People’s attach­ment to Swis­sair is alive and well

The Swis­sair Aid for Child­ren Foun­da­tion is commit­ted to the educa­tion and well-being of child­ren around the world. The foun­da­tion bene­fits from the strong attach­ment felt by former staff to a company that no longer exists.

The news hit Switz­er­land like a shock­wave when Swis­sair was groun­ded in 2001. Its employees were faced with an uncer­tain future, their very live­li­hoods at risk. The confu­sion of this time also impac­ted the Swis­sair Aid for Child­ren Foun­da­tion. ‘The level of uncer­tainty was huge,’ says Marcel Hunger­büh­ler, the current Chair of the Board of Trus­tees. He adds: ‘Nobody knew what exactly was going to happen to the foun­da­tion.’ Finally, the Board deci­ded to conti­nue so it did not leave the scores of child­ren and part­ner orga­ni­sa­ti­ons it suppor­ted around the world in the lurch. This deci­sion paid off, and the foun­da­tion was able to conti­nue its phil­an­thro­pic enga­ge­ment even after Swissair’s time had come to an end. ‘The foundation’s dona­ti­ons remai­ned as high as during the best times when Swis­sair was around,’ says Marcel Hunger­büh­ler. This was by no means a given. Why? Because most of the dona­ti­ons came from Swis­sair staff – and today, too, they come from former employees, their friends and family. 

Brand loyalty and solidarity

Marcel Hunger­büh­ler high­lights this incredi­bly strong connec­tion to the company as one reason. The Swis­sair Aid for Child­ren Foun­da­tion bene­fits from the soli­da­rity and team spirit felt by former Swis­sair staff. The way the foun­da­tion came into being is also a unique element of its recipe for success. It was not estab­lished by Swis­sair itself or its manage­ment: it was the company’s employees who took the initia­tive. ‘It was a spon­ta­ne­ous action by Swis­sair employees,’ explains Marcel Hunger­büh­ler. ‘During the 1956 crisis in Hungary, they wanted to do some­thing them­sel­ves to help young Hunga­rian refu­gees.’ Cock­pit, cabin and ground staff collec­ted money, and were ulti­mately able to give 10,000 Swiss francs to the Hungary House in the Pesta­lozzi Children’s Village in Trogen. Employees’ dedi­ca­tion led to the foun­da­tion attrac­ting a growing amount of support from manage­ment. Generous dona­ti­ons were made to the foun­da­tion at events and anni­ver­s­a­ries and it recei­ved even grea­ter support from the company. The foun­da­tion had gained such a firm foot­hold that many employees trans­fer­red their dona­ti­ons to it as a direct deduc­tion from their wages. These regu­lar dona­ti­ons enab­led the foun­da­tion to expand its acti­vi­ties. The first Swis­sair House in an SOS Children’s Village was made a reality in 1976.

Children’s aid in the Philippines.

Marcel Hunger­büh­ler, Chair of the Board of Trustees.

Child­ren at the Swis­sair House in the SOS Children’s Village at Bher­saf, Lebanon.

Child­ren around the world

Since then, the foun­da­tion has dona­ted 10 million Swiss francs to SOS Children’s Villa­ges. ‘This sum makes us the most signi­fi­cant donor for the SOS Children’s Villa­ges Switz­er­land Foun­da­tion,’ says Marcel Hunger­büh­ler. ‘Every other year or so, we finance the construc­tion of a Swis­sair House in an SOS Children’s Village – we’re at 23 now – and cover the ongo­ing costs for a “Swis­sair family”,’ he explains. The airline’s global network played a major role in making the colla­bo­ra­tion a success. Back then, its employees had even longer rest peri­ods when they flew to far-flung loca­ti­ons, giving Swis­sair crews the oppor­tu­nity to visit the foundation’s projects on the ground. Plus, employees could bene­fit from the oppor­tu­nity to fly at redu­ced rates: ‘Whether Mumbai, Kara­chi, São Paulo, Beirut or Nairobi, the Swis­sair Aid for Child­ren Foun­da­tion was always very close to its projects,’ says Marcel Hunger­büh­ler. Along­side SOS Children’s Villa­ges, the Swis­sair Aid for Child­ren Foun­da­tion supports 20 or so part­ner orga­ni­sa­ti­ons around the world. Today, the foun­da­tion still sets great store by visi­t­ing its projects on the ground. One of its trus­tees is respon­si­ble for each project, so its Board of Trus­tees, compri­sing 23 people, is deli­ber­ately large. It’s not just the committee’s size that sets it apart: its stabi­lity does, too, with the Board having had just six Chairs since the foun­da­tion was established.

Perso­nal relationships

The current Chair, Marcel Hunger­büh­ler, spent half his profes­sio­nal life abroad. He’s spent time in all four corners of the world, from London, New York and Sing­a­pore to Manila. The first time he really came into contact with the foun­da­tion was in the Phil­ip­pi­nes. A pilot’s wife was the spon­sor of the local ‘Swis­sair family’. She visi­ted the child­ren at regu­lar inter­vals, and the child­ren knew who she was. ‘One of the boys was despe­rate to become a pilot,’ explains Marcel Hunger­büh­ler. Ulti­mately, he was indeed able to train as a pilot. ‘This boy, who grew up in an SOS Children’s Village, is now the captain on an A320 with an Asian airline.’ It is this proxi­mity to the projects and the invol­ve­ment of trus­tees that make these stories a reality. This gene­ra­tes trust – espe­cially with donors, who know just how their finan­cial support impro­ves people’s living condi­ti­ons. And it’s this close attach­ment to a brand that no longer exists, and its values, that is still impac­ting the foun­da­tion today. The strength of this brand ensu­res many former Swis­sair employees conti­nue their commit­ment to the foun­da­tion: a large number of them still have dona­ti­ons to the foun­da­tion deduc­ted directly from their pensi­ons. The figu­res presen­ted by Marcel Hunger­büh­ler illu­strate the result of this: ‘This year, the foun­da­tion has been able to support its part­ners to the tune of 850,000 Swiss francs.’

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