The Sustainable Development Goals will only succeed if everyone helps.

There will be a double-anniversary concert in Geneva’s Victoria Hall 13 March 2016 at 17:00, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1% for Development Fund and the fifth anniversary of the United Nations Orchestra with Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony and Brahms double concerto for violin and cello. To remind readers about the purpose of the 1% for Development Fund, initially created by UN staff but now open to all, Friedrich von Kirchbach explores how ordinary people can make a difference.

Geneva — The much-proclaimed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted on 25 September 2015 and probably represent the most ambitious development programme in human history.   Their success, however, will remain elusive unless everyone chips in. What can we, as individuals living in the Geneva area, do to support this historical agenda?

Geneva is not only the hub of leading international organizations, but also a global centre of private development assistance, and home to a large number of associations and foundations dedicated to overcoming poverty in its multiple manifestations.  Private development assistance has grown particularly fast in recent years, and now represents with annual expenditures of approximately $50n billion a year about one third of official development assistance.

So what can we learn from these initiatives? The experience of the 1% for Development Fund holds some interesting lessons.  Set up by UN staffers in 1976, it encourages people to live on 99% of their income and to contribute about 1% of their revenues to member-selected development projects.    The 1% Fund exists in a number of UN duty stations, including Geneva, London, New York, Rome, and Vienna.  For many of its members, 1% of their daily income is more than what over a billion people live on per day. It is also about as much as the cost of one’s daily cup of coffee or tea.

The Fund co-finances small-scale projects and community initiatives in developing countries proposed by local not-for-profit associations. A great deal of support has been given to build schools and medical infrastructure, but also projects that enhance access to water or assist small cooperatives to improve their production.

As the Fund is fully administered by its members, 100% of what is raised is passed on to the beneficiaries. Over the past decades, members have been able to finance some 750 projects in nearly 80 countries totalling a combined investment of over 7 million CHF. This makes the Fund, which is registered as a non-profit in Geneva, the largest development initiative of UN staff. Membership is now open to anyone wishing to join, whether in the public or private sector.

The most important lesson is the difference as little as 10,000 CHF can make as long as projects are well-targeted.   Here are three examples:

  1. In Bolivia, over 80% of children and two thirds of women are affected by domestic violence. To provide a safe-haven for some of these victims, Voix Libres Suisse purchased a refuge house of 240 m2. The 1% Fund provided equipment and furniture for the refuge house: four solar ovens, tables, chairs, benches, bunk beds, shelves, desks, cabinets, etc. Most of the items are produced by the carpentry workshop run by women in the shelter. The shelter is easily accessible to victims and facilitates collaboration with judicial institutions, the municipality and the police.
  1. In a recent project, the 1% Fund (in cooperation with the Geneva-based Graine de Baobab Association) provided the funds to generate solar electricity in a maternity ward in Bané in Eastern Burkina Faso. In the past, complications during night deliveries were often not properly treated simply because of the lack of light. The installation of a solar-powered lighting system is now saving lives of mothers and babies. An arrangement with the committee of the maternity ward ensures the maintenance and sustainability of the lighting system.
  1. In the Howrah District of West Bengal in India, the 1% Fund helped local organization Itarai Asha Deep (IAD) to construct a flood-resistant community center that assists the Organization to hold their health care and health educational activities including assisting self-help women groups for their training programmes and nursery school. A success story that improved lives in five villages with more than 6000 direct beneficiaries.

The message is clear: helping ordinary citizens can make a difference.

Friedrich von Kirchback is President of the 1% for Development Fund and is based in the Lake Geneva region.

For more information on the 1% Fund for Development: www.onepercentfund.net, or contact info@onepercentfund.net.   Or look for other at the Fédération genevoise de cooperation (http://fgc.federeso.ch).

 Tickets for the Double-Anniverary Concert at Geneva’s Victoria Hall: 13 March 2016 at 17:00 celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1% for Development Fund and the fifth anniversary of the United Nations Orchestra with Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony and Brahms double concerto for violin and cello.  Tickets are available at Maison des art du Grütli, Tel. 022 –4183618 or on-line: billetterie-culture@ville-ge.ch .