International cooperation: Effective support in a difficult context

The Federal Council adopts a new international cooperation (IC) strategy every four years. It defines the goals and priorities for development and economic cooperation, humanitarian aid and the promotion of peace and human rights. The consultation period for the International Cooperation Strategy 2025-28 came to an end on 20 September 2023. We received more than 200 comments which will be consolidated and made available to the public at the earliest opportunity.

Four pictures stand side by side and show examples of IC's commitment: a rescuer with a dog in front of a collapsed house, a woman working on a machine, several people signing a peace treaty and a man showing an ear of corn to young people and explaining something.
IC work is guided by the needs of the affected population, by the specific added value that Switzerland can contribute, and by Switzerland's long-term interests. © FDFA

The IC Strategy 2025–28 contains a number of goals, including saving lives and ensuring access to basic services, contributing to sustainable economic growth, protecting the environment and combating climate change, promoting peace and human rights, and strengthening democracy and the rule of law. This builds on the priorities of the current strategy for 2021–24, thus ensuring the continuity and coherence of Switzerland's commitment to international cooperation.

However, the health, economic and social consequences of global crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine pose major challenges for international cooperation. The number of people living in extreme poverty, which has risen for the first time in 30 years, is one example. Furthermore, the number of people in need of humanitarian aid is significantly higher today (339 million) than in 2019. About a third of the population of Ukraine has been displaced because of the war. The new IC strategy responds to these ongoing developments.

IC work is guided by three principles:

  • the needs of the affected population,
  • the specific added value that Switzerland can contribute,
  • Switzerland's long-term interests (such as a peaceful and just international order, stable and investment-friendly economic conditions, addressing the causes of displacement and irregular migration, and global sustainable development).

CHF 11.45 billion has been earmarked for the IC Strategy 2025–28. Of this, CHF 1.5 billion is to be allocated for support to Ukraine, and CHF 1.6 billion to combat climate change.

The IC strategy is implemented by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the FDFA's Peace and Human Rights Division, and the EAER's State Secretariat for Economic Affairs.

IC is carried out under a constitutional and legal mandate. The IC strategy is part of the Federal Council's cascading strategies, which strengthen the coherence of Swiss foreign policy and foreign economic policy.

  • Swiss development cooperation should become more focused and thus more effective. Interested parties are invited to submit their comments by 23 August 2019.

  • Switzerland takes an effective and focused approach to international cooperation (IC). This cooperation aims at contributing to economic and human development, an intact environment as well as peace and good governance. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides the framework for this.

Frequently asked questions


What is meant by international cooperation?

International cooperation (IC) covers the activities of humanitarian aid, development cooperation and economic cooperation as well as peacebuilding and human rights measures implemented by three Swiss government entities: the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the Peace and Human Rights Division (PHRD) at the FDFA and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) of the EAER.

Humanitarian aid saves lives, helps to protect civilians and alleviates the suffering of the people worst affected before, during and after disasters, crises and conflicts.

Long-term development cooperation aims to strengthen institutions and public policies and to improve the living conditions of the population in the priority countries over the long-term.

Economic cooperation seeks to establish the economic framework required to create local economic opportunities for SMEs and decent employment.

On one hand, peacebuilding and human rights measures aim to prevent conflicts and contribute to their resolution and sustainable peace. On the other, they promote respect for human rights and their universality, democracy, protection of the civilian population and humanitarian disarmament.

IC's general goal is to combat poverty and support sustainable development in its three dimensions – economic, environmental and social. It fulfils a constitutional mandate (Art. 54, para. 2, Swiss Federal Constitution) and is a major part of Switzerland's humanitarian tradition. To finance these activities, the Federal Council submits the Dispatch on Switzerland's International Cooperation Strategy to Parliament, combined with a request for guarantee credits for a four-year period, allowing it to plan Switzerland's commitment.

What are the benefits of international cooperation for the Swiss people?


IC promotes peace and security and creates opportunities for local populations. In 2022, in the annual study on security carried out by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ), 78% of participants interviewed indicated they were in favour of Switzerland stepping up mediation efforts or other means of supporting dialogue between the parties involved in conflict and 68% thought that Switzerland should increase its development aid.


