Types of employers

Working with a foundation / private sector company

Can you predict what work in an organisation looks like from its status? Yes, to some extent. There are different types of actors in international cooperation. A comparison between them shows the similarities and differences that can influence work. It goes without saying that each organisation also has its own particularities.

Working in private sector

Foundations at a glance

Foundations are, of course, NGOs as well, or at least non-profit organisations. Their legal status is sometimes identical to that of NGOs, which can also be registered as foundations. We focus here on largely financially independent foundations, with the freedoms that it affords. These foundations are not accountable to their donors and are only bound to the goals they set for themselves.

It should be noted that there are two types of foundations: incentive foundations that fund programmes carried out by other organisations and operative foundations that carry out their own programmes. There are also mixed forms.

Some foundations fund programmes carried out by other organisations, others run their own programmes.

How does foundation status affect the working environment?

  • In Switzerland, foundations are often small or medium-sized structures with relatively few employees.
  • Foundations are often less known to the general public because they do not need to organise fundraising campaigns to finance themselves.
  • As they are, in principle, not accountable, foundations are arguably less subject to external influence in determining their direction.
  • Foundations often focus on specific themes.
  • While some foundations focus exclusively on providing grants, others – in the same spirit as NGOs – design and implement their own programmes, with the difference that there is often more room for innovation.

Swiss foundations in international cooperation

With more than 13'000 charitable foundations and assets of around 100 billion Swiss francs, the Swiss foundation sector is one of the largest in the world. Foundations are also part of the broad spectrum of institutions active in the field of international cooperation.

This (non-exhaustive) list of Swiss foundations in international cooperation (PDF) complements cinfo's overview of actors, which presents a large number of organisations, some of which are legally registered as foundations. Foundations mentioned in the overview are not repeated in this list.

By definition, a foundation is an entity with legal personality. Art. 80 of the Civil Code states that a foundation is created by the endowment of assets for a specific purpose.

The foundations listed are active in different countries and vary in size. Keywords are used to roughly categorise their main activities and thematic focus. However, it is up to you to carry out additional research in order to assess the foundations of interest more thoroughly.

Questions to ask yourself

Taking into account the above considerations, the following questions can help you to better define whether working in a foundation is right for you. Understand these questions primarily as an orientation aid, not as preconditions for making a decision.

Never heard of this foundation?

Take a look at its activities and find out what it is like to work with it. The fact that a foundation is not known to the public does not mean that it is not worth working there.

What kind of foundation is it?

Does it implement its own programmes, or does it focus on grant-making? Is this relevant to you?

Do you have an interest in trying new things or even taking risks?

Of course, not all foundations are like this, but some are inclined to leave some room for innovation.

The "private sector" at a glance

The so-called "private sector" in international cooperation is, in fact a broad field. It ranges from consulting to start-ups, social business to inclusive business, or somewhere in between, as in the case of corporate social responsibility. Public-private partnerships also fall into this category, as do sustainable finance and impact investing. Even economic sectors that contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can claim to be part of the private sector family in international cooperation.

How does the status of a private sector company affect the working environment?

  • Given the diversity of actors, it is difficult to make grand statements without falling into clichés. The social actors active in the private sector are usually service providers. In principle, they expect a return on their investment, which depends on the success of the objectives set. Therefore, although this varies considerably from company to company, the work of the staff is more focused on the execution of mandates than in other types of organisations.

  • Does this specific activity or mandate fall under international cooperation or not? The boundaries are not clearly defined and, it is primarily a matter of interpretation.