SDSN is proud to announce the launch of its 25th network! SDSN Switzerland, co-hosted by The Centre for Development and Environment at the University of Bern and BIOVISION Foundation, joins the SDSN with a view to shaping multi-stakeholder dialogue, foster sustainable development solutions, and advise decision-makers on the implementation of the Agenda 2030 and the Paris Climate Agreement. SDSN Switzerland officially launched on February 15th with a full-day conference under the banner “Where Society, Science and Politics Create Solutions.” The network already boasts 19 members from key institutions around Switzerland who are committed to the localization of the SDGs.

Conference to Launch SDSN Switzerland

From left to right: Urs Wiesmann, Co-Chair of SDSN Switzerland; Katrin Muff, Conference Facilitator; Bertrand Piccard, Solar Impulse Foundation; Jacques Dubochet, University of Lausanne; Océane Dayer, Co-Chair of SDSN Switzerland; Michael Bergöö, Acting Managing Director of SDSN Switzerland. © Peter Lüthi, Biovision.

Influential actors in the world of sustainable development participated in the event, which featured keynote speeches from Bertrand Piccard, the first person to fly around the world in a solar plane (Solar Impulse), and Nobel laureate Professor Jacques Dubochet.

The program had elements of a traditional conference structure, with keynote speeches and panel discussions, but also incorporated unique breakout session formats with the aim of planting the seeds for sustainable solutions in Switzerland.

Morning Plenary

After a welcome from the network chairs, SDSN’s Executive Director, Dr. Guido Schmidt-Traub, highlighted Switzerland’s important role in advancing the international agenda. In particular, he highlighted that while Switzerland is advancing on many of the SDGs, the 2017 SDG Index and Dashboards Report illustrates that Switzerland has a long way to go to address its global responsibilities in terms of negative spillover effects in other countries.

Dr. Guido Schmidt-Traub, Executive Director of SDSN. Photo: © Peter Lüthi, Biovision.

Bertrand Piccard followed, sharing his vision for Switzerland and demonstrating, through his experience flying around the world in Solar Impulse, that the potential of renewable energy today is only limited by our imaginations. Piccard also announced his new initiative, World Alliance for Sustainable Solutions which aims to support clean, efficient technologies, whilst also enhancing the global economy through job creation.

Breakout Sessions

In Part II of the conference, entitled “Stories for a Sustainable World,” participants were invited to join one of nine breakout sessions to explore what conditions are needed to develop meaningful, sustainable solutions for Switzerland and beyond.

“Collective Story Harvesting” group: Defining Research Agendas. Photo: © Peter Lüthi, Biovision.

The breakout sessions adopted an innovative methodology, “Collective Story Harvesting,” wherein participants were told a compelling story around the theme of the session and acted as “Wisdom Catchers” who analyze prescribed aspects of the story and share insights with the group.  In the second half of the breakout sessions, “from learning to insight to action,” participants were called to gather into small groups and, using “World Café” methodology, work together to converge the wisdom from the stories and transform them into solutions.

Afternoon Plenary

In the afternoon plenary panel discussion, “Switzerland’s opportunities and responsibilities for a sustainable world,” Barbara Kux, member of the board of directors of Firmenich, Group Engie Henkel, and Pargesa Holding, emphasized that the technology exists to dramatically reduce global CO2 levels. She put forth that, despite common perception, industry and environment are becoming increasingly compatible and that the most successful companies are those who merge the importance of shareholder values with social values, calling it the “Three P’s: People, Planet and Profit.” She stressed that to accelerate the adoption of this kind of strategy will require not only the appropriate financial and institutional frameworks, but also sincere enthusiasm from all those involved.

Teresa Ribera, SDSN Leadership Council member and Director of IDDRI (The Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations), outlined the lessons she’s learned from her experience promoting sustainable development, highlighting her most important considerations. She closed her speech by reminding the audience and discussants that we must aim to repair the broken intergenerational contract with young people.

Lastly, Klaus Leisinger from the Global Values Alliance emphasized that the 2030 Agenda, is by and large, about societal reform, which requires a political framework to set the right incentives and allow all social actors to contribute. He stressed the role of the media and other institutions in raising awareness of sustainable development and leveraging reputational capital to shed light on good company practices and decry harmful ones.

The panel discussion was followed by a powerful keynote from Professor Jacques Dubochet, Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry (2017), highlighting the unique relationship between biology, knowledge, and society. Using an example of the international scientific investigation into viruses, he demonstrated that truly meaningful progress is incremental and requires collective efforts spanning generations. In so doing, he reminded the participants that we must not undermine the humble results from today’s efforts, as they will become revolutionary successes tomorrow.


To close the event, selected participants from the nine breakout sessions provided short summaries of the sustainable solutions they discussed. Many of the conclusions centered on the need to challenge existing status quos, enhance transparency, and promote positive messages that express common values around the 2030 Agenda. Several groups highlighted that achieving the Goals in Switzerland will require enhanced transparency and cooperation, which could be facilitated by SDSN Switzerland moving forward. Many of the conclusions also suggested the development of experimental communication platforms that could be used to bring different stakeholders together around the Goals. The summary of the breakout sessions was followed by a closing address from the Chairs and a surprise artistic performance by students from Bern University of the Arts.

The success and relevance of the conference was underpinned by the network’s commitment to represent a range of stakeholders that could put sustainable solutions to the test both intellectually, and in practice. To this point, many attendees highlighted the effort undertaken to ensure that the conference was representative of many different stakeholders as well as being both inter-generational and gender balanced. The breakout sessions helped kick-start the network to gauge local attitudes around sustainable development and take an initial step toward developing local solutions. Although Switzerland and the rest of the world have a long way to go towards achieving the Goals, SDSN is confident that this network will be a key player in achieving the 2030 Agenda in Switzerland and beyond.

Media Round Up

New Swiss development network to tackle UN goalsSwiss Info, February 15

Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Switzerland Launch ConferenceIISD Reporting Services, February 15

We must exploit the huge potential for sustainable solutions nowSDSN Switzerland Media Release, February 16

SDSN Switzerland Launches, Identifying SDG CatalystsIISD SDG Knowledge Hub, February 20

Additional Materials:

SDSN Switzerland Launch Conference Program

SDSN Switzerland Factsheet [EN] [GR] [FR]

SDSN Switzerland Discussion Paper [EN] [GR] [FR]

More about SDSN Switzerland on their website: