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The Swiss People’s Party (SVP) led political initiative known as the Durchsetzungsinitiative to be decided on February 28, 2016 will have drastic consequences for Switzerland should it pass and set the country on a dangerous path that it does not want to go down. If passed political flexibility, a strong point of Swiss democracy, will be limited and a two-tiered justice system, which is in opposition to the founding principles of the constitutional democracy the country is, will be breached.

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Setting the Scene

A month ago I got an e-mail from a good friend asking if I wanted to attend the “White Dinner” picnic in Zurich on the 3rd of August. While thinking about it, I logged onto Facebook and saw that the event was advertised there. The pictures looked wonderful, the concept unique and many friends had said they were going. I’m the kind of guy to make a spontaneous decision and after checking my calendar, I thought, yes, I want to be part of this beautiful event.

White Dinner

Picture from White Dinner Zurich Facebook Page

 

Your track record determines others expectations

After quite a few e-mails between the group of friends, we bought a table for 10 people. I wasn’t quite sure what was included in the price, and didn’t worry about it too much. Worst case scenario we had to buy food and drink, best case it was provided. Already here, there was a potential of being clearer. I would suggest this be put on the webpage under a simple and easy to read table/chart. The location was also not clear, but with the pictures from Berlin in years past, we thought for sure it would be in Zurich at the lake (China Garden) or maybe Lindenhof or Irchel Park. No worries though, for 59 CHF / Person we knew we’d be in for a treat. When I read most of the unfriendly and frankly irrational comments of many complaining about the event, what is clear is that the past locations of the White Dinner in other cities set very high expectations for where it would be held in Zurich.

Not exactly in Zurich City

A week before the event I saw on Facebook again that the location would be at the Rennbahn (Racetrack) in Dielsdorf. This is not too far from my part of the city, but isn’t really Zurich city either. Not a bad location though, a horse race track is often quite beautiful and Dielsdorf is a few minutes with the S-Bahn. It did however change my expectations of the event. Added to that was the first article about the event in the NZZ. While I found accusations of the event being a ripoff to be exaggerated in a city where restaurants get away serving tap water for 3.50 a liter to otherwise paying guests under the guise of donating 2.00 francs to charity, the fact that the organization only put in for a permit for the event a mere few weeks before the event shoes a lack of planning. A person n the ground in Zurich and in every city the group hopes to have their is necessary. That the rules are the rules and businesses cannot, with short notice, have huge swaths of a public park for their use is understandable. However, even here one could argue that concert venues like open airs do just that. In short, the OC needed someone in Zurich organizing and things and working with the city earlier, but a horse race track a mere 10km from the city centre is not a scandal, in fact it’s a beautiful location.

Image from NZZ Article

Image from NZZ Article

 

It’s not a Ripoff, it’s a business

Regarding the accusations of being a ripoff, I fully support the OC in their statement, that, yes, they are a company looking to make profits. It takes a lot of people and time to organize such an event and they need to be paid. As an event organizer myself, I know exactly the labour, time, and resource costs of putting together even smaller conferences and events. There are also risks, such as deposits that might not be returned and not finding enough guests. Because events are such a great place to do marketing the cost to attendees is often vary little, as large sponsors foot the majority of the bill. Being bombarded by advertising in our modern lives we simply fail to acknowledge that companies often pay huge sums for the right to flurry us with their logos. The Oper für Alle was an example of this. It was wonderfully done, a brilliant experience that I enjoyed greatly, but it was sponsored by Zurich Insurance and the thousands of chairs selling for 15 francs a piece with the Zurich logo on it helped make that clear. The White Dinner is meant to be elegant and communal. Would logos, banners, posters, trinkets and such everywhere be appropriate? No, it would degrade the event some to a marketing stunt from a bigger company trying to get people to buy their product or at least increase brand awareness. Paying for goods and services directly in cash and making money is honest and fair. At least you know what you’re getting and you can demand something for it. (Read “What Money can’t Buy” by Michael Sandel for a more indepth study of the omnipresence of advertising.)

One last thought on the claim that it’s a ripoff. A ripoff is when I’m put in a situation where I have little choice and then made to pay a much higher than normal price. An example is not being allowed to take drinks through airport security, and on the other side having to pay 1-2 francs more for a bottle of water. That is taking advantage, of travellers and is a ripoff. This event, by its nature can’t be a ripoff because anyone buying a ticket has the option not to attend and not pay. If you think I want to be there and pay 60 francs for it, then that is your choice. Some people buy 100 franc bottles of wine, and some people buy 4 franc bottles of wine. Value for money (Preis Leistung) often comes down to the individual.

