A person who was able to meet a call for help particularly well was allowed to propose the next good deed. This first appeal for donations soon developed into a weekly radio programme, the “Chaîne du Bonheur”, or “Chain of Happiness” – now known in English as Swiss Solidarity. The aim was not to break the chain.
The radio programme was marked by a song entitled “Gavotte” and in particular by the chorus: “Y’a du bonheur pour tout le monde” – There is happiness for everyone – a song familiar to everyone in the French-speaking part of Switzerland at the time. The two founding fathers, who toured the villages with their programme, became regional stars.
The idea was soon picked up by radio stations in the German-, Italian- and Romansh-speaking areas of Switzerland, and so the “Chain of Happiness” spread throughout Switzerland.
Over the 70 years since then, we have made more than 190 appeals for donations for people in need.
In 1946 – shortly after the end of the Second World War – many people in Switzerland suffered great poverty: there were five-year-old children who had never possessed a pair of shoes, or mothers bringing up five children single-handed on just 317 francs a month.
So initially people primarily donated material items. The radio studio in Lausanne was soon overflowing with boxes of cigars, sausages, mattresses, shoes, toys and much more. But a radio station is not a charity, and so Radio Sottens asked the Swiss Red Cross to come on board, and this humanitarian partner took charge of distributing the donations.
Over time cash donations replaced material donations. But how should the money be distributed among the “frail”?
Before our social aid programme became as professionalised as it is today, the supplicants had to approach Swiss Solidarity’s director. He listened to their stories and gave a bit of money to those who really needed help.
Today this is inconceivable. Anyone wanting to apply for assistance has to first register with the social services, who then in turn submit a request to us. And one can only apply for our assistance once in a lifetime. We therefore use a database, so the extent of the aid does not depend on the memory and the concern of the director.
Today we have 25 operational partners and over the years have received a total of CHF 1.7 billion. What was once a radio programme has now grown into the largest private Swiss donor for humanitarian aid, and is now the humanitarian wing of the SRG SSR.
Although the history of Swiss Solidarity began with a radio show in Lausanne, just one year later the radio studios of Basel and Lugano took up the idea, and enthusiasm for the “radio chain letter” spread throughout Switzerland.
The first fundraising campaign was conducted from Basel on 19 October 1947 for the so-called “oil soldiers”. These were Swiss military men who, having eaten cheese toasted sandwiches fried in machine gun cooling oil, had to suffer all their lives from the consequences of poisoning.
From 1954 onwards, there was no longer a weekly show and campaigns were only run when there was a major disaster or other special event.
60% of donations from German-speaking Switzerland
German-speaking Switzerland also plays a large role in terms of the volume of donations. Around 60% of all donations come from German-speaking Switzerland, 25% from French-speaking Switzerland, 10% from the Italian part and 5% from the Rhaeto-Romanic part of Switzerland.
Since the 1970’s the voice and face of Roland Jeanneret in particular marked Swiss Solidarity in German-speaking Switzerland. He initially stood in for his boss, who was unavailable on a fundraising day.
Asked what he should do exactly, his boss told him that it was very simple:
“Get as much money rolling in as possible!”
Jeanneret put his heart and soul into Swiss Solidarity from the start, becoming a delegate for German-speaking Switzerland from 1991 and from 2000 the “voice of Swiss Solidarity”, responsible for all communication activities. He retired in 2011, after two decades devoted to the organisation.
• 1946: Holidays for British war orphans in Switzerland
• 1947: “Oil soldiers”: first fundraising appeal throughout Switzerland for damaged soldiers. Mistakenly, machine oil had been used instead of cooking oil and around 100 people suffered poisoning with long-term effects, including paralysis of the legs.
• 1948: Chocolate and tobacco collected for occupants of retirement homes.
• 1948: Swiss Solidarity collects old felt hats, out of which the sick and recuperating sew slippers. The aim of this campaign is to give sick patients a new will to live and new strength to recover by giving them the opportunity to work and earn money.
• 1951: Wool collected for people suffering from the cold.
• 1975: Air Bonheur – one-week holidays on Mallorca for pensioners from poor backgrounds.
• 2004: Tsunami – the biggest fundraising campaign so far, raising CHF 227 million.
• 1947 – German-speaking Radio Beromünster adopts the programme.
• 1948 – Italian-speaking Radio Monte Ceneri adopts the programme.
• 1948 – International “Chain of Happiness” launches the first donation appeal.
• 1954 – The weekly programme is discontinued. Swiss Solidarity continues to collect donations when events demand it.
• 1985 – French-speaking weekly newspaper “L’Hebdo” launches a massive attack on Swiss Solidarity, asking where the money goes to.
• 1991 – RTR participates for the first time with a fundraising centre in Chur.
• 1999 – In recognition of our work we receive the international human rights award.
• 2000 – Second largest fundraising campaign in our history: CHF 74 million for the victims of the storms in Switzerland (Valais and Ticino)
• 2005 – After the storms of 2000 we raise CHF 74 million. Along with Gondo, Mörel in Valais is one of the most affected villages. The misuse of donations leads to a court case, after which CHF 860,000 is repaid to us. An investigation shows that Mörel was an isolated case.
• 2005 – The rose-breeder Richard Huber dedicates a yellow rose, which has received several awards, to Swiss Solidarity. The proceeds go towards our fund for children.