The International Cooperation Strategy 2025–28 adapts to an evolving international context

The Federal Council is requesting four credits from Parliament totalling CHF 11.27 billion for the period from 2025 to 2028. This budget will be used to finance the various pillars of international cooperation: humanitarian aid, development cooperation, economic cooperation, and the promotion of peace and human rights. Below are the key takeaways from the new strategy.

Aid workers, with Patricia Danzi, talk to women in traditional dress in Chad.

Being flexible while continuing its commitments has therefore become Switzerland's main objective. © SDC

The international context is currently marked by manifold crises. The COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the escalating conflict in the Middle East, the energy crisis, food insecurity, and climate change all have a direct impact on the world's population, and on Switzerland. In concrete terms, the world is changing rapidly. It is in a state of flux and is volatile, fragmented and unpredictable. Against this backdrop, all actors – both state and non-state – need to be increasingly agile. Being flexible while continuing its commitments has therefore become Switzerland's main objective. This is reflected in the new international cooperation strategy for the period from 2025 to 2028.

International cooperation (IC) is one of the instruments that allows Switzerland to work with other partners to respond to global challenges. IC addresses economic and structural challenges, climate change, pandemics, irregular migration, and conflict prevention. It promotes the values that represent Switzerland's strengths, including the rule of law and democracy, the market economy, human rights, dialogue, solidarity, and the principles of international humanitarian law. In an unstable world, international cooperation bolsters Switzerland's commitment and influence at the international level.

The term 'international cooperation' covers the activities of humanitarian aid, development cooperation, economic development cooperation, and the promotion of peace and human security. It is implemented by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) and the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER), and seeks to combat poverty, promote peace and human rights, and support sustainable development in its three dimensions – economic, environmental and social.

Switzerland's need for flexibility in its commitment and action is one of the lessons learned from the previous International Cooperation Strategy 2021–24, which runs until the end of this year. In addition, the outcomes achieved by IC over the last few years have underscored the relevance of the strategic framework set out in the previous strategy – namely the development objectives, thematic priorities and geographic focus areas. The new 2025–28 Strategy will therefore build on the findings of the evaluation of the previous period.

For these reasons, the four objectives of the IC Strategy 2021–24 will continue to apply in the new strategy. They afforded the necessary flexibility to respond to numerous challenges while contributing effectively to the mandate given. The four priority regions of the 2021–24 strategy (sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East and North Africa) also remain unchanged. Switzerland's IC is therefore taking a long-term approach to consolidate the results achieved thus far.

Four objectives: four specific examples in the four priority regions

Patricia Danzi meets women in a harvest field.
Chad is a priority country for Switzerland’s bilateral development cooperation. Here Patricia Danzi meets Chadian women on the ground. © SDC

Sub-Saharan Africa: in Chad, IC is contributing to capacity-building of state institutions

Chad is a priority country in Switzerland's bilateral development cooperation. For several years, the country has ranked near the bottom of the Human Development Index. Its public institutions, such as the administration, education and health systems, are under-developed. It faces a number of regional and global challenges, such as armed extremist groups, flows of refugees (particularly from Sudan due to the conflict in Darfur since 2003), and the growing impacts of climate change, which are additional obstacles to the country's development.

Through political dialogue, institution-building and lessons learned from field experience, Switzerland is helping to increase the effectiveness of state and non-state systems for organising and delivering basic social services, systems that are under pressure from demographic challenges.

In the education sector, the quality of basic education for girls and boys needs to be improved. Through its programme, Switzerland supports the training of teaching staff, promotes innovation in teaching methods and facilitates access to basic education for vulnerable groups thanks to adapted learning and teaching systems. Through its support, Switzerland encourages the accountability of public health services at all levels and contributes to improving knowledge of water resources, and therefore their planning and use.

Objective 1: Saving lives and supporting access to high-quality basic services

Basic services include sanitation facilities, essential healthcare, high-quality education, and social security systems. Swiss IC programmes seek to improve accessibility, quality and coverage of these services, whether they are provided by public or private sector actors. Improving services such as education and health creates the right conditions for people to access high-quality education and training, which in turn leads to permanent employment and enables them to play a more active role in public life.

Often, in the event of crises and conflicts, these essential services are no longer guaranteed. Through its humanitarian aid activities, Switzerland's IC supports the basic needs of vulnerable people and communities. It undertakes bilateral and multilateral initiatives to promote respect for and implementation of the principles of international humanitarian law in conflict zones, and to help protect civilian populations. Through its IC activities, Switzerland also calls on the actors involved to respect humanitarian principles.