Communication is Nr. 1

This brings me to the communication element of White Dinner. The concept behind White Dinner is very simple and the website needs to reflect that. Confusion quickly ensued via Facebook as to what was included in the price of a ticket and what was going to happen. Already on July 12th an interested person had asked on Facebook what the plan was should it rain. As an event organizing company, information needs to be clearly communicated to attendees. Facebook is not a good place to relay this type of information. Facebook allows too many people to engage and causes information to be lost in such cases. Perhaps the folks at Facebook will come up with a better event organization platform, but for now an event website is best with e-mail and/or text updates is best. Here is a rough sketch of what it should look like:

White Dinner ZurichMy disappointment

The OC of the While Dinner suffered through a barrage of hateful comments and bad reports when they decided to make a judgement call on postponing the event so that the spirit of it would be held – that is a fancy picnic in beautiful surroundings. Having a picnic on a parking lot in the rain is not that. The call to postpone it was smart and those who will take part on the 10th of August will surely have a great experience. My disappointment came from calls from people writing things like “Go back to where you came from, we don’t want you here anyway.”  These comments are ignorant and make the rest of us Swiss look bad – a real shame. I wish people would think twice before posting on public forums. The other thing that disappointed me was the second NZZ article that there are plans to organize a free White Dinner at the lake. While I believe that people can organize quickly and cheaply thanks to the internet, those hoping for a White Dinner of the quality you will get in Dielsdorf are mistaken. Furthermore, I believe this is merely an attempt of someone trying to capitalize on someone else’s misfortune.

Conclusion

I wish the organizers of the White Dinner much success. Myself and my friends look forward to dining with others in the August sun and enjoying good company, great food and fantastic wines. I also hope that people see the work it takes to organize and event and why it can’t be free if it’s going to be truly organized. I also hope that future event organizers stop using Facebook, at least at the moment for event communication. Use it for marketing and shut off comments.

Inspire 925 Conference

Yesterday, September 21, 2013, I had the pleasure and good fortune to attend the Inspire 925 Conference at the HUB Zurich. Having previously reported on what Inspire 925 seeks to do (See article on Newly Swissed), I will briefly summarize here. Inspire 925 was founded by Sunnie Tölle with the expressed purpose of helping businesses increase their employee engagement so that workers are happier, more creative, and innovative with the bottom line being that these soft factors lead to higher profits in these firms. To prove this point and show just how this can be done Sunnie pulled together a group of inspirational speakers from industry and academia.

Johnson and Johnson — A family of companies spreading ideas

Without giving a full summary of the conference, I would like to provide a brief overview of what I learned and took away from the conference. First, the companies that are not only opening themselves up to employee engagement, by actually helping their employees to engage and inspire each other are seeing the benefits. Johnson and Johnson is an example of this. Thanks to Steve Garguilo’s interest in TED and the organization of internal TED talks has given Johnson and Johnson a breath of fresh air. Employees from different departments are interacting, and knowledge, skills, and ideas are coming out and finding the important collaborators to turn them into reality and therefore helping the company to develop new products. However, it is important to note here that the company leadership firmly believes in this. This was surely not an easy development, but seeing the positive effects the Johnson and Johnson’s leadership has allowed Steve to create a new position for himself to ensure that this continues. Steve also told us that thanks to this new engagement highly talented employees who were considering moving to other firms, have found a new love for their work and doing more. For them, what they think and do matters, which is exactly what Google wants of its employees.

Doing things that matter

From an HR perspective, Daniela Landherr, Program Manager EMEA, responsible for employee engagement at Google, gave insights into Google’s hiring requirements and the company’s belief in communal areas where ideas can be exchanged and where employees can inspire each other. From an engineer in Zurich having the idea of gmail, one of the world’s most popular e-mail services, and his colleague giving him the motivation to tackle the idea, to group sessions of ideas and critique and reworked plans, community and human interaction is important at Google for turning ideas into products and services. Working in open spaces also gives employees the ability to tap into knowledge bases and skills of other people to get more work done. Googlers, Google employees, understand the idea of collaborative work. Of course, like at Johnson and Johnson, this only exists because the company directors and leadership have entrusted their employees with the freedom to gestalt their own workday and move freely between spaces. From several speakers and commentators at the conference, I took away that trust is a key issue. It starts with the leaders giving that trust to employees and the employees respecting that trust and not taking advantage of it. The second Google motto (after “don’t be evil”) is of importance and that is “doing things that matter”. When employees feel like their work matters, they will be dedicated to it. Here is an interesting RSA talk on motivation, which backs this up.

We need to redefine work, and that takes time

Having personally visited Google Zurich on a few occasions, I also know that the theory doesn’t always work (at least yet…) – not everyone will take time away from their desk to exchange ideas or enjoy themselves. I personally believe that this has to do with our societal training, which dictates that work is work and fun is fun. One goes to work to earn money, and relaxation is done after the 8 hour workday in one’s private time. Like our education system, I believe that this model is old and is slowly dying. I know different models can work, because in my firm, we have meetings while running, and they are often very fruitful and allow for more ideas to come about. However this shift takes time, changing culture, as was made clear in Carsten Sudhoff’s workshop, takes time, and companies need to understand this. I believe Google does, which is why they have maintained their philosophy, and neither force their employees into a pattern of behaviour, but rather entrust them to make that call themselves.

Meanwhile in the so-called traditional firms

leader vs. managerAn interesting observation from people working at big banks and other large traditional firms, shows that there is a somewhat superficial understanding of employee engagement. While surveys and appraisals are seen as important, and there is a want for the metrics they provide, this is done half-heartedly by people in HR who truly believe in the importance of employee engagement. Engagement, like corporate-social responsibility can often be used for publicity and to look good, but can be meaningless. If employee engagement and satisfaction are just buzz words in your firm, the decision makers don’t get it and the efforts are futile. As an other person in the workshop said, “Pick any employee on their first day of work, and I guarantee that they will have a 100% engagement. The secret is keeping that.” I believe engagement is kept through trust, purpose, vision and a share in the results. There’s a meaningful meme out there of leaders and managers. If employees believe that their manager is working with them, and not that they are working for him/her they will work better. There is a reason why Alexander the Great conquered the known world. He was the first into battle and the last out and fought shoulder to shoulder with his troops. He had their respect, because he was putting in what he was asking them to — that’s what leaders do. Businesses with high engagement have great leadership. Leaders who work with their employees, fight for them, help them develop and who show their their gratitude.

