Guido Fluri – in the thick of it

Proac­tive by nature, when Guido Fluri reco­g­ni­ses a need, he feels compel­led to do some­thing about it. His own expe­ri­en­ces have had a strong influence on his phil­an­thro­pic work with the Guido Fluri Foundation.

Guido Fluri’s life story has had a strong influence on his phil­an­thro­pic work. His unmar­ried, underage mother deve­lo­ped schi­zo­phre­nia during his early child­hood, and he spent a lot of time in care. He comple­ted his compul­sory schoo­ling in Matzen­dorf in Solo­thurn, where he lived with his grand­mo­ther. After initial diffi­cul­ties finding a job, his life turned around when he began an appren­ti­ce­ship as a filling station atten­dant. Combi­ning tips from this job with a bank loan, he mana­ged to buy a plot of land at the age of just 20, and built a house. The profit from the sale of that first house kick-star­ted his career as an entre­pre­neur. Today an estab­lished philanthropist, he belie­ves that ‘Modern phil­an­thropy is about wealthy people taking respon­si­bi­lity.’ It is often successful entre­pre­neurs who have the finan­cial clout and the network to make a difference.

The Repa­ra­tion Initiative 

Fluri took respon­si­bi­lity. As the man behind the Repa­ra­tion Initia­tive, he forced poli­ti­ci­ans to look at the facts and to take action. In 2013, the Swiss Fede­ral Coun­cil issued an apology to victims of the state’s former forced child labour and children’s home poli­cies. Finan­cial compen­sa­tion, howe­ver, was not forth­co­ming. For Fluri, the apology alone was not enough. He chan­nel­led his anger into a campaign to demand credi­ble repa­ra­tion: ‘We are now laun­ching a popu­lar initia­tive!’ The Repa­ra­tion Initia­tive was born. Looking back, he laughs at the memory. ‘At first it was chaos. But I reali­sed that if the initia­tive was to succeed, I needed to bring toge­ther all of the victim groups.’ Fluri took up the cause through his Foun­da­tion. Along­side the demands of the parlia­men­tary initia­tive, the Repa­ra­tion Initia­tive deman­ded a fund for finan­cial compen­sa­tion. Fluri saw that in order to build enough support, he would need both human and finan­cial resour­ces. His campaign had the support of a multi-member project team, the maga­zine Beob­ach­ter and a cross-party commit­tee. It took him just nine months to coll­ect the signa­tures he needed. ‘We had to move quickly, because many of the victims were alre­ady old and frail,’ Fluri explains. The peti­tion was submit­ted to the Fede­ral Chan­cel­lery on 13 Janu­ary 2015 and just six months later, the Fede­ral Coun­cil presen­ted a bill as an indi­rect coun­ter­pro­po­sal to the Repa­ra­tion Initiative.

«We had to be quick, because many of the victims were alre­ady old and frail.»

Guido Fluri

Spea­king from experience

Follo­wing the announce­ment of the Fede­ral Council’s bill, the real chall­enge of poli­ti­cal persua­sion began. ‘We met with huge oppo­si­tion. I reali­sed straight away that I had to get the churches and the Farmers’ Union on board,’ recalls Fluri. Here, his own Protes­tant back­ground helped guide him, and he was certain that he was doing the right thing. ‘It’s that message of love your neigh­bour, that we should help one another, even in chal­len­ging times, and not point the finger of blame,’ the Foundation’s foun­der empha­si­ses. ‘That was my inner compass. I can under­stand if someone is asha­med of their own past because they were told again and again that they can’t do anything, that they’re wort­hl­ess,’ Fluri says. He belie­ves that a certain stigma stays with you for life. He held endless talks where he attempted to explain to scep­ti­cal poli­ti­ci­ans what it really meant to have been taken into care against the family’s will. First, he had to build bridges. ‘Today, the Guido Fluri Foun­da­tion has a good rela­ti­onship with the churches, because we didn’t seek to condemn the church,’ he explains. As a result, the church circles ulti­m­ately acknow­led­ged the initiative’s case. Fluri spoke with repre­sen­ta­ti­ves of all parties. Because he is not a member of any party hims­elf, he was accepted as sincere. With many SVP and FDP poli­ti­ci­ans, howe­ver, he came up against a brick wall until the parlia­men­tary debate in April 2016. Resis­tance, Fluri explains, also came from the Farmers’ Union, which was afraid its members could subse­quently be held to account. But that was not what the insti­ga­tor of the Repa­ra­tion Initia­tive had in mind. He was more inte­res­ted in finding an over­all solu­tion for the victims. This included accep­ting compro­mi­ses, for exam­ple in terms of soli­da­rity contri­bu­ti­ons. His approach succee­ded. Fluri won over a large majo­rity of the natio­nal parlia­men­ta­ri­ans. The Fede­ral Assem­bly appro­ved a coun­ter­pro­po­sal that encom­pas­sed the essen­tial points of the initia­tive. As a result, the initia­tive was with­drawn. The law came into force just one year later. Since then, 11,000 victims have recei­ved offi­cial reco­gni­tion for the harm they suffe­red and a soli­da­rity contri­bu­tion of CHF 25,000 each. The commit­tees conti­nue to receive fifty to a hundred appli­ca­ti­ons a month. 

