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Development Cooperation in Change

Swisscontact’s project work has evolved somewhat over the past 60 years. Initially, skills were transferred from Switzerland. This was before the Foundation changed its approach by using local resources instead. This becomes apparent when we compare our work in the initial period with our current projects. Nonetheless, the principle for Swisscontact’s success remains the same – projects are always market-focused. Here, we compare our work in India and Benin then and Albania and Bangladesh today.

India 1962

Lathes, files, saws, all the required technology and tools as well as three instructors were sent from Switzerland to Chandigarh. The training facility inaugurated by India’s Prime Minister as the time, Jawaharlal Nehru, was based on the long-standing Swiss vocational school model.


The idea was to use Switzerland’s first-class reputation in precision engineering to drive industrialisation in India, as the country was lacking these technicians. The 36 trainees in the first course were selected from 1,400 applicants. After completing three years of training at the Indo-Swiss Training Centre, their paths were laid out as qualified headmen and foremen in precision engineering and in the manufacturing of precision tools.

Ensuring successful entry into professional life, Albania

Albania 2019

Until recently, vocational school graduates in Albania did not have it easy. Vocational training in this Balkan country was considered unattractive and subsequent entry into professional life proved difficult. This is where Swisscontact’s Skills for Development Project came in; in partnership with selected Albanian schools and local businesses, new teaching methods are being developed and introduced.

Close collaboration with companies in the tourism, IT, communications, textiles and construction sectors ensures that the skills being taught are exactly what is needed in practice. This exchange with established companies facilitates practical training and internships, ultimately resulting in employment opportunities.
Digital technology makes for an accessible and attractive learning environment. Smart phones and social media make it easier to keep course contents current and to implement pedagogic approaches that are customised to the needs of the professional world and to those of the young generation.

A comparison of the above two examples reveals that development cooperation has evolved significantly. In the early years, Swiss experts transferred their skills during multi-year projects, whereas today projects rely mostly on local know-how, with external experts brought in only for short-term, specific tasks. Thanks to the empowerment and strengthening of local actors in our partner countries, we have been able to solidify projects more effectively at local level.

Swiss Braunvieh Cows for West Africa

Benin 1963

In the 1960s, industrialisation also promised economic development in agriculture; here too, Swiss know-how was to be applied. In southern Dahomey, now Benin, Swisscontact supported the establishment of an agricultural training school. The foundation financed the construction of the school as well as the equipment, and brought an agricultural engineer and three farmers in from Switzerland to provide the expertise and training. For its part, the government of Dahomey provided two hundred hectares of land.

 


In 1963, ten local students began their training and learned how to use mechanical tools to plant maize, cotton, and ground nuts. At the same time, a cattle and dairy operation began, which soon came to include a herd of Braunvieh brown cows, ten pregnant cows, and two bulls shipped from Switzerland. But the Swiss experience in the hill and mountain pastoral economy proved difficult to transfer to local condition. The cows did not tolerate the new environment well and it was only after cross-breeding with local breeds that we were able to raise animals more suited to the hot climate.

Ensuring smallholder farmers are included in development

Bangladesh 2019

Today Swisscontact relies largely on local resources. This is exemplified in the Katalyst Project in Bangladesh, which was launched in 2002 and ended in 2018. South Asian farmers have long been excluded from economic development, and large companies did not consider them as prospective clients. This had to change; together with smallholder farmers, the project analysed new business opportunities in fish farming and in crops such as maize and vegetables. To exploit these opportunities, numerous partnerships were built with suppliers, traders and various service providers, with Swisscontact acting as a facilitator between the farmers, SMEs and larger firms.

Working in economic systems

Today, this “inclusive markets” approach is a component of all Swisscontact’s project interventions. An example of this is a local mobile telephone company that was brought on board to create a helpline to enable smallholder farmers to stay abreast of agricultural technologies and learn how to protect their crops from disease. Another example is a seed developer enlisted to sell products in small, affordable seed packets for smallholder farmers.



Many such interventions during this project testify to it sustainably improving the living conditions for 4.7 million smallholder farmers and SMEs in Bangladesh.



Current projects in Albania and Bangladesh exemplify the systemic approach that Swisscontact implements today. Instead of supporting individual components alone, leverage is applied that changes entire systems. Swisscontact acts as the facilitator in this approach; instead of implementing activities directly, we bring local market actors together. This ensures that initiatives will continue to be implemented after Swisscontact exits the scene.

The key to our 60 years of success

Current projects in Albania and Bangladesh exemplify the systemic approach that Swisscontact implements today. Instead of supporting individual components alone, leverage is applied that changes entire systems. Swisscontact acts as the facilitator in this approach; instead of implementing activities directly, we bring local market actors together. This ensures that initiatives will continue to be implemented after Swisscontact exits the scene.

There is one thing has not changed in all of Swisscontact’s 60 years  – we continue to work within the market. Our work has always been about fostering entrepreneurship. Moreover, our partner countries contribute financially to projects. For example, in Chandigarh, our Indian partners provided land, buildings and operational costs. Partner countries have to contribute, and the importance of these contributions is reflected in the fact that 90% of all project employees in the field are locals.

These examples demonstrate another very important point: Swisscontact’s work is sustainable. Technicians are being trained in Chandigarh, India, and Benin to this day.

The archive photos on this website were kindly provided by the Archives of Contemporary History.

Swisscontact
Swiss Foundation for Technical Cooperation
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CH-8005 Zurich

Tel. +41 44 454 17 17
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