Great leaders facilitate engagement

Einstein FishLeadership is the other idea I took away from the Inspire 925 conference. Great leaders practice a few things themselves — there are plenty of online lists of the habits of successful leaders and gratitude is one of them. Leaders realize that they lead people, but the success they experience is the result of the collaborative work of the people they are leading. Leading also means finding strengths. The idea of strengths is Dr. Willibald Ruch from the University of Zurich discussed. A proponent of positive psychology and the teachings of Dr. Martin Seligman (I recommend Seligman’s book Flourish), Dr. Ruch spoke about finding our personal strengths and honing them. Again there is the famous meme based on the Einstein quote about a fish climbing a tree. Great leaders, help their team members build their strengths and then coordinate strengths (people) to achieve the optimal results.

Empowerment = power

To end this post, I would like to end with this thought: companies face two ways to improve their bottom line. They can make cuts: cut employee programs and the number of employees, which shows that its leaders do not have much hope for the future of the firm or its employees. Or companies can invest in their employees, invest trust, provide great leadership, connect strengths and believe that there is more potential in their company than meets the eye. The resulting creativity, innovation and collaboration, when this is done, is what will give the most successful companies with the happiest employees the chance to catapult themselves forward in an ever competitive business environment. A business is like sports team: If you train and praise your players correctly, they’ll bring you the wins you’re looking for. And lastly there is the old maxim that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That holding true, a company is only as innovative as its least engaged employees. Maximize their engagement and you’ll maximize your innovation and get ready to be surprised.

Companies wishing to learn more about how this can be done, would benefit from contacting Inspire 925.

I highly recommend this post from Fast Company as well.

Immer wieder lesen wir über das Problem der Expat-Integration. Einheimische meinen, dass die Expats (generell Englischsprechende) sich bei der Integration hier in der Schweiz keine Mühe geben. Sie haben den Ruf arrogante Vielverdiener zu sein, die es nicht für nötig halten, sich in die Sitten des neuen Wahllandes einzuleben. Man findet sie meistens in den englischen und irischen Pubs der Stadt oder zuhause in ihren Villen am Zürichsee oder in den steuergünstigen Kantonen Zug und Schwyz. Spricht man den normalen Schweizer auf Expats an, sagt er wahrscheinlich, dass sie unter sich bleiben. Ihrerseits sagen die Expats aber auch, dass es sehr schwierig sei, sich hier in der Schweiz als Teil der lokalen Gesellschaft zu fühlen. Integration scheint also doch nicht so einfach zu sein. Um das zu bekämpfen investiert der Kanton viel Geld in Integrationsintiativen wie zum Beispiel Informations- und Begrüssungsabende, die auf English gehalten werden. Dazu bekommen auch verschiedene Expat Organisationen Geld und Unterstützung, um die Arbeit des Integrationsamts zu erleichtern. Nichtsdestotrotz bleibt der Erfolg aus. Und hier liegt mein Problem.

Letzten Samstag war ich zum wiederholten Mal auf einem solchen Expat-Anlass und wieder enttäuscht. Als Auslandsschweizer habe ich grosses Verständnis für Expats. Dazu arbeite ich auch tagtäglich mit Expats, indem ich ihnen die deutsche Sprache beibringe, um sie dadurch zu integrieren. Wie bei den anderen Events wurde ich wieder von einem der Organisatoren eingeladen mit der Behauptung, dass ich und einige andere für unsere Arbeit bezüglich Integration geehrt werden würden und nebenbei würde ich viele potenzielle neue Kursteilnehmer treffen. Und da beginnen schon die Probleme: Diese Veranstaltungen für Expats sind schlecht organisierte Networkingpartys. Hauptsache es gibt einiges umsonst und verschiedene Gruppen und Firmen, die ihr Angebot an Kursen, Programmen und Produkten präsentieren können. Schweizer und sogar Deutschsprachige sind hier eher selten — ich schätze ihr Anteil liegt bei ca. 10%. Die behauptete Integration im Sinner beider Gruppen bleibt hier aus. Die Leute, die sich an solchen Anlässen treffen bleiben zu größtem Teil Ausländer mit guten Englischkenntnissen, die anderen Menschen in der gleichen Lage, kennen lernen wollen und dabei ein paar Bier oder Prosecco trinken wollen. Dabei sind einige Schweizer, die mal im Ausland gearbeitet haben, und auch hier in der Schweiz in einem multikulturellen Umfeld leben wollen. Integriert sind sie zwar, jedoch nur untereinander. Die sogenannte Expat-Community ist sehr offen, auch Schweizern gegenüber.

