Precious moments

Passionate about the cause

Three women discuss the diffe­rent phil­an­thro­pic work they engage in, what moves them and what moti­va­tes them.

‘I couldn’t imagine life without music,’ says Ursula Jones. She explains that she was surroun­ded by musi­ci­ans even as a child. As a patron, she supports young, talen­ted musi­ci­ans in England, and, with the help of the Maria und Walter Strebi-Erni Stif­tung, in Switz­er­land, too. Ursula Jones’ mother, Maria Strebi-Erni, foun­ded the charity in 1982, toge­ther with her daugh­ter Ursula and her husband Philip Jones, to comme­mo­rate her husband. Walter Strebi loved music, and musi­ci­ans were always coming and going from the Strebi resi­dence. Ursula Jones also played music with her father, with him on the violin and her on the piano. Her mother wasn’t always over the moon about this, as Ursula Jones explains now. Her mother would rather have had a lie-in on Sunday morning than be rudely awoken by ‘La donna è mobile’, she says.

Ursula Jones, above. Lucerne Festi­val – Summer Festi­val 2019, right.

Music as a livelihood

‘I’d have loved to study archaeo­logy,’ explains Ursula Jones. ‘But my parents were reso­lute in their convic­tion that I was to study a “proper” subject.’ Languages were the answer. After study­ing at the Univer­sity of Geneva to be a German, Italian and French inter­pre­ter, Ursula, then 22 years old, deci­ded to move to London for six months to learn English – and she is still there today. ‘I was lucky enough to get a simple job in the Phil­har­mo­nia Orchestra’s office in London. After my six months were up, I was offe­red the role of Orches­tra Secre­tary,’ she explains, adding that ‘music became my liveli­hood and I never retur­ned to the Univer­sity of Geneva.’ A couple of years later, she and a musi­cian foun­ded their own English Cham­ber Orches­tra, and she assu­med respon­si­bi­lity for its admi­nis­tra­tion for many years. She gave this up at the age of 50 and star­ted her long-awai­ted degree in archaeo­logy at the Univer­sity of London. Today, she devo­tes her life to encou­ra­ging and support­ing young, talen­ted musicians.

‘I devote my life to encou­ra­ging and support­ing young, talen­ted musi­ci­ans’
Ursula Jones

That special moment

Manuela Stier also expe­ri­en­ced that moment where she knew what she wanted to put her heart and soul into: ‘In 2012, I got to know a little boy called Mael, who is affec­ted by the rare, fatal dise­ase Niemann-Pick Type C.’ In 2014, she foun­ded the Förder­ver­ein für Kinder mit selte­nen Krank­hei­ten (KMSK), and has been its Mana­ging Direc­tor ever since. Back then, rare dise­a­ses were barely in the public eye, with the fami­lies affec­ted by them being comple­tely on their own in many respects. ‘I wanted to change that,’ she empha­si­ses. So, she foun­ded the charity. ‘Our aim is to offer fami­lies finan­cial support, to bring them toge­ther and to give them much-needed time off,’ she says. Just seven years later, they have achie­ved a great deal and a ‘digi­tal KMSK infor­ma­tion plat­form’ for affec­ted parents is under­way. Since it was set up, this asso­cia­tion has paid out contri­bu­ti­ons of more than 1.1 million Swiss francs to affec­ted fami­lies, and since 2014, KMSK has been able to invite around 5,600 family members to free KMSK family events. ‘I’m proud that we can now count on a great number of good-hear­ted people who support us in all kinds of ways,’ states Manuela Stier.

Child­ren at an adven­ture day held by the Förder­ver­ein für Kinder mit selte­nen Krank­hei­ten (asso­cia­tion for child­ren with rare dise­a­ses), right. Manuela Stier, left.

‘I am proud that we can count on count­less people with compas­sion.’
Manuela Stier

Brin­ging people out of the shadows

Street­wise Opera is also bols­te­red by considera­ble support, with profes­sio­nal tutors giving home­l­ess people weekly singing and acting work­shops in centres across England. Street­wise Opera is another project that Ursula Jones is invol­ved in. Her invol­vement is fitting: music helps to alle­viate suffe­ring. The insti­tu­tion is commit­ted to helping home­l­ess people reinte­grate through music and was foun­ded by Matt Peacock, a young singer, 20 years ago. Today, it puts on criti­cally acclai­med opera produc­tions and crea­tive acti­vi­ties in art venues and home­l­ess centres. ‘Parti­ci­pa­ting in the programme boosts people’s well-being and social inte­gra­tion, helping them to deve­lop the skills and self-confi­dence they need to finally step out of home­l­ess­ness,’ empha­si­ses Ursula Jones. Its impact is impres­sive: in a recent survey, 92 per cent of parti­ci­pants stated that their mental health and sense of belon­ging had impro­ved. The feeling of being alone can be a heavy burden, as Manuela Stier knows. ‘Many of the fami­lies prac­ti­cally live in the shadows. Their day-to-day life is shaped by trips to get treat­ment and to the doctor’s. The family bear the burden of uncer­tainty and constant worry for their poorly child.’ KMSK has become an important port of call, which also invol­ves making the public aware of the issue. Commu­ni­ca­tion is important and social media play a central role. Without social media, it would be hard to get in touch with fami­lies and bring them toge­ther. Today, 450 fami­lies exch­ange their thoughts in a closed self-help group on Face­book, where they can bene­fit from other people’s expe­ri­en­ces. The charity enjoys broad-based support. ‘Lots of compa­nies give us long-term support,’ says Manuela Stier. They help bring joy to suffe­rers’ lives and use long-term aware­ness campaigns to draw the public’s atten­tion to suffe­rers’ situations.

