«I was able to help the SDC become open to a global approach to development»

Article, 04.11.2013

The SDC vice-director and head of the Global Cooperation directorate takes stock of his career before assuming the vice-presidency of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in Rome on 1 December. He explains the strategic role of the global approach to development being integrated into the SDC, both as an actor and witness.

Michel Mordasini has more than 30 years experience in the field of international cooperation. Currently serving as SDC vice-director and head of the Global Cooperation directorate, he will take up the vice-presidency of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialised agency of the United Nations based in Rome, in December 2013.

After 14 years of working in the field – seven of which were spent in Pakistan and Tanzania for the SDC – and mandates conducted at SECO, the ICRC and the World Bank, Michel Mordasini returned to the SDC in 2011. He was tasked with the development and consolidation of the new Global Cooperation directorate within the SDC. His departure allows him to take stock of these efforts and the new approach to development cooperation.

Michel Mordasini has more than 30 years experience in the field of international cooperation. © SDC

When you became head of the SDC's Global Cooperation directorate in 2011, how did you prioritise your tasks?

I thought it essential to make the creation of a closely-knit team within the Global Cooperation a priority, a team that would share, as far as possible, the same vision of an SDC even more committed to the global challenges of today. When I arrived, the SDC was enjoying a privileged period of being in dialogue with Parliament, NGOs and the private sector regarding definition of the 2013-2016 Dispatch on International Cooperation.

The dispatch highlights for the first time the need to anchor specific measures more firmly in Swiss cooperation policy in order to help developing countries meet new global challenges and risks. This position received broad political support and gave an exceptional momentum to our Global Cooperation directorate, allowing us to help the SDC become open to a global approach to development.

Why was Global Cooperation added to the SDC remit?

Faced with the immense challenges in the world today, cooperation work can no longer function solely with projects funded by donor countries on one hand and beneficiary countries on the other. Today's challenges include cross-border and even global dimensions. To live up to its ambitions, Switzerland has had to add larger-scale interventions to its cooperation activities and to work more closely together with key multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and the United Nations.

During my time at the SDC, I tried to develop synergies between solid experience (upon which the SDC's traditional country by country involvement is built) and these new dimensions. Thus, we developed four global programmes dealing with climate change, food security, migration and water.

Which projects do you find particularly exciting?

That would have to be projects that leverage the SDC's experiences and demonstrate that Switzerland can have a strong impact in the field of cooperation. For example, the SDC has been working for thirty years in South America on reducing crop losses after harvest, losses which occur in particular during storage. The Global Cooperation directorate seeks to transfer this knowledge and experience to the whole of sub-Saharan Africa and has launched an international tender, which has already allowed the first stage of this important food security project to be set up.

But there are also other highly innovative projects, such as Water Footprint, a project that has mobilised several Swiss multinationals in Colombia to reduce water use in production cycles. Since then, major Colombian companies have also joined the project, which is generating interest in other countries in Latin America and Asia. Global Cooperation also supports the formulation of an international standard (ISO) for prudent water management by the industrial and agricultural sectors.

How does Switzerland position itself when working together with major multilateral agencies such as the World Bank, the UN and the Global Fund?

Switzerland often plays a bridge-building role between the blocs within these organisations and can fully benefit from its reputation as a country with no short-term political or economic agenda. We contribute our common sense, pragmatism, experience and an approach that respects all partners.

Switzerland also participates in the decision-making and budget management of these multilateral institutions. This puts us in a good position to track their performance and perhaps even offer criticism. That is our strength. We bring our values and long-term approach to the table. For example, Switzerland is committed to reviewing the functioning of UN agencies working in the development field to make them more effective.

A remaining challenge is to open up these multilateral organisations to emerging economies which do not feel that they are listened to. The voice of poor countries also remains marginalised and unheard. The whole governance of these institutions is at stake, and we are actively involved in this issue.

Do you intend to convey "Swiss values" in your new position as vice-president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)?

I do indeed wish to bring a Swiss outlook to my new position – openness to all cultures, strategic-thinking and showing respect to partners. IFAD is both a funding organisation and a specialised UN agency with a very specific mandate: fight poverty and improve food security in poor rural areas, and promote sustainable agriculture. Small-scale farmers, who currently account for 70% of the world's food production, are priority partners of IFAD.

I firmly believe in IFAD's approach of promoting alliances between multilateral and bilateral actors, and encouraging aid management to be delegated. How the Fund is administered is also interesting and includes, for example, the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which are called upon to show greater commitment in the field of cooperation. Talking about rural development also means talking about global warming, access to water and migration. So at IFAD I shall once again be revisiting issues close to my heart which bring together all my past experiences.

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