still1Von Seiten des Integrationsamts, vieler Schweizer und anderer Expats kann man aber von keiner Integration sprechen. Es wird erwartet, dass man sich als ein Teil der Gesellschaft, der Nachbarschaft, der Gemeinde fühlt. Dies ist vielen Expats aber noch nicht gelungen. Warum? Sind sie in ihrer Expat-Blase gefangen? Oder sind die Schweizer zu hart und kalt─ ein Volk, das sich nicht knacken lässt? Nein, die grösste Hemmung ist das moderne Leben. Man muss sich eigentlich fragen, wie gut man als Schweizer selber in seiner Gemeinde integriert ist. Zürich lockt Menschen aus der ganzen Welt und natürlich auch aus der ganzen Schweiz. Sie ist eine wirtschaftliche Hochburg des kapitalistischen Erfolgs; wer möchte denn nicht gerne hier leben? Ich bin davon überzeugt, dass es den meisten Zugezogenen ähnlich wie den Ausländern geht. Es sind nämlich genau die aus anderen Teilen der Schweiz Zugezogenen, die sich mit den Expats vermischen.

Warum ist Integration mittlerweile so schwierig geworden? Die Antwort hängt mit der Entwicklung des Egoismus zusammen. Wir haben das Gefühl einander nicht mehr so viel zu brauchen. Wie viele Vereine gibt es heute noch im Vergleich zu früher? Wie viele Gemeinde-Ferienhäuser wurden verkauft, weil heute jeder seine eigene Zweitwohnung in den Bergen haben will, oder gar keine Ferien in der Schweiz verbringen möchte? Die, die integriert sind, also die, die im selben Ort aufgewachsen sind, haben bereits ihre kleine Gemeinschaft und haben meistens wenig Interesse neue Freundschaften zu schliessen. Und die zugezogenen Schweizer können am Wochenende einfach wieder “nach Hause” fahren, um ihrerseits bestehende Freundschaften zu pflegen. Sogar viele Expats aus Großbritannien und Irland können sich das leisten. Also ist Integration überhaupt wichtig? Ich würde diese Frage immer noch mit Ja beantworten. Aber wir müssen uns bewusst werden, was wir von Integration eigentlich erwarten.

Grundsätzlich gibt es ein fundamentales Missverständnis zwischen Schweizern und Expats, nämlich darüber, wie man sich als neu Hinzugezogener in einem anderen Land zu verhalten hat. Englischsprechende (Engländer, Amerikaner, Iren, Kanadier usw.) sind es gewöhnt, dass man die Neuankömmlinge begrüsst, sich vorstellt und sie einlädt an gesellschaftlichen Anlässen teilzunehmen oder zum Beispiel in Vereinen mitzumachen. Der Schweizer hingegen erwartet, dass der Neue sich selbst vorstellt und anbietet. Hinzu kommt, dass Englischsprechende Fremden viel schneller vertrauen als die Schweizer. Im Resultat dauert es länger, sich hier in der Schweiz einzuleben.

Eine Rolle spielt aber auch die Sprache. Auch wenn die neu Zugezogenen schon im Ausland Deutsch (sprich: Hochdeutsch) gelernt haben, können sie zumeist wenig mit Schweizerdeutsch anfangen. Herr und Frau Schweizer helfen hier aber meistens gar nicht. Statt mit den Neuankömmlingen Hochdeutsch zu sprechen, wechseln sie direkt ins Englische. Hier könnte man stattdessen langsam und deutlich mit Expats Deutsch sprechen und ihnen nebenbei helfen Schweizerdeutsch zu verstehen. Schon kleine Hinweise — es heisst “Stange” nicht “kleines Bier” — können der Integration zuträglich sein.

Screen Shot 2013-03-18 at 23.00.14Des Weiteren sollten auch Unternehmen, die Mitarbeiter aus dem Ausland rekrutieren, größeres Augenmerk darauf legen, neuen Expats die Sitten und kulturellen Eigenheiten der Schweiz von Anfang an näher zu bringen. Hier kann das Integrationsamt helfen und es reicht oft schon ein halber Tag. Ausserdem könnten Unternehmen eine Art Mentorensystem einrichten: Schweizer Mitarbeiter, die ihre ausländischen Kollegen in lokale Gebräuche einführen und sie animieren, an gesellschaftlichen Anlässen teilzunehmen. Auch ortsansässige Vereine könnten ermutigt werden, mehr ausländische neue Mitglieder aufzunehmen. Viele meiner Kursteilnehmer spielen z.B. in Bands zusammen mit Schweizern oder sind im Alpinisten Club. Diese Expats haben in aller Regel mehr Schweizer Freunde und sprechen schneller besseres Deutsch.

Mit diesem Artikel will ich betonen, dass der Kanton, die Stadt, und Frau und Herr Schweizer das Integrationsproblem neu überdenken sollten. Zurzeit funktioniert es nicht und viele Steuergelder werden schlicht verschwendet. Expatklubs müssen keine finanzielle Förderung bekommen, weil sowohl Schweizer als auch Expats wollen, dass Schweizer und Expat zusammenkommen und nicht, dass eine parallele Expat-Gesellschaft geschaffen wird. Dafür bedarf es aber Zeit, Geduld und Offenheit auf beiden Seiten.

Two Swiss groups are up in arms and it’s not about banks or immigrants. This week the ETH released a study that was commissioned by Economiesuisse into the possible effects of Switzerland pursuing it’s current energy policy to eliminate nuclear and gas energy by 2050 in favour of renewable sources. The study’s result state that the Swiss economy stands to lose 25% of its GDP by following this plan if action, something that Economiesuisse is and has been opposed to. For this lobby group, the evidence is clear and having come from an internationally recognized research institution says all there is to say.

