PAEFE | © Helvetas / Stephane Brabant

Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)

© Helvetas / Stephane Brabant

The SDC is the Swiss federal government’s agency for development cooperation. It is Helvetas’s largest funder and has been an important partner of the organisation for 60 years. The SDC provides a programme contribution to support Helvetas projects that require additional funding through donations. In addition, Helvetas implements a range of mandated projects for the federal government, which the organisation gained through competitive tender.

  • (Project and) programme contributions: 10.3 million(2020)
  • Mandates: 58.7 million (2020)
  • Cooperation since: 1960
  • Category: state organisation (Switzerland)

The SDC has been working with Helvetas ever since the agency was established in the early 1960s. Founded in 1955, Helvetas (which was still called SHAG, the Swiss Overseas Relief Agency, at the time ran its first dairy projects in Nepal. These efforts were made possible by funding from the Technical Cooperation Service (now the SDC) and private donations. In partnership, the two organisations have since implemented hundreds of projects, helping millions of people to improve their lives

This partnership now encompasses about two dozen countries and covers almost every field of development cooperation and humanitarian aid. Quite a lot has changed since the early days of Switzerland’s efforts in favour of the global South. Back then, aid workers built wells with their own hands, whereas nowadays the emphasis is on empowerment – building the capacity of local authorities and communities to establish and maintain their water supplies themselves.

The SDC has two main funding instruments to cooperate with private aid organisations:

  • A programme contribution to the NGO’s own programme can be spent freely on specific projects and countries in line with fixed criteria. This instrument allows the SDC to fund a maximum of 30% of the programme costs of any individual organisation, meaning that Helvetas needs to raise twice as much (70%) in donations and funding from foundations and other sources to be able to implement its programme. In other words: every franc donated is matched by 50 cents from the federal government. This multiplier effect is a strong incentive for private donors to join the SDC in making a commitment to a Helvetas project. The SDC’s scrutiny also gives private donors an extra guarantee that their donations and contributions are put to the best possible use.

  • Mandates are generally contracts for defined projects and assignments that are allocated after an international call for tender. They include conventional development projects planned and implemented by the organisation as well as advisory services (e.g. evaluations of other projects) and events such as conferences on specific topics.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation implements the Federal Council's foreign policy on humanitarian aid, development cooperation and cooperation with Eastern Europe and at multilateral level. The SDC focuses its activities on reducing poverty and distress, as well as curbing global risks. It also aims to preserve natural resources for future generations. The SDC prioritises fragile and conflict-affected regions, where up to two-thirds of the world's poor will be living by 2030.