In light of the current situation, the 2025–28 strategy focuses on two specific objectives in terms of human development, namely migration and health.

Eastern Europe: in Serbia, Swiss IC works to reform processes aimed at reinforcing European values and standards

The collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s severely affected Serbia’s economy and infrastructure. The country has made considerable progress since then, however. In 2014, negotiations on EU membership began, numerous promising reforms for public administration and the economy were adopted, and unemployment began to fall. But there are still major challenges to overcome before prosperity can be guaranteed for all, in particular with regard to the rule of law, the democratic participation of civil society, freedom of the press, the challenges of climate change and access to the labour market.

Switzerland is working in Serbia to promote sustainable economic growth. To achieve this, the framework conditions for Serbian companies are being improved to give them easier access to foreign markets and financing opportunities. In addition, Switzerland is promoting increased innovation and entrepreneurship to enhance their competitiveness. It is facilitating the development of an operational, efficient and effective public finance administration that is both transparent and accountable. In order to reduce the high level of unemployment, particularly among young people, and to meet the private sector's strong need for a skilled and productive workforce, market-oriented vocational training is being expanded, especially for young people and disadvantaged groups.

Switzerland is coordinating its transition cooperation closely with local authorities, other donor countries and international organisations such as the EU, UN and the international financial institutions. All programmes of the SDC and State Secretariat for Economic Affairs incorporate the principles of good governance and gender equality.

Objective 2: Contributing to sustainable economic development and the creation of decent jobs

Switzerland assists developing countries in their transition to a formal economy, in the development of the private sector and market-oriented vocational training, and in the implementation of structural changes at national, regional, and local level, and supports their integration in the global economy. Swiss IC activities aim to create decent job prospects and to facilitate access to markets and economic opportunities for individuals and businesses. In this way, IC promotes prosperity and inclusive economic growth in developing countries. It therefore helps national economies diversify and build resilience, while contributing to the preservation of natural resources. These measures also benefit disadvantaged population groups.

In light of the current situation, the 2025–28 strategy focuses on two specific objectives in the area of sustainable economic development, namely local SMEs and framework conditions.

Asia: in the Mekong region, IC helps build resilience to climate change

A woman smiles broadly during a prevention course run by the SDC.
In Laos, a dam collapsed in 2018 causing the most significant human-made flooding disaster in the country’s history and affecting thousands of poor families. © SDC

Despite high economic growth since the early 2000s, which has enabled the Mekong countries to achieve progress in reducing poverty, inequality is rising, affecting rural populations in particular. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a major economic crisis. The most vulnerable groups, such as women, ethnic minorities and people living in remote areas, are also the worst affected by an economic model built on the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources.

Switzerland aims to make people more resilient to climate change and disasters, with more secure and equitable access to natural resources (land, forests and water) and to manage those resources sustainably. In Laos, for example, a dam collapsed in 2018 causing the most significant human-made flooding disaster in the country’s history and affecting thousands of poor families. Switzerland shares its expertise in dam safety to align the national dam safety regulatory and institutional frameworks to international standards, thereby protecting downstream communities and contributing to safe energy production and the sustainability of infrastructure.

Objective 3: Guaranteeing environmentally friendly and climate-resilient development

Climate change and environmental degradation affect every part of the world. Switzerland is taking action on two fronts: adaptation and mitigation. On the one hand, it increases the resilience of developing countries using effective adaptation methods, for example the production of nutritional and drought-resistant plant varieties. On the other, it helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation) through climate protection measures, such as supporting low-carbon urban development and the transition to renewables. In development cooperation, fossil fuel promotion activities are not generally financed.

Swiss IC supports climate and environmental protection, and the sustainable management of natural resources. It supports risk reduction (e.g. crisis management structures and early warning systems) to protect populations and limit economic losses. IC also plays a part in reducing risks linked to disasters, desertification, and biodiversity loss. This approach is applied to all IC partners. Switzerland also encourages multilateral organisations to include the objectives of the Paris Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity in all their activities.

In light of the current situation, the 2025–28 strategy focuses on three specific objectives in the area of climate and the environment, namely combating hunger, water, and the energy transition. Tackling climate change is the other key objective of this strategy (budget totalling CHF 1.6 billion).