ETH Zurich

Knowledge is an country’s best asset

However, other ETH researches and environmentalists are harsh to criticize the latest study. They say that the finding are based on early 2000s technology, which has become more efficient and cheaper and continues to develop. For these reasons they claim that the study’s findings over estimates the costs and fails to take the advantages into account.

Not taking the advantages of moving towards renewable and safe energy sources is a grave mistake for an institute (Economiesuisse), which claims to have the nation at the heart of its interest. The costs of ignoring this issue are much higher than addressing it.

As this informations came to light so did another potentially tragic news story. The Finnish firm Wärtsilä is rumored to be contemplating selling it’s Swiss subsidiary. For Winterthur, the repercussions could be drastic.  At present Wärtsilä produces ship power solutions and the reason for its economic uncertainty according to the news report is that there are too many ships and not enough demand. So what does this have to do with Switzerland’s energy debate?

Wärtsilä has also been researching and working in the field of renewable energy. The best and smartest companies are investing money and energy in this field because they recognize that there is a huge market to be had by countries and regions wishing to become energy independent. Countries where there is a clear interest for developing this type of technology are good places to do business. For this reason many solar and wind firms have left the US for Germany where they find more political support and a market.

economist

Even Switzerland can learn from the Nordics.

In this week’s Economist there is a special series on the Nordic countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. In many ways these countries are being praised by the editors of the Economist, but there are some reservations. What is mentioned as a strength though is the willingness of the Nordics to look for new and innovative answers to economic problems and to embrace new technologies. That is what Switzerland must di as well.

Going back to the report for Economiesuisse and the belief of a 25% decrease in Switzerland’s GDP, a more encompassing study that took the results of 13 studies (including the above mentioned study) into Switzerland’s plans for green energy by 2050 found that the Swiss economy would suffer at most from a 0.5% drop in GDP, but more likely a 2% increase thanks to new jobs and technical know-how that would come from this development.

Like so often in humanity’s history we find ourselves at the cusp of needing to make some major decisions. When the car was introduced the blacksmiths and carriage makers protested that it would mean the end of their work, and it did, but it created a major new field of business and increased mobility and urbanization. The same is happening with energy. Betting on tradition is the worst wager a politician can make. The only thing that is certain is change. A good politician and policy maker will always bet on knowledge and the growth of knowledge.

Many countries are hesitant invest in game-changing technology or initiate policies that will force change, because they still look to the USA to lead the way and set the course. However, in recent years the US has done a poor job on setting new goals for where they see the world going. During the Cold War it was clear: spread democracy and show all the benefits of capitalism. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall there have been no great plans, but rather let’s keep doing what we’re doing and without investing anymore try to suck out more advantages (profit and work) from what exists.

Small countries, like Switzerland, have an enormous advantage to become world leaders. Open their borders to the smartest people, help them start companies and develop the technology we need to ensure we stop destroying the environment and start fixing the problems we’ve caused. Labour is easy to export. Anyone can lower their taxes. Knowledge and innovation are much less likely to leave a place where they flourish.

Swiss politicians owe it to their constituents and the Swiss people owe it to future generations to pursue one of the most ambitious renewable energy policies in the world.

This is a common attitude amongst naysayers and those holding on to tradition

This is a common attitude amongst naysayers and those holding on to tradition

In Zurich people would rather buy cherries than pick them from a tree in front of their house.

There are many things that keep me up at night. Some of them are things I can change and others I can’t. The things I can change, I start working on, the things I can’t keep the cogs in my head rotating until the early hours of the morning. One of those things is food. Those who know me, know that I love to cook and eat good food and drink great wines. But it’s not the thought of “what’s the next exciting culinary adventure that I’ll go on next” that keeps me up, rather it’s the question of “why is food so undervalued.”

Every year food is getting cheaper. Cheaper you may ask, how can that be? Everything is getting more expensive. But you’re wrong. In comparison to what you earn, food is getting cheaper. “In 1974-2005 food prices on world markets fell by three-quarters in real terms” (The Economist). And according to a recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, prices on major commodities have again dropped.

Then of course there are the disturbing facts coming from investigative books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and recent article in the Guardian about how modern food is making us fat and leaving us unsatisfied. Read about it here: “Why our food is making us fat”.

Of course there is also the fact that in a world where politicians and others are worried that we can’t feed the world’s population, we could almost feed it twice, but would rather throw away food than give it to the poor (see this Spiegel program (In German)).

The social problem surrounding food was made extremely clear to me today in Zurich. In the garden of the building beside my building stands a cherry tree. Switzerland is great for cherries. I have never seen a tree carry so many cherries before. This evening I harvested an entire 3 liter pot with cherries. Many cherries are now rotting on the tree. I have yet to see any person pick any cherries from this tree and of the 24 flats in the building I am convinced that at least four have purchased baskets of cherries at Coop or Migros for 5 or more francs for a 500g basket. The problem is that we have too much money and not enough time to treat food with the respect it deserves.

All of this said there is only one answer to the modern food crisis. We need to re-educate people about what real food is and start producing as much food as possible ourselves and/or where it will be consumed. Economic trade theory has not taken the externality costs of our food industry into account. In Switzerland the team behind Urban Farmers are on the right path to addressing one of these issues, and the Slow Food movement is working on the education element, but more needs to be done.