Reli­e­ved Guido Fluri after the coun­ter-propo­sal was accepted in parliament.

Guido Fluri in conver­sa­tion with brain tumor specia­list Abolg­has­sem Sepehrnia.

Guido Fluri toge­ther with affec­ted persons submit­ting the repa­ra­tion initiative.

Guido Fluri meets with Pope Fran­cis at the Vatican.

Long-term commit­ment

The natio­nal review that is curr­ently under­way is extre­mely compre­hen­sive and is set to run until 2024. Fluri is convin­ced that ‘We need to arti­cu­late these grie­van­ces. We need to keep talking about them.’ The Foun­da­tion ther­e­fore conti­nues to hold meetings such as this year’s summer event, which 800 former victims of forced child labour atten­ded in a gesture of soli­da­rity. ‘Never again!’ was the event’s motto. 

Impe­tus behind chari­ta­ble work

The initial inci­dent that led Fluri to create the Foun­da­tion back in 2010 was being diagno­sed with a benign tumour, found in the cere­bel­lo­pon­tine angle at the base of his skull. Follo­wing the diagno­sis, he rese­ar­ched every aspect of the condi­tion. He wanted to know exactly what was wrong. It was diffi­cult to find infor­ma­tion on the rare and complex tumour in Switz­er­land, he explains, because with only around 50 cases a year, spread over five or so clinics, there was no in-depth exper­tise. ‘When I saw how diffi­cult the situa­tion was for suffe­rers,’ he comm­ents, ‘I deci­ded to do some­thing to change things in Switz­er­land.’ Follo­wing inten­sive efforts, the Guido Fluri Foun­da­tion succee­ded in getting a profes­sio­nal licence for Abolg­has­sem Sepehr­nia, an inter­na­tio­nally renow­ned neuro­sur­geon, to prac­tise in Switz­er­land. As a result, pati­ents in Switz­er­land who had been diagno­sed with an acou­stic neuroma had the oppor­tu­nity to be opera­ted on by an expe­ri­en­ced expert. Sepehr­nia carried out seve­ral hundred opera­ti­ons. ‘Deal­ing with the issue – and the emoti­ons it caused – from an analy­ti­cal point of view gave me confi­dence in myself and took away my anxiety,’ Fluri comments.

In the thick of it

Fluri belie­ves in pitching in and going where help is needed. Often, this means inde­scri­ba­ble trage­dies. ‘When­ever some­thing happens, when I see people having to flee their homes, for exam­ple, I put myself in their shoes and then I know I need to take respon­si­bi­lity,’ explains the man of action. He gets projects off the ground through his Foun­da­tion. The initial spark for the easily acces­si­ble Kescha centre for the protec­tion of child­ren and adults was the emotio­nal debate in the after­math of the child murder case in Flaach. Kescha attempts to prevent escala­tion. Psycho­lo­gists listen, take concerns seriously and search for solu­ti­ons. The centre has held over 12,000 consul­ta­ti­ons in the past five years and, as a result, has been able to prevent a great deal of legal escala­tion. Legal repre­sen­ta­tion has only had to be recom­men­ded in isola­ted cases.

The outbreak of the war in Ukraine also prompted Fluri to act imme­dia­tely. Working with various orga­ni­sa­ti­ons, he orga­nised flights that even­tually evacua­ted over 200 vulnerable child­ren and their mothers to Switz­er­land. He feels that it is important to send a signal through initia­ti­ves such as this and to under­line the importance of acting rather than waiting for state insti­tu­ti­ons to reach a point where they are ready to do something.

Working for a good cause

The Guido Fluri Foun­da­tion has a perma­nent staff of at least 20. Half a dozen of them work at Kescha in Zurich. In addi­tion to his commit­ments with the Foun­da­tion, Fluri is also active at GF Group Holding AG. The family office with around a dozen employees invests in inno­va­tive busi­nesses and curr­ently has substan­tial holdings in around 35 compa­nies. The holding company redi­rects around a third of its profits to the Foundation. 

Wider commit­ment in Europe

At present, the Guido Fluri Foun­da­tion is expan­ding its commit­ment across Europe with the ‘Justice Initia­tive’. Follo­wing the exam­ple of the Repa­ra­tion Initia­tive, the focus is again on child protec­tion and preven­tion, and on hand­ling alle­ga­ti­ons of abuse. Fluri has thought long and hard about how to move forward. The Foun­da­tion recently laun­ched a travel­ling exhi­bi­tion in Venice, which is set to visit various Euro­pean cities. His concerns have also led Fluri to a long-plan­ned audi­ence with the Pope. ‘Ever­yone present agreed that it is important to look to the future in order to focus on preven­tion,’ Fluri says. His Foun­da­tion is to fund a profes­sor­ship at the Ponti­fi­cal Grego­rian Univer­sity from autumn 2022. The aim is that those trai­ning for the priest­hood will be taught more about the subject of abuse. What is abuse? Where does it begin and, above all, how can we prevent it?

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