know, failure is a big word… But then again, if you insist: going to Vietnam in 1968, i.e. joining a bit of the resistance against the entire US military including Napalm & Co., that sounds – at least from today’s point of view – like “failure by default”. In 1970, SWISSAID also realized this.
Volker Eick is a political scientist and (co-)author of the SWISSAID commemorative publication. He has delved into the past 25 years of SWISSAID and has come up with a compendium of anecdotes, historical stories and political developments.
Why does it make sense to look at the past?
It is useful to know where you come from, because it helps you to find your way and to check whether you are on the right track – and whether you were in the past.
What do you wish SWISSAID on its anniversary?
Internally, above all, strength and confidence, even though there is unfortunately little reason to be confident at present. There are difficult years ahead. Years in which we will have to fight against unsympathetic politics in Switzerland, against profit-oriented conglomerates on a global scale, against corrupt and undemocratic regimes and autocrats in the project countries, against hunger and against the extinction of species. A Swiss government that would devote at least 0.7% of its gross national income to development cooperation, as the UN has been urging for ages, would not yet be a breakthrough, but it would be an effective first step. For me, however, the most important thing is not to let ourselves be diverted from our objectives!