As recognised in Switzerland's foreign economic policy, an open and heavily globalised economy is a key factor in Switzerland's prosperity as an export-oriented country. By contributing to income growth and favourable conditions for investment in developing countries, IC is enabling Swiss companies to access new markets in these countries and is having a positive effect on Switzerland's economic development indirectly.


The increase in the number of crises and the normative international framework being called into question have a direct impact on Switzerland's security and independence medium and long-term. Thanks to its international cooperation, multilateral commitment and good offices, Switzerland has created a climate of trust which opens doors for it. This means it can also effectively protect its independence and represent its interests when international rules are defined. In its capacity as a neutral country free of any alliance, it needs to find partners on the international stage.

Meeting global challenges

The current global challenges in fields such as the environment, migration, security and health are also having an impact in Switzerland (climate change, asylum, terrorism, pandemics etc.). Countries cannot face such challenges in isolation, but must join forces at international level. Their joint action is also contributing towards preserving the livelihoods of future generations in Switzerland.

Alternatives to irregular migration

Through its commitment in poor or crisis-affected countries, Switzerland is opening up economic, political and social prospects in migrants' countries or regions of origin. In this way, it is proposing medium and long-term alternatives to irregular migration.

International Geneva

International cooperation raises Switzerland's profile abroad and makes Geneva a more attractive location as the headquarters for international organisations. International Geneva's total contribution to Switzerland's GDP is estimated at 1%.

Economic impact for Switzerland

ODA also has a positive impact on the Swiss economy by stimulating demand, for example through the purchase of goods and services in Switzerland, additional activities undertaken by the private sector or NGOs, or by indirectly fostering the purchase of goods and services by multilateral organisations from Swiss companies.

What results has international cooperation achieved so far?

Important long-term progress…

Humanity has achieved unprecedented progress in terms of prosperity, health, security and quality of life over the past 50 years. IC has contributed to this progress. Various scientific studies show that official development assistance has a positive effect on the standard of living, prosperity, productivity, governance, education system and healthcare in developing countries. This is demonstrated by a series of remarkable achievements:

  • Over 35% of the world population (1.8 billion people) lived in extreme poverty 30 years ago. In 2019, that proportion fell to 8.4% (648 million). 
  • Infant mortality has fallen by a factor of 2.5 since 1990 and the universal health coverage index climbed from 45 in 2000 to 67 in 2019.
  • Between 2012 and 2017, the income of the poorest 40% rose, representing inclusive growth that benefited the most disadvantaged more than the whole of the population in 53 countries. 
  • In 2000, 68 countries were classified as being the least developed, whereas there are only 46 in 2023. 

… threatened in recent years.

The world has seen great upheaval since 2020, including the COVID-19 pandemic, conflicts such as the war in Ukraine, climate change and economic crises with far-reaching health, economic and social repercussions. Extreme poverty rose in 2020 for the first time in 30 years. Promising progress in terms of sustainable development has been interrupted or reversed. 

Switzerland's contribution

In this climate, Swiss IC has helped individuals, groups and states to overcome crises and conflicts and to strengthen their long-term resilience. It has flexibly adapted existing projects and programmes, where necessary, to new circumstances and requirements without losing sight of the long-term picture and the work on addressing the deep-rooted causes of such crises. 

The four overarching objectives have proven effective in tackling new and existing challenges, which means they will be continued in the new strategy for 2025–28: 

