© Patrick Rohr

Cooperation for Impact

© Patrick Rohr

Thanks to cooperation with local companies, more than 7,000 trail bridges in Nepal now shorten the routes to schools, markets and hospitals. Foundations are making it possible for young girls in Ethiopia to access vocational training opportunities. In Guatemala, associations of local authorities are improving drinking water provision. Partnerships are vital for development cooperation – and central to Helvetas’ work.

Global Partnership for Global Challenges

When the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda in September 2015, it seemed as if the world was coming closer together: for the first time in history, there was a global consensus on what people understand as “sustainable development”. While development goals 1 to 16 set out what we want to achieve, the last goal, number 17, is different: it calls on everyone – governments, civil society and the private sector – to create “partnerships to achieve the Goals”. Because it is in partnership that everyone unites: only when all parties meet their responsibilities and make their contribution to solving problems can the ambitious but urgently needed development goals be achieved.

Partnership is part of Helvetas’ DNA

Cooperation has been part of Helvetas’ DNA since its foundation. One of our fundamental values placed prominently in our Mission Statement is that “our engagement is based on solidarity and partnership”. Whether this is combating the effects of climate change in Peru or advocating for better representation of women in political offices in Bangladesh, sustainable development can only happen if we join forces with others. A single – not to mention foreign – organisation has neither the necessary contextual and country-specific knowledge, nor the network, credibility or resources to achieve goals like these in a country alone. That is why Helvetas has been working with partner organisations in all programme countries for over 60 years. Looking back – and forwards – it is clear that the mechanisms of cooperation, the type of partners and the role which Helvetas itself plays are constantly changing and will continue to change. We currently work with over 600 local partners in 29 countries – more than ever before! We are also closely involved in national and international networks, and foster intensive cooperation with Swiss NGOs, expert organisations, institutional donors and foundations.

© Flurina Rothenberger
In Nepal many suspension bridges were built thanks to good cooperation with local specialists © Flurina Rothenberger

Complex world – complex cooperation

In the early days of development cooperation, the focus was on knowledge and technology transfer. The aim was to train local experts and build infrastructure. In the 1980s, government institutions were reinforced and the establishment of civil society organisations was encouraged. With the growing complexity of the challenges in the 1990s, cooperation also became more varied. The private sector emerged on the scene as a stakeholder. This required a change of mindset, namely the realisation that private companies are vital for sustainable development, since they bring in investment and create jobs. The so-called ‘multi-stakeholder approach’ gained traction: that is why, in our projects, we involve all those who have something to contribute to the resolution of a problem.

Partners lead the way

Today, Helvetas relies on institutionally strong, experienced partner organisations in the programme countries. They have their own visions and plans for the future of their society. They, not we, are increasingly taking the lead in development processes. And this is also ultimately in line with our goal of enabling people to advance the development of their country and region with self-determination and the support of local institutions. For Helvetas, this means another role change. On the one hand, specific expertise is still in demand: for example, to develop sustainable food systems or practically oriented educational opportunities. On the other hand, we support political processes and promote networking between stakeholders, both vertically between municipalities and national decision-makers, and horizontally between government, civil society and the private sector.

New forms of cooperation are also changing us as an organisation: we invest in the competency development of our local teams in the programme countries, as well as in the capacity development of our partners. We seek new partners who optimally complement our competencies so that we can overcome challenges quickly and constructively. IT companies, for example, are integrating Helvetas’ manuals for sustainable agricultural production into existing apps, which are enabling thousands of farmers in Nepal to safeguard their harvests despite climate change. Another example: diaspora groups in Switzerland are investing in start-ups in Eastern Europe that are supported by Helvetas. What is crucial in every case is that we develop innovative models of cooperation that enable all stakeholders to contribute their particular knowledge and resources in order to confront global challenges. Thanks precisely to Helvetas’ often long-standing presence in partner countries, we are the first point of contact when it comes to tackling new challenges.

Cooperation for Impact: 3 examples

From council to ministry

Helvetas has for a long time been providing support to municipalities going through the process of decentralisation, as Swiss federalism has long been, and continues to be, a model and inspiration to many countries: for example, Helvetas has supported the development of the necessary structures and services in cooperation with municipal authorities and the local population enabling them to build, maintain and administer local infrastructure, such as water provision. To this day, decentralisation remains at the top of the agenda, even in some cases at national level. In 2018, the government of Bhutan asked Helvetas for its help in developing a national decentralisation strategy.

Paving the way to employment with practice and good training 

The multi-stakeholder approach has produced astonishing results in the vocational skills development sector: in Nepal, Myanmar and Ethiopia, practical training opportunities have been created for young people. Combined with apprentiships – based on Switzerland’s dual education system – young people are given the opportunity to enter secure, better paid jobs. The success of the initiative can in part be attributed to the collaboration with local companies, who have a say in terms of the type of employees they require.

Dialogue between government and the governed

The empowerment of civil society is a cornerstones of Helvetas’ work. Often, this began with the support of community-based committees and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The more complex the structures became, the more important dialogue and the development of joint campaigns became to allow civil society to bring political and social concerns into policy dialogue and with broad-based support. In Myanmar, where civil society organisations still have limited space, Helvetas supports NGO networks so that individual organisations or people are not forced to stand alone, but instead have the opportunity to act as a spokesperson for the many.


Annual reports, thematic publications and a lot more

Our Vision and Mission

Our vision is of a just world in which all men and women determine the course of their lives in dignity and security, using environmental resources in a sustainable manner.


Sustainable development only works within the right policy framework. Helvetas advocates for dialog with political decision-makers.