Explo­ring diffe­rent ways of thinking

Corina Eichen­ber­ger has seen the situa­tion from both sides. A former member of the Aargau State Coun­cil, she is Presi­dent of the Board of Trus­tees of the Stap­fer­haus in Lenz­burg on the one hand, and a board member at Drey­fus Söhne & Cie AG on the other. As a board member at this private bank, Corina Eichen­ber­ger is indi­rectly invol­ved with the Isaac Drey­fus-Bern­heim Stif­tung. Drey­fus bank foun­ded the charity in 2013 to mark its bicen­ten­ary. With its work, the Isaac Drey­fus-Bern­heim Stif­tung helps make cultu­ral projects, such as exhi­bi­ti­ons in Kunst­halle Basel, a reality. Along­side its cultu­ral enga­ge­ment, the charity also has huma­ni­ta­rian and bene­vo­lent aims. As the Presi­dent of the Board of Trus­tees of the Stap­fer­haus in Lenz­burg, Corina Eichen­ber­ger is close to the action in terms of opera­ti­ons. This pairing suits her. When she was approa­ched by the Aargau State Coun­cil, it was the cont­act with people that prima­rily tempted her and moti­va­ted her to get invol­ved: ‘Being in cont­act with people who think about things in very diffe­rent ways has always been important to me,’ she says. Corina Eichen­ber­ger played a role in buil­ding up and deve­lo­ping the charity. ‘I’m fasci­na­ted by getting to know diffe­rent people and their ways of thin­king, and that keeps my thin­king vibrant and flexi­ble, too.’ The Stap­fer­haus discus­ses pres­sing ques­ti­ons of the present day, aiming to use its exhi­bi­ti­ons and the way in which projects are exhi­bi­ted to spark discus­sions on topics that are rele­vant to our society and that move people. ‘I love working with the charity,’ says Corina Eichen­ber­ger, ‘parti­cu­larly when I can see that it’s successful.’ 

Corina Eichen­ber­ger, right. The current exhi­bi­tion at Stap­fer­haus Lenz­burg: Gender & Sex.


Ursula Jones’ work has also recei­ved reco­gni­tion: in 2010, Queen Eliza­beth II awarded her with the ‘Order of the Offi­cer of the British Empire’. It took her by surprise, but she was deligh­ted none­thel­ess. Ursula Jones now has British citi­zen­ship, but she still has her Swiss pass­port, and recei­ving an honour like this is really rather special for someone from Switz­er­land. Today, her main connec­tion to Switz­er­land comes in the form of music. ‘Young musi­ci­ans are my calling,’ she says. Every year, she takes young instru­men­ta­lists to the debut concerts at the Lucerne Festi­val in summer, and to the opening concert of Lucerne’s cham­ber music cycle in the autumn. Plus, she orga­ni­ses addi­tio­nal concerts in Ticino and the Valais, and anywhere in Switz­er­land where she can find oppor­tu­ni­ties for young musi­ci­ans. ‘Clas­si­cal music isn’t as elitist today,’ she stres­ses. A lot has chan­ged: the dress code, for exam­ple, and the issue of gender is much further along in England, too. ‘I can honestly say that, in England, no distinc­tion is made between male and female musi­ci­ans. The best musi­cian, regard­less of gender, gets the job,’ says Ursula Jones.

‘I take great plea­sure in my work at the foun­da­tion.’
Corine Eichen­ber­ger

Discus­sions desired

Corina Eichen­ber­ger knows how expo­sed you feel as a woman in finance. She was often the only woman on a commit­tee, and while all-male panels do still happen from time to time, she now usually finds that there are other women there. In her eyes, there is no ques­tion that mixed-gender teams are enri­ching and in the inte­rests of the matter at hand: ‘Women and men think and act differ­ently, so it’s important to have mixed-gender teams,’ says Corina Eichen­ber­ger. ‘Women are often more direct and put decis­i­ons into prac­tice more syste­ma­ti­cally once they’ve been made.’ Fittingly, the current exhi­bi­tion at the Stap­fer­haus is entit­led ‘Gender’. It’s a pola­ri­sing topic, which plea­ses Corina Eichen­ber­ger. After all, it’s suppo­sed to spark discus­sions. ‘It shows that we picked the right topic,’ she says. Unfort­u­na­tely, the exhi­bi­tion has been paused for the moment, but ideas for subse­quent exhi­bi­ti­ons are coming thick and fast. The Stap­fer­haus uses digi­tal chan­nels in an ultra-inno­va­tive way to main­tain its presence and, of course, is hoping that the exhi­bi­tion can reopen as soon as possi­ble. Corina Eichen­ber­ger: ‘I hope as many people and school groups as possi­ble can still visit the exhi­bi­tion! It’s so thought-provo­king: it’s really worth a visit!’

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