  • Economic development
    Low-income countries have been extremely hard hit by the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rising cost of living and high inflation. People on low incomes and disadvantaged groups are at particular risk of slipping deeper or falling back into poverty. This is why IC has supported the creation of decent jobs, contributed towards improving framework conditions and promoted the local private sector.
  • Environment
    Over a third of people live in a context seriously jeopardised by climate change, exacerbating existing vulnerabilities. Extreme weather events, loss of harvests and water shortages have increased again, jeopardising the food security of millions of people. Half of the world population will live in water-scarce regions by 2025. In response, IC has supported the development of sustainable and resilient food systems.
  • Human development
    UN estimates indicate that 339 million people worldwide were dependent on humanitarian aid in 2023 and around 117 million had been displaced or were stateless – both distressing negative records. That's why IC is implementing disaster protection measures to reach people in emergency situations and to enable migrants and those forcibly displaced to secure their livelihoods. The COVID-19 pandemic also had a devastating impact on the provision of basic services and led to regression in terms of medical provision, tropical and non-infectious diseases as well as sexual and reproductive health. Swiss IC raised awareness about the prevention of non-infectious diseases through information events and will step up its efforts in this area in future.
  • Peace and governance
    Around a quarter of humanity lived in conflict regions at the beginning of 2023. Russia's war of aggression on Ukraine has inevitably reminded us that peace in Europe cannot be taken for granted. In various contexts, authoritarian tendencies and an erosion of the rule of law have increased, and the world is a long way from achieving gender equality. Through its IC, Switzerland is endeavouring to establish and secure peace, is helping governments to set up governance systems and is promoting the principles of the rule of law.

Why is Switzerland's commitment still needed?

IC is one of the foreign policy instruments that enables Switzerland to take action to tackle the global challenges it faces. IC provides a response to climate change, pandemics, the challenges of migration and to preventing and resolving conflicts. It promotes the values that represent Switzerland's strengths: the rule of law and democracy, the market economy, human rights, gender equality, dialogue, solidarity, the integration of minorities and humanitarian principles. 

In 2023, an estimated 339 million people in 69 countries need humanitarian assistance. The number of displaced people reached 100 million in 2022. The effects of global warming are resulting in more natural disasters, such as forest fires, hurricanes, flooding and drought. The World Bank estimates that between 32 and 132 million people could fall into extreme poverty by 2030 for climate-related reasons and that 216 million will be displaced within their own countries by 2050 unless targeted action is taken to protect the climate and promote development.

Because of these crises, hunger already affects one tenth of the world population. In 2021, the Democracy Index saw its sharpest fall since 2012 and the erosion of rights mainly affected women and minority groups. In humanitarian contexts, gender-based violence affects up to 70% of women and girls. Debt crises are emerging again in many developing countries in a new geopolitical climate. 

In a globalised world, economic, political and social problems in one region soon have a negative impact on other countries. That's why joint action is required at international level.

What are the main changes in Switzerland's international cooperation compared to the period covered by the current dispatch?

Switzerland is committed long-term to ensuring the results achieved are consolidated. The current strategic framework for the period 2021–24 has proven effective. It enabled Switzerland to react in a flexible and agile way to the crises which have emerged over recent years, contributing to a well-coordinated and coherent response while continuing to work towards the achievement of long-term goals. The general strategic direction will be maintained for the 2025–28 period, while the approaches will be adapted to meet current challenges.

This means the course set remains the same with the renewal of the strategy:

  • the three analysis criteria: 1) needs on the ground, 2) Switzerland's long-term interests and 3) Swiss IC's added value by international standards
  • the four objectives of the International Cooperation Strategy 2021–24: 1) human development, 2) sustainable economic development, 3) climate and environment, 4) peace and governance
  • the four priority regions: 1) Sub-Saharan Africa, 2) the Middle East and North Africa, 3) Asia and 4) Eastern Europe
  • engagement with the private sector and new technologies

However, the following adjustments are required to respond to the current context:

  • an increase in the guarantee credit for humanitarian aid
  • a revision of the list of priority countries which now also includes those facing prolonged humanitarian crises in addition to priority countries for bilateral development cooperation
  • a focus on certain challenges requiring greater attention, for example health and democracy
  • a strong multilateral commitment focused on global challenges (peace, security, climate, new technologies etc.)
  • activities which put people at the centre, managed as far as possible by local actors to ensure that they are relevant and sustainable
  • leveraging Swiss expertise which is in demand and recognised – in particular in fields such as federalism, vocational training, mountain eco-systems and technological innovation – by promoting an inclusive approach in collaboration with the pertinent Swiss actors from academia, the private sector, NGOs, and also public administration

How much does Switzerland intend to allocate to international cooperation for the 2025–28 period?

