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Where is SolidarMed heading?

10.06.2022

SolidarMed is 96 years old – a considerable age. Nevertheless, the organisation grows every year and continues to develop. Time to ask an important question: Where is it heading?

General Assemblies are an ideal moment to take a look at the past and the future. This year's meeting on 20 May revolved around the question of where SolidarMed is heading as an organisation and what challenges it has to face. Photo: Mery Hyöki

General meetings provide an ideal opportunity to take a look at the past and future of an organisation. An all-round view that a single fundraising letter or article in the members' magazine cannot provide. Those who were not present at this year's SolidarMed general meeting on 20 May - after all, it was the first heat day of the year - can find out here about the current overview of SolidarMed. It revolves around the question of where the organisation, now 96 years old, is heading. It shows that SolidarMed is not reinventing itself, but the organisation still has good ideas despite its many journeys around the sun.

Preserving the old

In some respects, SolidarMed wants to preserve the old. The organisation has been concentrating on the same four core areas for many years - and wants to keep it that way. Ilse van Roy, head of SolidarMed's programmes, reminded the participants of the General Meeting what these are: The first core area is strengthening health care and prevention in the villages by working together with village health workers. The second core area is the education and training of health workers to counteract the lack of well-qualified staff in rural regions. The third area is the strengthening of medical facilities, for example by repairing equipment or building operating theatres. And fourthly, SolidarMed always wants to know how successful the projects are and publishes the results.

The tradition is also preserved of getting involved where others leave. It is almost always the most remote and rural areas of the respective countries where SolidarMed gets involved. This has shown: The fact that the organisation has been working with the same partners, health facilities and authorities for many years is highly appreciated by them.

SolidarMed has been focusing on the same four core areas for many years - and wants to keep it that way. The first area is strengthening healthcare and prevention in the villages by working with village health workers.

The second core area of SolidarMed is the education and training of health workers to counteract the lack of well-qualified staff in rural regions.

The third core area of SolidarMed is strengthening medical facilities, for example by repairing equipment or building operating theatres. 

The fourth core area of SolidarMed is measuring impact: SolidarMed always knows how successful the projects are and publishes the results.

Move with the times

But SolidarMed is also changing, as President Niklaus Labhardt pointed out at the General Meeting. It is not only SolidarMed that is getting older, but also the people in the partner countries. As a result, chronic, non-communicable diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and mental illnesses are on the rise. But in many places there is a lack of prevention and treatment options. Therefore, these diseases are increasingly becoming the focus of SolidarMeds projects. Digital approaches using apps or text messages simplify diagnoses and save people the repeated long journey to the health centre.

SolidarMed also wants to move with the times in terms of internal structures, as Niklaus Labhardt emphasised. For example, the decolonisation of development cooperation remains an issue for SolidarMed too. The question arises: how much decision-making power should the partner countries have, and how much should be controlled from Switzerland? Niklaus Labhardt said at the general meeting: "As long as most of the donors come from Switzerland, the office in Lucerne will remain an important mediator between North and South". However, the process of decentralising the development of projects has already begun. The country coordinators of SolidarMed, who also took part in the general meeting, bear witness to this. Unlike in the past, most of them come from the countries themselves and are not European expats. Nevertheless, the process is not yet complete and will occupy SolidarMed for several years to come.

The decolonisation of development cooperation remains an issue for SolidarMed too. For example, it is important to give the country offices in the South more decision-making power. Photo: Olivier Brandenberg

Defying the challenges

So far it shows: SolidarMed may be old, but it is only rigid where it has proven itself. In parallel, there are areas that deserve more attention and those where decision-making power is increasingly to be handed over to other people. At the same time, the organisation is not in a vacuum. The environment is constantly evolving, the political situation has been anything but easy, especially in the last two years, as Executive Director Jochen Ehmer emphasised. He recalled that the health systems of the partner countries continue to be weakened by the Covid 19 pandemic, that political instability has increased in many places, that at the same time the population continues to grow and that climate change is increasingly leading to devastating droughts and floods. The situation in the partner countries is correspondingly complex, volatile and uncertain.

The political situation has been anything but easy, especially in the last two years, emphasised Director Jochen Ehmer at the General Meeting. This makes it all the more important to see the successes, both large and small. Photo: Olivier Brandenberg

So it is all the more important to remain hopeful and positive. According to Jochen Ehmer, this can be done by seeing and acknowledging the successes, both large and small. He emphasised that child mortality has more than halved since 1990 and that 75 % of all people infected with HIV now have access to medication. And there are also successes on a small scale: for example, SolidarMed inaugurated a new operating theatre in northern Mozambique last year. The fact that it could be built and opened despite the precarious political situation there is very gratifying. And sometimes even a relatively small contribution is enough to make a big difference, as Head of International Programmes Ilse van Roy mentioned. Last year, for example, SolidarMed was able to build new staff flats, renovate and electrify the mother waiting room, build sanitary facilities and a waiting area for patients at the health centre in Samu in Zimbabwe with only CHF 50,000.

Alone is not possible

Neither in the past nor in the future can SolidarMed attribute such merits to itself alone. This came to light at various points during the General Meeting. In addition to the 80 or so participants at the meeting, around 10,000 other private individuals supported SolidarMed last year. In addition, there were 53 foundations and 29 cantons, cities or municipalities. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation SDC continues to support the organisation with its programme contribution; it provides about one third of all contributions.

Regardless of where SolidarMed moves, the organisation does not do so without accompaniment and support. Ruth Ospelt-Niepelt had been on the Board since 2013. As Vice-President, she was a great support to President Niklaus Labhardt, also with her important connections in Liechtenstein. Gregor Stadler was a sub-assistant in Zimbabwe for just over a year from 2006 and then on the Board from 2013. He actively contributed his experience as a practitioner to the Board. Markus Frei has already served a second term on the board, first from 1991 and most recently since 2016. He has strongly influenced the changes in SolidarMed's development cooperation over the last 40 years (see Focus May issue). The three did not stand for re-election at the General Meeting. President Niklaus Labhardt thanked them warmly for their many years of effective service and presented them with gifts and flowers.

Three board members were bidden farewell at the General Meeting. Ruth Ospelt-Niepelt had served as Vice-President since 2013 and was a great support to President Niklaus Labhardt, also with her important connections in Liechtenstein. Photo: Olivier Brandenberg

Gregor Stadler was a sub-assistant in Zimbabwe in 2006 and joined the board in 2013. He has actively contributed his experience as a practitioner. Photo: Olivier Brandenberg

Markus Frei has already completed a second term on the board, first from 1991 and most recently since 2016. He has had a strong influence on the changes in SolidarMed's development cooperation over the last 40 years (see Focus May issue). Photo: Olivier Brandenberg

And now?

In four years, SolidarMed will celebrate its centenary. It will be an opportunity to take an even bigger panoramic view and to discuss more intensively where to go. Anyone who would like to get in touch with SolidarMed beforehand is cordially invited to this year's summer fest.

 

The summer fest will take place on Saturday afternoon, 10 September 2022 in the garden of the office at Obergrundstrasse 97 in Lucerne. Further information will follow at solidarmed.ch/events.