The last thought that came to mind today was this: It is amazing how much people will fight to keep what they have, rather than for things they do not, especially when that which they don’t would be much better. For this reason people will protest and complain for cheaper food prices, even if higher prices would mean more people are fed with more nutritious food and those producing it would get a humane and fair price.

We as a society need to stop this insanity.

If you’re wondering why knowing how to cook is important, here’s a simple answer. It will save you money. Save your health and save taxpayers money too.

Lastly watch this documentary about our food production and waste: We Feed the World

Recently there has been a great deal of material written about expats in Switzerland. By expats, the specific call is against Highly skilled English speaking individuals and to a degree Germans residing in Switzerland and working at some of the world’s most successful firms.

The German-speaking Swiss are up in arms about the what they deem to be the development of parallel communities that are not integrating into Swiss culture. Of course the biggest issue is language. Many politicians and voters want to impose and have already imposed mandatory language skills when applying for different residency permits (You need a A2 level in German for a C Permit).

What is clearly not understood though is that the expectations of the people I’ll call “integrators” are built on old ideals that no longer apply to modern Switzerland.

Switzerland’s advantages for business are the following:
1. Taxation (companies can save millions)
2. Legal (companies as well as individuals can trust that the laws of the land are not arbitrary and that they will be treated fairly)
3. Location (Switzerland lies in the middle of Europe and is well connected to the world, a brilliant place to run an international company from)
4. Infrastructure (Swiss infrastructure is world class. The tax money is used wisely to ensure that people have more and better services than in other countries)

All of that said today’s expats are rarely coming to Switzerland to stay for a long time. Switzerland likes this. It’s great for maintaining low unemployment and ensuring minimal obligations to people who have worked here.

Because of the modern world we live in, many expats (UK residents and Germans alike) can easily travel back to their home countries at the weekends. When one works from 9-5 Monday – Friday, weekends would be integration time, but today it means time back home. Switzerland is essentially like the city, weekends are spent in the country.

Regarding language, this is not taken seriously by the state, companies, nor by most Swiss. The state as a whole has no unified requirements. When it comes to subsidizing, each canton does it differently. Zurich for instance has given the Migros Klubschule and ECAP a monopoly on German instruction. Businesses are more than willing to throw money at the problem, allowing for generous budgets to fund language instruction, but do not give their employees the time or incentive they need to learn German. As a language teacher, I sympathize with my students working over 45 hours a week, have a family, and are trying hard to learn German. Then of course there are the Swiss themselves: when an English speaking person tries to use their High German to order coffee, ask directions, make an appointment, or even just start a conversation the Swiss person will more often than not respond in English. This is demotivating to German learners and shows that the Swiss are not willing to help with linguistic integration.

Another interesting and very overlooked issue regarding integration is how many Swiss are equally not integrated in their communities. Even the city president of Dubendorf has stated that this is an issue. In a recent interview, he said that he does not want growth at any cost and doesn’t just want people moving to Dubendorf, but working in Zurich proper, essentially only using Dubendorf for affordable housing, rather, he would like to see engaged people who will enrich the community.

«Wir wollen nicht um jeden Preis wachsen», sagt Lothar Ziörjen. Das «Dorf» – wie er es nennt – brauche vor allem Leute, die sich integrieren und am Gemeindeleben teilnehmen. [Full article]

However, as the demands of work are constantly growing, people find it more difficult to allocate time for more social and civil activities. They are just trying to pay the rent. It should also not be over looked that other Swiss who move to different areas of Switzerland for work reasons act like their expat counterparts and return to their home regions at the weekend.

What is the solution to this issue? Is Switzerland being flooded by high-payed Anglophones that are taking away what it means to be Swiss? are they harming the economy or Swiss culture? The opposite is actually true. Switzerland is profiting from its expat community. The key thing to understand is that they are highly skilled workers, adding to Switzerland’s economic output. If the country is worried that we need too many foreigners they, would be smarter to invest in education instead of the fighter jets and help ensure that the native Swiss population is trained and skilled to fill the jobs of the future.

The reality of the issue being debated is that despite social media we are less less community oriented today than we have ever been. There is a current triumph of the ego, whereby everyone is busy taking care of themselves and not interacting with their neighbours let alone their bigger community. It is perhaps the awareness of how this will have long term negative consequences that makes some people insist on harping on expats. After all their language and financial success make them stick out. Then of course there is also a degree of jealousy, as Julia Morais from the Integration Office in Zurich told the Tages-Anzeiger.

If communes, cantons, and the state really want expats to integrate faster and better, then they will have to eliminate some of the exclusion practices that are essential to waking people’s interests in integration. If you can’t vote or express civil and political desires in the community and country in which you live, there is little incentive to integrate. The current practices of the integration offices of organizing special events that only attract expats will not help them build communities with other Swiss people.

Neuenschwander with pacers

The weather conditions, despite the forecast, in the early morning hours of April 23, 2012 looked promising. Perhaps the sun would shine, or at least the rain hold off. It was marathon day in Zurich. I was hoping for a new personal best and so was the Maja Neuenschwander from Bern. Only Neuenschwander’s time would give her more than just the feeling of elation one gets when one beats a personal best, it would give her a ticket to represent Switzerland at the 2012 London Olympics this summer.

