Switzerland: a firm friend on Ukraine’s path to sustainable development

November 30, 2020

The alpine nation is often synonymous with international cooperation

Photo: Shutterstock

Small and landlocked in the middle of Europe, Switzerland’s presence is often felt and appreciated around the world. Its generous development assistance programme is active in countries across four continents, working to reduce poverty and hardship, curb global risks, promote the rule of law, build peace and support development that preserves natural resources for future generations. We at UNDP in Ukraine are infinitely grateful for the support and immensely proud of the partnership we have had with them for many years. Small and landlocked in the middle of Europe, Switzerland’s presence is often felt and appreciated around the world,

The Confoederatio Helvetica (“Swiss Conferderation”), as it is officially known, is home to more than 200 international organizations, including the United Nations European headquarters, UN agencies and numerous NGOs, and is the world's largest hub of multilateral diplomacy, according to the Swiss Government website, myswitzerland.com. The international laws of war, set out in the four treaties of the Geneva Conventions, take their name from the famous Swiss city where they were negotiated and signed. Switzerland has a strong commitment to international cooperation and provide direct financial, logistical, technical, and humanitarian support to countries around the world.  These include nine priority countries through a programme of support to Eastern Europe.  Even though Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, it supports 13 “partner countries” through what it calls its “contribution to the enlarged EU.” It also provides up to $850 million (24 billion hryvnia) in assessed and voluntary contributions to the core budgets of the UN system, which includes many organizations active in Ukraine, such as UNDP, UNICEF, FAO and UN Women.

Switzerland has been a friend of Ukraine since the early 1990s when it first recognized the newly independent state.  Since then, its support has included a long list of bilateral and multilateral cooperation projects.  In 1997, the Switzerland and Ukraine signed a cooperation agreement, and three years later the Alpine nation opened its Swiss Cooperation Office in Ukraine to coordinate assistance programmes and today manages and disperses up to $30 million (about 840 million hryvnia) a year on projects and programmes to directly support Ukraine’s development.

In 2019, Switzerland graciously contributed $50 million to UNDP’s core operating budget, making it our seventh-largest core donor.  This contribution gives UNDP the flexibility to respond quickly to sudden crises and has been especially important in supporting UNDP’s global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The work of the Swiss Development Cooperation in Ukraine is closely aligned with ours at UNDP, and is concentrated in four priority areas of focus: 1) Peace, Protection and Democratic Institutions; 2) Sustainable Cities; 3) Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises and Competitiveness; and 4) Health.  SDC is a valued and valuable partner to UNDP’s work in conflict prevention and recovery, in particular in areas to improve insecurity and instability; improve access by disadvantaged groups to justice mechanisms; and efforts to restore effective and inclusive governance institutions in the aftermath of conflict or disasters.

Direct support to programmes in Ukraine

In addition to its contribution to our core budget, Switzerland also provided $49 million in support last year to what we call non-core funding – contributions that are tied to specific projects agreed to in advance.  In Ukraine, this non-core funding is supporting two very important UNDP projects: the $14.9 million Good Governance and Citizens Engagement for Justice, Security, Environmental Protection and Social Cohesion in eastern Ukraine Project, and the $2.6 million Strengthening Micro-, Small- and Medium-sized Enterprise Business Membership Organizations in Ukraine Project.

The crisis in the east of Ukraine had its roots in a number of factors that included poor governance, high unemployment and a lack of trust in local and central authorities. Switzerland, through its cooperation with and support for UNDP, is helping to address both the consequences and the causes of the conflict, thus helping the country to rebuild forward better, and to prevent further conflict.

The first project, with pooled funding of the governments of Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland, is promoting peace and stabilization in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts through supporting the development of capable, inclusive, responsive and accountable regional and local governments and service providers. Other benefits from this initiative include the expansion of effective community security, improved law enforcement, access to justice, and environmental protection services. It also has helped Ukraine respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, providing masks gloves and face shields, hand sanitizers, antiseptic, technical assistance and computer equipment, to police, fire-fighters, medics, legal aid centres and social workers across eastern Ukraine.

The second project is working to develop the organizational development, governance and operational management of Business Membership Organizations (BMOs) in Ukraine, helping them provide better development services to micro-, small- and medium-sized businesses. A key goal of the project, which is funded by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs in Switzerland, is to facilitate a professional public-private dialogue to improve the regulatory framework and overall business environment for small enterprises.  This area of support is especially important for Ukraine, where small businesses are the backbone of the country’s economy, providing jobs, security and livelihood for millions of people. 

Strategic partnership

As Ukraine grapples with its latest crisis – the spread of the COVID-19 virus – Switzerland is again proving a firm friend to the country. The pandemic has laid bare existing inequalities in Ukraine, such as gender and housing inequalities, and has exacerbated new ones like the digital divide. Through the projects it supports in Ukraine, Switzerland is already helping to address these challenges, and enabling the country to remerge stronger and more capable than before.

Switzerland’s international development priorities are perfectly aligned with UNDP’s three broad development contexts: eradicating poverty; structural transformations; and building resilience.  This has led to a long-lasting and strategic partnership to ensure that no one is left behind.  In this we at UNDP join the people and Government of Ukraine in expressing our sincere appreciation in Switzerland’s four official languages: Merci vielmal, merci beacoup, grazie mille and grazcha!