Middle East and North Africa: in the Middle East, IC promotes peace and the rule of law

View of Beirut, Lebanon, from the devastated window of a flat
Switzerland's primary objective in the Middle East is to create a safe environment for conflict-affected populations and other vulnerable people. Here in Lebanon. © SDC

Ongoing and past armed conflicts have led to extensive humanitarian needs in the Middle East. Switzerland is supporting delivery of aid and services to protect people affected by violence and is actively involved in peace promotion and the prevention of violent conflicts. It also works to ensure sustainable water management, quality education and income creation for refugees, internally displaced people, vulnerable migrants and host communities in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey.

The overarching aim of Switzerland in the Middle East is to create a safe environment for conflict-affected and other vulnerable persons by saving lives and empowering community, reducing fragility and generating development perspective. At policy level, it promotes good governance as well as the respect of international human rights, including refugee rights, and international humanitarian law. It also supports conflict prevention and transformation.

Objective 4: Promoting peace and human rights and strengthening democracy and the rule of law

In order to resolve conflicts and promote peace, Switzerland puts in place dialogue processes that aim to prevent armed conflicts breaking out and to create the conditions for peace. To do so, it employs mediation, facilitation, expertise, and peace policy programmes. It promotes lasting peace, paying particular attention to inclusivity. IC has specific expertise in dealing with the past and fighting impunity. It supports democratic institutions and processes, fosters the creation of framework conditions for free and peaceful elections, and promotes the rule of law and equal participation of women and men, minorities, and marginalised groups in political processes, so that no one is left behind.

At the same time, IC works to address the structural causes of conflicts. It promotes equitable access to high-quality basic services for all. It works to open up opportunities for everyone. Education plays a key role in this regard as it contributes to social cohesion and peaceful coexistence, particularly through the promotion of dialogue, art and culture. IC favours a conflict-sensitive approach in its programmes and initiatives, and acts under the principle of 'do no harm'.

In light of the current situation, the 2025–28 strategy focuses on three specific objectives in the area of peace and governance, namely democracy, the rule of law, and gender equality.

Three strategic directions

In a volatile world, having a consistent strategy is crucial as it is the compass that guides Switzerland's IC activities. While the war in Ukraine and its consequences feature prominently in this strategy (see below), Switzerland’s humanitarian tradition requires that IC maintain its commitment in the rest of the world. The strategic orientation of the IC Strategy 2025–28 is therefore based on three analysis criteria.

1. Needs on the ground

The analysis of people's needs in developing countries takes account of the humanitarian situation, the level of poverty, the capacity of countries to mobilise their own resources and the challenges regarding sustainable development. The analysis also considers the creation of decent jobs, the sustainable management and use of natural resources, access to high-quality basic services, good governance and respect for human rights.

2. The added value of Swiss IC by international comparison

The added value of Swiss IC compared with that of other actors is based on its specific knowledge, proven expertise, capacity for innovation, and experience in the fields concerned. If a partner country is open to reform and there is political will to cooperate with Switzerland, activities can have a greater impact. These dimensions are taken into account in the analysis. Switzerland's humanitarian tradition, democracy, federalism, absence of colonies, its education and vocational training system, and its role as host state as well as International Geneva, also bring added value.

3. Switzerland's long-term interests

Switzerland promotes peace, freedom, human rights, democracy, the preservation of natural resources, prosperity, a just and rules-based international order, and sustainable development in its three dimensions: economic, environmental and social. International security and stability, including with regard to climate and migration challenges, are essential to Switzerland's prosperity. 

CHF 1.5 billion earmarked for Ukraine (and affected countries in the region)

The uncertain outlook as to how the conflict in Ukraine will evolve, and the economic and social impact it might have, call for a high degree of flexibility. As Ukraine has been a priority country for IC since 1999, Switzerland's activities in the country are based on long-standing partnerships. Switzerland attaches strategic importance to supporting and reconstructing Ukraine.

Within the framework of IC and using other instruments, it shows solidarity by contributing to the reconstruction of Ukraine and promotes just and lasting peace. Switzerland's response involves two elements:

  1. humanitarian aid, development cooperation, and the promotion of peace, democracy and human rights; and
  2. reconstruction. The two elements differ not only in their time frames but also in terms of their political and financial rationale. A figure of CHF 1.5 billion has been allocated for this response.

Policy coherence

The coherence of Switzerland's international relations activities is key. Certain sectoral federal policy areas have a significant impact on developing countries. The Federal Council coordinates policy with the aim of minimising interference and enhancing the impact of its action. It also takes care to ensure that its decisions are coherent. The two departments in charge of implementing the IC Strategy (FDFA and EAER) liaise to ensure full cooperation with each other and with the offices in charge of sectoral federal policy.

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