The Democracy Without Borders initiative was launched in 2014 by then Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter. To raise public awareness of SDC projects and key development cooperation issues, the initiative enlisted the help of Swiss celebrities, known as 'project ambassadors', including some 20 former politicians and artists, journalists and entrepreneurs. The project ambassadors attracted large audiences to a variety of public events held under the Democracy Without Borders banner since 2014.
The Democracy Without Borders initiative is being wound up on schedule this year four years after it was launched. Through its activities on issues like the promotion of democracy, support for civil society, vocational education and training, and the fight against violence against women, the initiative has enriched the public discourse on Switzerland's cooperation with developing countries. Ten Democracy Without Borders events have been held, mainly in Switzerland, but also in SDC partner countries. A major highlight of Democracy Without Borders was a concert given by Swiss pop star Bastian Baker with Egyptian musicians in Cairo in 2016 under the banner of cultural exchanges. During his tour of Egypt, Bastian Baker also visited Swiss water projects on the Nile. Another Democracy Without Borders milestone was a visit by Honduran partner organisations of the SDC to the International Congress on Vocational and Professional Education and Training in Winterthur and to several Swiss industrial enterprises. The Honduran delegation gained insights into the Swiss dual vocational education and training system, which has now been introduced in the Honduran construction and hotel sectors with adjustments to local circumstances. Another highlight was an event organised with the University of Zurich on the possibilities for and limits to the promotion of democracy in developing countries.
To mark the end of the initiative and as part of the Open Doors section of the Locarno International Film Festival, the Afghan film 'Laila at the Bridge' will be screened at the Teatro Kursaal in Locarno on Sunday 5 August at 11am. After the film, the SDC will host a panel discussion at 2pm in Spazio Magnolia (owned by Swiss Radio International's Italian-language service), featuring the film's director, Elizabeth Mirzaei, the lead actress, Laila Haidari, the head of the SDC's South Asia Division, Derek Müller, and Diana Saqeb, a Kabul-based film-maker and producer. The panel discussion will focus on the experiences of film directors and producers in Afghanistan, the challenges faced by civil society organisations and the issue of freedom of expression.
Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a third of the population living below the poverty line. The country is highly dependent on foreign aid, and the inadequate infrastructure and poor security situation are hampering the country's economic development. In Afghanistan as in many other partner countries, Switzerland supports civil society initiatives and the work of artists and culture professionals. A space for civil society participation, cultural expression and freedom of speech is an essential component of the just, democratic and peaceful society promoted by the Democracy Without Borders initiative and thus also of Switzerland's international cooperation programmes.
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