Reflection Papers on Culture and Development (2020)

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) is a branch of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, tasked with contributing to human security and development, democracy and environmental protection. It administers Switzerland’s international aid budget—about $3 billion a year—and supports projects in Africa, Central and Southern Asia, parts of Latin America and Eastern Europe. Unusually among donor nations, Switzerland has made a firm commitment to culture, spending one per cent of its aid budget on artistic projects. It recognises culture’s importance in human relations and peace building, and the importance of cultural rights, including the right to participate freely in cultural life, in human dignity and development. It also places a distinctive emphasis on art’s potential in self-reflection and democratic processes:

‘Art holds a special position within a culture. While it is integral to a culture, art can also place itself outside of a particular cultural context to question cultural norms. Artistic expression by individuals and communities has always encour- aged changes in perception with the capacity to set them in motion. This creates an environment favourable to reflection, self-criticism and discussion, which promotes diversity of opinion and social transformation.’

SDC Culture and Development Policy: An overview (2016)

Over the years, I’ve been lucky to see some of the projects SDC supports at first hand, in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where I’ve been commissioned to report on the work. I’ve met many of the gifted and courageous people who work for SDC in circumstances that are often difficult, and I’ve learned a great deal from them.

Following a reorganisation, SDC is more closely integrated into the Department of Foreign Affairs. To help officials with other responsibilities appreciate the importance of culture in development, I was asked to write a series of two-page introductions to issues such as cultural rights, freedom of expression, democratic participation, peacemaking, urbanisation, health and economic development among others. My knowledge in such fields is limited, but I was able to draw on the experience and expertise of SDC’s brilliant staff in Bolivia, Tanzania, Kyrgyzstan, Burkina Faso, Nicaragua, Moldova, Palestine and elsewhere. Each paper was written to stand alone, but they were also brought together in a booklet published by SDC in English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, that you can download using the links below.

Printed copies are available, in the same languages, from SDC – link