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.
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.»
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.’
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.