Under the new strategy, the Federal Council and Parliament are providing international cooperation with five guarantee credits totalling CHF 11.45 billion for the 2025–28 period.

Switzerland's official development assistance (ODA) includes contributions from the Swiss Confederation, the cantons and the communes to promote economic and social development in the recipient countries. In 2022, ODA stood at 0.56% (2021: 0.50%), which was mainly due to the consequences of the war in Ukraine and in particular the costs of receiving refugees from Ukraine (status 'S'). Excluding asylum costs in the ODA, the ODA/GNI ratio in 2022 was 0.40%. It is difficult to forecast Switzerland's ODA/GNI ratio for the 2025–28 period because GNI is based on estimates, but also due to the volatility of asylum costs given the international context. The International Cooperation Strategy 2025–28 corresponds to a coefficient of 0.31% in relation to the GNI estimated for this period.

What's Ukraine's position in Swiss international cooperation?

An IC priority country since 1999, Switzerland's commitment in Ukraine is based on long-term partnerships and activities. Switzerland's response to the conflict in Ukraine involves two elements:

1. Humanitarian aid and cooperation

Switzerland is undertaking immediate action in Ukraine through its humanitarian activities. As at 31 May 2023, Switzerland had contributed CHF 240 million since the outbreak of the conflict, supporting humanitarian and economic measures through the three entities responsible (SDC, SECO and PHRD). For the 2025–28 period, 5 to 10% of the total IC budget will be allocated to humanitarian aid and development cooperation in Ukraine.

2. Reconstruction

The reconstruction efforts aim to rebuild but also modernise infrastructure. Since 2022, Switzerland has been participating in the Ukraine Recovery Conference, which issued the principles that will guide international political action on reconstruction. As this is an extraordinary situation, an interdepartmental working group is currently working on the legal framework, financing options, procedures for Switzerland's participation in the reconstruction in Ukraine as well as potential private sector participation.

The increase in the IC budget from 2025 – around CHF 648 million for the 2025–28 period – is to be allocated to reconstruction. As a guideline, one third of this amount is allocated to the EAER and two-thirds to the FDFA. The Swiss Confederation's contribution to the reconstruction of Ukraine will not just come from the IC budget. The Federal Council has also set up an interdepartmental working group to assess the various options. 

What measures did Switzerland's international cooperation take after the COVID-19 pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic required close cooperation between various countries to tackle the global health crisis.

Switzerland contributed CHF 460 million to the global fight against the pandemic, in particular through multilateral initiatives that enabled new, affordable diagnostics solutions to be developed and almost 1.8 billion vaccine doses to be distributed to 87 low and medium-income countries. Switzerland also helped to improve hospital equipment by providing essential items, mainly in Asia. Beyond the health crisis, Switzerland also provided support with distance-learning solutions for children. The local economies of regions severely hit by the crisis (Peru, Tunisia and Albania) have been strengthened through fiscal, financial and monetary stabilisation programmes carried out by SECO. The Swiss Investment Fund for Emerging Markets (SIFEM) invested in the activities of an African manufacturer of COVID-19 vaccines.

The IC Strategy 2025–28 focuses on health and its determining factors to prevent upstream health crises. Over the medium-term, it is supporting public health and hygiene campaigns as well as strengthening the functions of a resilient health system capable of preventing and responding to health crises. Long-term, it is promoting the creation of healthy living environments that enable people to remain in good health and prevent diseases such as zoonoses.

How does international cooperation take account of Switzerland's migration policy interests?

International cooperation makes a threefold contribution to preventing the causes of forced displacement and irregular migration:

  • Short-term, international cooperation contributes towards reducing the causes of forced displacement, improving the living conditions of displaced persons and protecting refugees in their initial country of reception.
  • Medium-term, it aims to create local opportunities to provide alternatives to irregular migration and to find the best possible solutions for the integration of migrants and persons displaced by force in developing countries.
  • Long-term, international cooperation tackles the deep-rooted causes of irregular migration, such as poverty, the lack of access to basic services, armed conflicts, poor governance and environmental damage, in particular the consequences of climate change.

