Redis­co­vering our place in nature

Zukunftsfähigkeit der Gesellschaft

AVINA is a foun­da­tion that is commit­ted to healthy and sustainably produ­ced food – and supports a range of diffe­rent, pionee­ring approaches.

‘Sustaina­bi­lity is about being fit for the future and, to some extent, rever­sing the flow of egotism and mind­less waste,’ states Vikto­ria Schmidheiny, presi­dent of the AVINA foun­da­tion board, adding, ‘Ulti­mately, our thro­wa­way society needs to change. We need to become an anti-consump­tion society. In healthy nature, you never see that kind of excess. There’s a peren­nial balance of cycles.’ This idea informs the foundation’s activities.

Both/and

Her husband Stephan Schmidheiny foun­ded AVINA in 1994. Initi­ally, Vikto­ria Schmidheiny was invol­ved in all aspects of sustainable deve­lo­p­ment. Three years ago, she succe­e­ded her husband Stephan as chair of the foun­da­tion board. ‘The move enab­led me to apply his vision of sustaina­bi­lity to an area I was passio­nate about: the food sector,’ she explains. A doctor and a mother, she had always been inte­re­sted in the inse­pa­ra­bi­lity of the body and mind and so she reali­gned the foundation’s acti­vi­ties to centre on healthy, sustainably produ­ced food. With the realign­ment, AVINA is now leading the way as the first Swiss foun­da­tion to dedi­cate itself exclu­si­vely to a sustainable food system. The focus of acti­vi­ties: a new issue that affects ever­yone, attracts inte­rest and is still lacking in funding from the charity sector. Projects such as the non-profit orga­ni­sa­tion New Harvest, which is rese­ar­ching the produc­tion of alter­na­ti­ves to meat, eggs and milk through cellu­lar agri­cul­ture and fermen­ta­tion, or Sativa, which propa­ga­tes GMO-free seeds for orga­nic farmers, testify to the pionee­ring nature of the funded projects – and their very diffe­rent approa­ches. The belief is that an array of solu­ti­ons is needed. ‘It’s not a case of ‘either/or’ – it needs to be ‘both/and’,’ explains Vikto­ria Schmidheiny.

«Healthy nature is never immo­de­rate.»
Vikto­ria Schmidheiny

We are part of the system

How we use tech­no­logy plays a crucial role. ‘In many areas, it certainly has its place and offers huge poten­tial. But we need to take a criti­cal look at our ratio­nale and try to inte­grate it with care,’ states Vikto­ria Schmidheiny. And she warns, ‘Our mispla­ced faith in tech­no­logy has led us to look at the complex system that is nature and attempt to break it down into sepa­rate, analysable consti­tu­ent parts. In doing so, we totally ignore its inter­de­pen­den­cies.’ These inter­de­pen­den­cies are crucial, and she feels that unde­re­sti­ma­ting them is what has led us where we are today. We need to learn to see nature as a holi­stic system again. ‘Sadly, we have forgot­ten that we too are part of this system,’ she points out. ‘Now human­kind is facing the task of redis­co­vering its place in nature and taking a crea­tive and inte­gra­tive approach to its role there,’ she explains, describ­ing our biggest chal­lenge. The foundation’s acti­vi­ties aim to provide support in that regard. To ensure that effi­ci­ent head­way is made, AVINA encou­ra­ges the project part­ners to exchange findings. Despite their diffe­rent areas of acti­vity, they often face simi­lar chal­len­ges. And AVINA provi­des them with support – not just in finan­cial terms. AVINA offers exper­tise, data, a network: the approach is a concer­ted one. And with each project, the AVINA team learns too, as Vikto­ria Schmidheiny explains, ‘We are a small group with a huge amount of dedi­ca­tion and enthu­si­asm for our cause. We make quick and clear decisions.’

More risks

The ability to make rapid deci­si­ons is one of the advan­ta­ges foun­da­ti­ons enjoy. They are also able to support projects that are not yet market­a­ble. ‘The fact that foun­da­ti­ons don’t have to gene­rate a return on the grants they award means that they can deli­ber­ately take more risks,’ states Vikto­ria Schmidheiny. This clearly does not mean that funds are handed out blindly. The AVINA selec­tion process is extre­mely strict. In 2020, the foun­da­tion asses­sed 126 funding bids. Only ten were accep­ted. ‘Once success­fully comple­ted, the rese­arch and deve­lo­p­ment projects we support can be taken in a more commer­cial direc­tion,’ she explains, when asked about the future of the projects. This is where the private sector can get involved.

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