Art and culture – drivers of social change

Dancers are taking photos with their mobile phones before going on stage for their performance in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Dancers are taking photos with their mobile phones before going on stage for their performance in Dhaka, Bangladesh. © SDC/GMB Akash

In every society, arts and culture matter. In its efforts to contribute to the reduction of poverty and inequality, the SDC seeks to identify and build on the cultural resources, local knowledge, and creative forces available in the societies where it works. This approach is applied in all of the thematic areas and regions where the SDC is active. In addition, the SDC allocates funding specifically earmarked for the culture sector of its partner countries as well as to facilitate access for artists and culture professionals from the South and East to the Swiss and international markets. Art and culture are important factors in peacebuilding and sustainable development. Art and culture encourage freedom of expression, peacebuilding and sustainable development. The SDC's commitment in this sector allows it to promote crucial drivers of social change.

Artists, who appeal both to the intellect and the emotions to get their message across, are key drivers of social change. The SDC's support for art and culture, in particular the promotion of an independent culture sector, seeks to strengthen civil society and promote social cohesion, freedom of expression, good governance and democracy in partner countries, in particular in fragile contexts. In its projects, the SDC also considers the positive influence the culture sector has on tourism, employment and the economy.

The SDC's engagement seeks to support local cultural endeavours in partner regions and countries and to help artists from the South and the East to reach audiences and access markets and cultural industry networks in Switzerland and worldwide. The SDC bases its work in the field on a broad definition of art and culture, which includes forms of expression in popular and traditional culture.

The cultural dimension plays a crucial role in international cooperation projects. Sensitivity to cultural elements helps improve the quality of processes and achieve goals in a more sustainable way. 

Activities in partner countries

In its partner countries, the SDC supports local cultural projects. The choice of partners and forms of cultural expression is geared to local needs and the SDC's priorities in a given context. An independent, diverse and inclusive culture sector can contribute in a decisive and original manner to sustainable development objectives, whether it be strengthening civil society, participation in cultural life, freedom of expression, contributing to the development of pluralistic societies, managing a conflict or post-conflict periods or social cohesion.

The SDC works to provide artists with opportunities to undertake further training, to develop their activities, organisations and networks, and to gain respect for their rights, recognition of their work and an improvement in their general conditions.  As well as supporting artistic production and outlets, Switzerland helps strengthen cultural organisations and institutions. The SDC promotes cultural and artistic activities that create a space for dialogue and debate, building bridges between different population groups. The SDC also seeks to encourage a lively, diverse and independent culture scene that strengthens civil society, especially in rural and remote areas.   

Overview of SDC cultural projects and cultural programmes

Culture and development reflection papers

In 2020, the SDC's Culture and Development team commissioned author and cultural activist François Matarasso to write ten reflection papers. These address the relevance and necessity of cultural projects in the context of development cooperation and illustrate the potential and impact of cultural creativity in shaping and determining the future of societies. In 2021, François Matarasso was commissioned to write two further papers. These challenge us to learn from the crisis generated by COVID-19 to promote cohesion and to enable us to work together for culture and development.

The Culture and Development team reflection papers provide useful ideas, guidance and questions for theory and practice in the field of culture and development.

Reflection Papers on Culture and Development 2021 (PDF, 16 Pages, 359.2 kB, English)

Activities in Switzerland

From within Switzerland, the SDC facilitates access to Swiss audiences for artists from the South and the East, and also to international art markets and cultural industry networks. The international collaboration required in cinema makes it an important priority. With this in mind, the SDC has established long-term partnerships with specialist industry organisations working in Switzerland's culture scene. These structures help distribute the artists' work. In awarding its support, the SDC gives funding priority to productions from its partner countries.

Artlink and Fonds culturel Sud

Furthermore, in 2010 the SDC put the Swiss office for cultural cooperation artlink in charge of managing the Fonds culturel Sud/SüdKulturFonds. This foundation supports specific projects in Switzerland by artists from developing countries and countries undergoing transition to democracy. Artlink awards grants to artists' projects with the help of experts. Funding applications should be sent to directly to artlink.

Fonds culturel Sud/SüdKulturFonds – Artlink

The Fund Visions sud est

The SDC also contributes to the Swiss fund Visions sud est, which supports film productions from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe (non EU-countries), fosters their distribution in Switzerland and aims at making them visible worldwide. All the projects for which financial support is requested must be proposed exclusively by a company based in a country from the South (Africa, Latin America and Asia) or from Eastern Europe (excluding EU members) and should be sent to directly to Visions sud est.

Visions Sud Est

The cultural dimension within SDC operations

In its international cooperation activities, the SDC works conscious of the values and reference systems that underpin its strategies. The SDC engages with its partners in a dialogue between equals that respects cultural differences. Moreover, the SDC is committed to respect cultural rights. The SDC sees this approach as the foundation of all development cooperation. It is an indispensable prerequisite both for the effectiveness of the SDC's operations and for obtaining inclusive and sustainable results. In order to implement this, the SDC attaches importance to the diversity of teams in its representations in partner countries and the intercultural competency of its employees, and takes the cultural dimension into account when planning and implementing the SDC's operational processes.

Specialist website

The SDC's community of practice "Culture Matters" seeks to promote exchanges within the SDC on culture, art and development. Its website also provides detailed information for the public on the SDC's work in the area of culture.

Shareweb of the Culture Matters community of practice