Hardly five minutes after the starting shot was fired the skies opened and started dumping their contents on the runners from some 40 nations. This was no summer rain, but rather a bitter early spring rain. The participants pushed on hoping that a quick dump would get it over and done with early in the race.

About 1.5 hours in to the race the sun decided to show up, but the wind picked up and everyone running back towards Zurich from Meilen am Zürichsee faced a strong headwind.

Despite these conditions Neuenschwander persevered and achieved a new personal best of 2:31:56. That was 1:04 minutes faster than the qualifying time set by Swiss Olympic. Jubilation for Neuenschwander, she’d be going to the Olympics, or so she thought.

This past week allegations were made that Neuenschwander cheated by having pace runners in the Team-Run event running the distances: 9.7, 10.8, 4.0 und 17.7 kilometers. According to official IAAF rules athletes are not allowed to have pacers running different distances. These rules are clear.

Swiss papers like the boulevard paper Blick called out “Bschiss beim Züri-Marathon!” and then went on to defend Neuenschwander. Even the NZZ’s reporting on the event suggests that Neuenschwander should be allowed to go to the Olympics. And a poll of Blick readers suggests that some 41.1% of people believe that Neuenschwander should represent Switzerland in London.

I’m a runner and while I have great sympathy for anyone who runs long distances at at that  speed in those conditions, I believe that Neuenschwander should not be sent to London. Her victory in Zurich is tarnished and even if it is accepted, should she do well in London, it will give the press material for calling her eligibility into question.

Yes, she ran the 42.195 km on her own, but pacers help one run more controlled and calculated without having to totally listen to one’s own body. It is an advantage and having your pacers run different distances is even more of an advantage as there can be more calculations made.

This event is a great analogy though for the current Swiss political and financial attitude. We read the rules to our advantage and find loopholes that help us and when we’re accused of not following the spirit of the rules or to not do that anymore, we throw a temper-tantrum and say that we are being unfairly persecuted by other countries.

Even if our banks officially say that they do not accept untaxed money from customers, the fact that they didn’t verify that means that they were working in a grey zone. The same applies to recent laws that limit people’s freedoms and other initiatives. While they are decided by the people in a democracy, Switzerland ergo the people did sign onto international treaties guaranteeing all people exactly those rights that we are now trying to revoke (reference to Minaret initiative).

What Neuenschwander and Switzerland need to understand is that they are not being unfairly punished. There are rules and those rules need to be respected. The spirit of any rule always favours the higher moral ground. Seeking out loopholes is the opposite of that. I didn’t achieve a new personal best on that day, but there are other runs. I think Neuenschwander is a talented runner and sincerely hope that she keeps trying for the Olympics, if not 2012 then 2016, but without pacers.

It’s funny how things seem to come together. At the weekend I was debating with friends about Switzerland’s bank secrecy and taxation laws with countries like the USA and Germany. The discussion got me thinking — thinking so much I literally lost sleep about it. My friend, an expat herself, completely believes that Switzerland needs to protect its banking secrecy above all else. Needless to say, I was and am of another opinion.

Last Tuesday evening I saw a program on Arte about the super rich in Europe and the USA. Philanthrope was the big discussion, and of the super rich like Warren Buffet, Baronin Ariane de Rothschild, and Nicolas Berggruen were all in favour of having socially responsible business. Social responsibility in terms of paying taxes, but also in supporting businesses that develop real products.

The message that really shone through though was that the present capitalist system is on the verge of collapse. Berggruen said that for the first time in modern history the West is being challenged by the East. As the quality of life in Asia continues to increase and those in Western countries continue to accumulate debt a major power shift is taking place. When Berggruen said this, I was somewhat relieved, as finally someone clearly declared what I believe is going on, and what many people in the West do not see.

We are not encountering a complete downfall of the world economy, but rather, I believe we are approaching major economic shifts. These shifts will not affect all countries equally. Some countries will heavily profit, while others will lose drastically. At present Western low and middle income people will lose the most.

Okay, what does this have to do with philanthrope and Swiss banking secrecy? Here it is. Many countries are starting to realize that the corporations they rely on to provide jobs to their citizens and to pay taxes have no loyalties to individual states, but only to profit. Maximizing profits and investor returns is optimal. When the state raises taxes these corporations leave. Private citizens acting on sheer egoism circumvent the state and bring their wealth off shore to wealth-friendlier countries. However, countries like the United States, Germany and Britain can no longer afford to have all those capable of paying jump ship, especially to other countries, which because of their geographic and demographic advantages, can profit from these high income individuals and corporations.

The bigger countries are now starting to push their might around and will force smaller countries they see as parasites to bow to their pressure. If Switzerland does not move quickly to find a solution to its current problems with the US and Germany it will really lose. In the words of Ólafur Ragnar:

“If you want your economy to excel in the 21st century […] a big banking sector, even a very successful banking sector, is bad news… You could even argue that the bigger the banking sector is, the worse the news is for your economy.”

What is the solution though? Switzerland needs to move away from finance especially a finance industry reliant on the inefficiencies of other financial and economic systems. Switzerland’s best bet is to use its geographic, demographic and infrastructural advantage to make the country a hub of technological development. Everything from green-tech, to computing and urban planning. The countries that can produce valuable knowledge reserves and developments that can be sold — especially to nations lacking that will win. Switzerland’s continued defense of its financial institutions and banking secrecy is much like the Detroit’s constant support of big cars. The potential for disaster rises the longer the unconditional support continues.