There is a strategic link between international cooperation and migration policy. The aim is to strengthen this link on three levels specifically:

  • At political level, migration is an issue that must be addressed consistently during political consultations. The Federal Council aims to conclude new migration agreements and partnerships.
  • At geographical level, the Swiss Confederation's cooperation programmes consistently take account of migration. Greater financial flexibility will enable Switzerland to take advantage of opportunities in relation to migration policy more effectively – including outside of priority countries.
  • At thematic level, the international cooperation programmes take account of migration and forced displacement, for example as part of projects focusing on the prevention, protection and integration of migrants in their countries of origin or the creation of economic, political and social prospects.

How does Switzerland's international cooperation take account of the climate?

The climate and environment are included in Switzerland's four main IC objectives for 2025–28. Developing countries and low-income populations are hardest hit by the effects of climate change. Conversely, medium-income countries are seeing a strong growth trajectory from their greenhouse gas emissions. Faced with these challenges, Switzerland is taking action at various levels:

  • Adaptation and mitigation
    Switzerland is strengthening the resilience of developing countries through efficient adaptation mechanisms, but is also contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by implementing climate protection measures (for example: urban development with low CO2 emissions).
  • Risk reduction
    IC also supports risk-reduction measures to protect the populations and limit financial losses and is helping to preserve biodiversity, eco-systems and related services.
  • Bilateral and multilateral participation
    Switzerland also takes part in the international negotiations on climate change. It is working with governments and financial institutions to achieve the Paris Agreement goals.

Furthermore, the IC Strategy 2025–28 focuses on three specific objectives to meet the challenges of climate change: 1) fighting hunger 2) the sustainable use of water resources 3) the energy transition.

In overall terms, Switzerland intends to contribute CHF 400 million to help meet the climate finance goals. Switzerland's IC commitment is complemented by other contributions, such as the framework credit on the global environment 2023–26 (Federal Council proposal 22.060) approved by the Swiss Parliament on 8 March 2023 as well as other funds to be provided.

Which countries or regions will Switzerland's international cooperation focus on during the 2025–28 period?

Four priority regions

Switzerland will focus on four priority regions which have the greatest needs, are central to Switzerland's interests and where international cooperation activities can generate added value:

  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • the Middle East and North Africa
  • Asia
  • Eastern Europe

Swiss IC primarily operates in the regions indicated above and focuses on the priority countries. Specific exceptions outside of priority regions may be made, for example to ensure coherence with Switzerland's Foreign Economic Policy Strategy.

The 35 current priority countries for bilateral cooperation in 2021–24 have been maintained for the SDC. Some prolonged crises requiring multi-year humanitarian commitment have been taken into account. The SDC has revised its list of priority countries to include countries experiencing such crises and for which a multi-year humanitarian aid commitment is foreseeable. They are Sudan, South Sudan, Yemen, Haiti and Colombia. 

SECO is also maintaining its commitment in the priority countries of the 2021–24 Strategy with the exception of Colombia from which it plans to withdraw by the end of 2028, in line with the strengthening of geographical concentration, while enabling Colombia to transition to other foreign policy economic instruments. Morocco will become a priority country for SECO.

In total, SECO and the SDC will focus on 46 priority countries, seven of which will be a priority for both. Multi-year cooperation programmes have been jointly defined for these countries where several Swiss IC instruments are used based on a context analysis and with common objectives.

The PHRD's peace policy focuses on a maximum of 20 regions or countries with an increased commitment in the OSCE area due to the war in Ukraine and the challenges it presents in terms of foreign and security policy. The PHRD's commitment is likely to change over the course of the 2025–28 period based on demand and the expertise required.

The SDC's humanitarian aid, multilateral activities and global programmes (climate, environment and disaster risk reduction, water, migration and forced displacement, food systems and health) and SECO's global measures, as well as the peacebuilding and human security measures, will continue to have a universal mandate. They will focus on the four priority regions, but will also deploy outside of them if necessary.

Last update 10.11.2023


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