Fotos: Désirée Good

Physi­cal acti­vity makes a world of change

Moni­que Bär is the foun­der of the arcas foun­da­tion, which supports projects focu­sed on inte­gra­tion, exer­cise and equal oppor­tu­ni­ties. When assig­ning funding, it aims for clear dialo­gue and colla­bo­ra­tion – two things it wants to promote among foundations.

‘Self-confi­dence and inte­gra­tion also have a physi­cal compo­nent. It feels extre­mely good to explore and under­stand your own body,’ says Moni­que Bär, patron and presi­dent of the arcas Foun­da­tion. In her phil­an­thro­pic acti­vi­ties – in the past and now – inte­gra­tion, move­ment and equal oppor­tu­ni­ties are always at the centre. Her very first chari­ta­ble enga­ge­ment was with the Robin­son Children’s Circus in Zurich, where she also got invol­ved hers­elf. She was presi­dent for ten years. Robin­son Children’s Circus teaches young artists important life skills by means of such aspects as move­ment, social inte­gra­tion and sport. ‘Through the perfor­mance oppor­tu­ni­ties and stage presence, the child­ren can deve­lop a new kind of self-confi­dence,’ Moni­que Bär tells us. SPORTEGRATION, a current migra­tion project, shares the same focus: buil­ding self-confi­dence and the inte­gra­tive aspect. All over the world, people play foot­ball, they box and run. You do not need a language for that, you can just do it toge­ther, Moni­que Bär notes. And Annina Largo, mana­ging direc­tor, initia­tor and hers­elf a coach at SPORTEGRATION, sums it up as follows: ‘Sports trai­ning sessi­ons are the ideal setting to connect with each other’. She laun­ched the non-profit asso­cia­tion SPORTEGRATION in the summer of 2016. At that time, the refu­gee crisis was on everyone’s lips. ‘After long deli­be­ra­tion on how I could contri­bute, I came up with what seemed to me the most obvious thing to do: offer sports clas­ses, because that’s what I’ve been doing for a long time – fitness boxing in gyms,’ Annina Largo recounts. It soon became clear that the refu­gees had a great need for exer­cise. Annina Largo’s idea of offe­ring trai­ning once a week was quickly surpas­sed. Even the very first trai­ning session in a room provi­ded free of charge by friends in the old Löwen­bräu silo (Silo­silo) in Zurich was fully booked. The asso­cia­tion grew quickly with more coaching sessi­ons, more parti­ci­pants and the invol­vement of volunteers. 

No distinc­tions

With its trai­ning sessi­ons, SPORTEGRATION crea­tes a low-thres­hold plat­form for people to get to know each other and for refu­gees and locals to meet and connect. ‘It doesn’t matter what language you speak, what coun­try you come from or what your finan­cial circum­s­tances are – ever­yone is welcome,’ the mana­ging direc­tor empha­si­ses, ‘in a place where there are no hurd­les, where there is a posi­tive atmo­sphere and where there is no distinc­tion between locals and refu­gees, people join toge­ther best and most easily.’

When a whole group from the asso­cia­tion parti­ci­pa­tes toge­ther in a sport­ing event like the Zurich Mara­thon, people have a great time and there is a lot of laugh­ter. ‘It is not so much about our parti­ci­pants being among the fastest or in the front ranks, it’s about the shared experience.’ 

Moni­que Bär, foun­der of the arcas foun­da­tion, toge­ther with Annina Largo, initia­tor of SPORTEGRATION: a modest appli­ca­tion paved the way to working together.


Mento­ring programme

In addi­tion to its main acti­vity, the sports coaching, SPORTEGRATION star­ted early, ‘as a side-line’, with school cour­ses and a mento­ring programme. These offers, inclu­ding compu­ter cour­ses, arose out of the urgent needs among the parti­ci­pants. Commu­ni­ca­tion with the parti­ci­pants is prag­ma­tic and uncom­pli­ca­ted via Whats­App groups, info mails, social media or on site at lunch tables and events. Hundreds of refu­gees are reached in this way. When asked if the war in Ukraine will have an impact on SPORTEGRATION, Annina Largo answers yes and no. Yes, because the demand for sports offers will increase even faster than assu­med. ‘Accor­din­gly, a lot of work is coming our way, because we want to do our best to reach as many refu­gees as possi­ble.’ No, because the asso­cia­tion doesn’t care where the refu­gees come from and the essence of the work remains unchanged.

Owing to the great demand, the asso­cia­tion wants to streng­then and further expand its services in the canton of Zurich this year. SPORTEGRATION also wants to cautiously push ahead with the pilot project in Bern. ‘In the medium term, we expect to reach out to other cantons,’ she says. ‘Our motto is: toge­ther we are better. So we hope to find more time again for aware­ness-raising work, to draw atten­tion to the situa­tion and diffi­cul­ties of refu­gees here in Switz­er­land and to break down prejudices.’