When a friend posted a Swiss take on the now famous British “Keep calm and carry on” reading “Keep calm and stay neutral”, I had to add “…and be very worried.” I couldn’t resist. The truth is the Swiss always worry. This is the curse of a country that is flying high. When a country has it good, it always fears the downturn. Unfortunately this is a mentality of a country that believes that it has achieved its highest glory and whose best days are behind it. It’s a terrible affliction of mentality that a predominantly older generation carries with it. This terrible mentality can effect the young and cause them not to strive for greatness. The good news in Switzerland is that I have seen a great many young people in the creative and design industry who also do not believe this and still great future potential for the country.

There are a great many political, environmental, nutritional, and economic problems that need to be solved and whether those solutions come from the East or the West or by way of collaboration, solutions will be found. However, the solutions may not come at the right time for all industries and people. Because of this reason, each country today needs to make it their utmost priority to solve these problems, or at least to create the regulations and atmosphere that will encourage private industry seeking to solve these issues to develop and grow in them.

Economic prosperity can only come through real wealth creation, that is real useable products and solutions that benefit society at large and not just the current shifting of wealth that our modern financial institutions have promoted in the past thirty years.

Switzerland likes to think of itself as an island in Europe.

Today World Radio Switzerland (WRS) told listeners that, “World Radio Switzerland, is threatened with either closure or privatisation. According to Roger de Weck, director-general of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, WRS’s parent company, an English-language radio station should no longer be publicly funded.”

This news has many Expats in Switzerland getting quite upset. While no final decisions have been made, this case presents further evidence of how disconnected the country is from how it operates in reality. Swiss politicians and many others refuse to see how interconnected business and the world economy is. This interconnectedness also directly and indirectly affects culture.

Most countries exist with their own mythologies. Switzerland’s mythology can be summed up in a few words: neutrality, industriousness, heritage and quality. These are the beliefs with which many Swiss operate. Switzerland is the wealthy country with an remarkably high standard of living thanks to its neutrality in times of conflict, the industriousness of its people and the quality of the products it produces. These make up the country’s heritage, which is respected around the world.

While there is a degree of truth in this myth – all myths are somehow founded in facts – it is a very naïve picture of the way the country operates. Thanks in part to the Schengen-Dublin agreement, but also in large part to low taxes and also its lack of qualified specialists Switzerland has seen many expats move to the country. For many Swiss the influx of Expats is an alarming trend as they continually hear about potential layoffs and the threatening economic climate. Yet, Expats don’t seem to fit into the scheme of the “fee-loading Eastern European” come to live off the social security system the hardworking Swiss have built. Because of this they must be vilified some other way. So the Expats are made out to be arrogant and seen to be refusing to integrate to Swiss life.

These trends are very unfortunate as is the view that foreign workers are simply here to take advantage of the country. Given the economic data that 71.3% of the country’s GDP comes from services, 27.5% from industry and only 1.2% from agriculture (Global Finance). These myths must be reexamined. Switzerland benefits from its Expat population and needs to work as much with Expats hoping to integrate into Swiss life as it does with the Swiss to help them understand the role Expats play in the country’s prosperity.

The news of the threatened closure or sale of WRS comes on the heels of a potential law that will forbid expatriate pupils from attending international schools in Zurich. Again the argument of integration is being used to justify the move. Unfortunately, these moves are aggressive and place Expats in the defensive and blame them for not integrating. In return, some companies may reconsider having Switzerland as their home base, or at least the canton of Zurich.

Integration is a two-way street and it must be said that it is being poorly handled by both the Swiss authorities and Expats alike. This raises the question though of how important is integration anyway? Many Expats will only spend a few years in Switzerland before moving on to another country for a few more years. Even those who end up staying for protracted lengths of time may never integrate as their job simply does not allow them to. They would be as unintegrated in their home country as they are here because long working hours and frequent travel do not allow them to have a social life. So even those who wish to learn a national language or integrate are not afforded the time required to do such.

The Swiss authorities need to provide simple to use services for those wishing to integrate, and perhaps even offer an integration bonus system that is easy to understand and use. They also need to educate the Swiss as to the importance of the Expat community. It is a major source of the country’s wealth and needs to be competently addressed without stereotypes and aggression.

Companies for their part should also do more to help their employees with integration. This is not just an HR issue where more in-house training courses for language and intercultural understanding will solve the issue. It means seriously giving employees time to integrate and learn one of Switzerland’s national languages and genuinely live in Switzerland.

Returning to the subject of WRS, it would be a shame for the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation to close the station. English is as good as Switzerland’s third language as there are more people able to effectively speak English than Italian or Romansch living in Switzerland. Furthermore, English is used by many Swiss as the default language of business when communicating with another Swiss person who speaks a different national language. By this I mean a native of Zurich is most likely to speak English when talking to a native of Geneva. Regarding the use of public funds to support an English language station when it’s not a national language, we also teach English at schools across the country and some cantons have even given English priority over other national languages, an English language radio station would further support that instruction. As Pedro Simko of Saatchi and Saatchi makes clear in his interview, English radio in Switzerland is for the public good.