Current Concerns: How long has the SDC already been engaged in vocational training matters?
Ambassador Maya Tissafi: The SDC has been doing that for 50 years, but I have to say that in the earlier years we have launched and implemented only rather selectively individual vocational training projects. In recent years, we have intensified the engagement, but now we work more at the system level.
What does that mean?
We tackle things on a greater scale. We work together with the governments and with the private sector and help them to establish a national vocational training system in each country.
How does the SDC proceed when it engages in a country on the issue of vocational training?
This is very different from country to country. We get involved in this issue particularly in countries where we are already present on site. This means that we know the situation there very well. In addition, it depends on the demand of the local businesses and industries where skilled workers are missing. On the other hand the impulse also comes from the government, knowing that it has to do something to provide its youth with more opportunities to compete on the labour market. Often, however, the SDC is taking the initiative itself. Then we discuss with the particular government what Switzerland can accomplish in the country, and contribute by introducing the vocational training in the discussion. We have a lot of know-how and a lot of experience in this field and can provide assistance that goes far beyond vocational training.
How do the states react to the SDC’s proposals?
In many states we have to use a lot of time on explaining the Swiss vocational training system. They often ask if it is absolutely necessary for such professions to get a training. It is clear to them that it takes a university education for academic professions. Concerning other professions they often have the idea that one might just start working. If we include the private sector in these discussions, the government representatives hear industry representatives saying that skilled workers are missing and are needed urgently. Then they often realize the necessity. Sometimes a project is developed on the basis of a specific analysis. In Honduras we have seen, for example, that steps should be taken urgently, especially in districts where violence is a particular problem. There we have launched a pilot project without involving the government from the outset in detail. Two years later, we were able to present very good results, which finally convinced government representatives to contribute and to consider our focus on adolescents at-risk more strongly in their education system.
How do we have to imagine that? Does the SDC itself establish a craft business or anything similar there or do you work together with local firms?
The SDC does not establish businesses itself. A project may develop, as for example in Myanmar, where a small Swiss NGO established a vocational school. We found the project interesting, and so the SDC is now helping to introduce on a national level what the NGO tries to build there. We always work through other organizations. This may also be a local operation, such as a leather processing plant in Bangladesh that we begin to support. When we later have the results, we inform the government. The SDC is always working via existing structures.
Are these professions then accepted by other firms, or are there endeavours to that effect?
The aim is, first, that the professions are widely accepted and, second, that they get a certification. This means that the formation of those who could, for example in Katmandu in Nepal, finish an apprenticeship, should be accepted elsewhere, say after moving to another place, so that the efforts to finish an education, were not in vain. This often affects women who move to another village after their marriage. The certification is one of the long-term goals. This also shows that development aid only has a value if it is long-term. It is not a matter of realizing small projects in the short term, but long-term projects with the goal of sustainability, which in this case includes the recognition of training.
By which criteria will the countries be selected?
In countries in which we operate, the fields of application vary greatly. In development cooperation in the narrower sense we have defined priority countries. In these focus countries, we are often engaged for more than 20, 30 years. Of course, time after time new ones are added. In some countries we ended the cooperation, such as in Vietnam or in South Africa, because they have made great progress and no longer need our support to the same extent. Instead, Myanmar was added. Fundamental and long-term commitment depends on how big the poverty in a country is, how big the gap is between rich and poor, how high the degree of fragility, etc. These are the criteria for development cooperation. Concerning humanitarian aid very different aspects are crucial. If a disaster has happened, then there is the question of salvation, the food situation, medical care, etc. The help there is focused only on short term.
What is the reaction of the countries that have experienced this support and who have been helped successfully for years?
We know the impact because we actively seek to get a reaction in annual meetings with governments. Here, of course, various questions are open: Are we on the right track? Do we have to adjust the alignment? What experience can be transferred from the success in one country to another country? We also hear when something went well. This is significant for us. These annual reports are very important. Every year we make internal evaluations to share the experience that has been made within the projects. Where were the mistakes we could avoid or where could we still expand help to a certain extent? Our objective is to make a most efficient work that is oriented to the needs of the people.
Madam Ambassador Tissafi, many thanks for the interview. •
(Interview Thomas Kaiser)
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