It’s the human element that counts

‘The most important thing is that you find each other, that you fit toge­ther on a human level,’ says Moni­que Bär. The begin­ning of the shared jour­ney with SPORTEGRATION was unre­mar­kable. It all star­ted with a modest appli­ca­tion. But it packed a punch and fitted perfectly with the arcas Foundation’s themes of inte­gra­tion and equal oppor­tu­ni­ties. ‘We reali­sed right away that this was a great under­ta­king’, she says. She is impres­sed by SPORTEGRATION’s approach: as simple as possi­ble, no hurd­les, so that many people feel included. Moni­que Bär enjoys being closely invol­ved in the project. She values the exch­ange with the project team, but draws a clear divi­ding line: ‘I don’t make decis­i­ons or work with them, that would clearly be inter­fe­rence, in my opinion,’ she says. Her contri­bu­tion to SPORTEGRATION is networ­king where­ver she can. She descri­bes hers­elf as a team player; she likes to exch­ange ideas or share expe­ri­en­ces. This also applies to her work on the Foun­da­tion Board. ‘Spar­ring part­ners are extre­mely important to me,’ she adds. This also includes disagree­ment. She says: ‘I can reflect on my opinion much better if I can discuss it in a team and don’t have to decide alone. Besi­des, it’s much more fun to be in it together.’ 

Longer-term commit­ment

‘We want to be sustainable part­ners.’ And so, the arcas Foun­da­tion deli­bera­tely supports orga­ni­sa­ti­ons as a whole rather than indi­vi­dual projects. ‘Foun­da­ti­ons like to support new projects,’ she says. But that can lead to project owners ‘inven­ting’ new projects all the time in order to be able to main­tain opera­ti­ons, she adds. ‘Some time ago, we ther­e­fore swit­ched to support­ing orga­ni­sa­ti­ons directly. The orga­ni­sa­tion deci­des what happens with the funds. It requi­res mutual trust.’ This, she belie­ves, makes it easier to build strong struc­tures and a sustainable orga­ni­sa­tion. In order to be able to afford this part­ner­ship-based coope­ra­tion, the foun­da­tion has focu­sed on a small number of projects. Curr­ently, they are funding five larger projects. The foun­da­tion no longer accepts appli­ca­ti­ons. ‘We only scout now. We have a watchful eye and a good network,’ she says. Besi­des, appli­ca­tion manage­ment is very time-consum­ing if you want to do it respectfully. And in order to concen­trate on the substan­tive foun­da­tion work, the arcas Foun­da­tion is now a ‘depen­dent foun­da­tion’ under the umbrella of the Fonda­tion des Fondateurs.

Shaping from the given

Moni­que Bär finds balance in her art. To do so, she retre­ats to her ‘Hemetli’, her home, in Urnäsch. ‘Whether the weather is good or bad, I can do my own thing here,’ she says. That’s when she works on her sculp­tures. ‘I am a haptic person’. Her passion is to tease a shape out of a given piece. She works with wood and stone. Wood feels more alive to her. Stone, on the other hand, is easier to shape and it is more suita­ble for letting off steam – an ideal balance. In her work at the foun­da­tion, she relies on dialo­gue and colla­bo­ra­tion, which she would like to initiate among the foun­da­ti­ons. She says, ‘I think it would be abso­lut­ely neces­sary that we join forces where it makes sense to achieve some­thing toge­ther given the chal­lenges ahead. The time for going solo is over.’ Thus, in the context of the discus­sions on 50 years of women’s suffrage, the initia­tive ‘Geschlech­ter­ge­rech­ter’ (More Gender Equality) was born. The non-profit asso­cia­tion, now presi­ded over by Moni­que Bär, addres­ses the falte­ring gender discourse in Switz­er­land. ‘The debate is highly pola­ri­sed, but we urgen­tly need solu­ti­ons in various areas that are suita­ble for ever­y­day life,’ she stres­ses, ‘we have to learn to talk to each other differ­ently. There have to be more open deba­tes in which more people and also men parti­ci­pate more effec­tively; that’s what we are getting off the ground now. We want to bring people toge­ther.’ Geschlech­ter­ge­rech­ter is an initia­tive that invi­tes ever­yone to join in or be inspi­red. The asso­cia­ted web plat­form, for exam­ple, provi­des an outline of the history of gender, there are current studies, artic­les on current topics, blog posts and there is space for debates. 

«What happens with the funds is deci­ded by the organization.»

Marlene Engel­horn


«It does­n’t matter what language someone speaks.»

Annina Largo

Doing justice to diversity

At the same time, howe­ver, the needs and opera­ting modes of the diffe­rent foun­da­ti­ons must be taken into account. Each of them works differ­ently. She remarks that even if certain key figu­res can be expec­ted from every project, a busi­ness plan does not make sense for every foun­da­tion. ‘Espe­ci­ally projects in the social sector, like Geschlech­ter­ge­rech­ter, will always depend on funding,’ she explains. That is why Moni­que Bär also adds: ‘What worries me is the impact mania. I firmly believe that when we embark on a project, it always has an impact. You can learn a lot from failed projects. They, too, have an impact.’ Moni­que Bär sees a certain amount of risk aver­sion in the focus on measura­ble impact. She considers it a hindrance if project outco­mes need to be defi­ned even before the project begins. Foun­da­ti­ons can take risks. That’s an advan­tage. They can react faster than the govern­ment. Foun­da­ti­ons can try things out and fail. And some­ti­mes, says Moni­que Bär, all it takes are common sense and a good gut feeling. Then a modest, clear propo­sal and the reali­sa­tion that it fits from a human point of view, are suffi­ci­ent to realise a great project.

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