November 19 2008

What we need is solidarity!

The crisis of the international financial markets is creating feelings of insecurity all over the world. In the following interview, secretary general Richard Pichler explains what it means for the work of SOS Children's Villages

Photo: SOS Archives
The weakest in our society depend on our solidarity (Richard Pichler in Darfur/Sudan) Photo: SOS Archives
Mr. Pichler, is there any way of estimating what the consequences of the financial crisis will be for the work of SOS Children's Villages? Is the organisation already beginning to feel the effects?

Richard Pichler: We are indeed beginning to feel the effects in the planning of our programmes. Due to the exchange rate of the dollar to the euro, certain projects can no longer be implemented as originally intended. The financial losses caused by this exchange rate are going to cost us as much as all the programmes that were planned for 2009 combined. This means we need to adapt our planning to allow us to cover the running costs of programmes that are already in place and finance only a limited number of particularly urgent new programmes.
We're beginning to feel the insecurity that people are experiencing in that decisions about donating money are being taken much more slowly than they used to be, especially where corporate partnerships are concerned. It is still too early to predict how our sponsors are going to react, but we hope they will stay loyal to us.

What's on the slate, what needs to be done?

Richard Pichler: More than ever before, we need to think carefully about what we spend every single cent on. The next year will be dedicated to investing in the quality of our work. Measures like quality assurance and personnel development help us to work as efficiently as possible. Our goal of caring for one million children by 2016 in our family strengthening programmes remains essentially unchanged, although we may not reach it then, as we intended, but perhaps a year or two later. In any case, we want to be ready.

The downward spiral of poverty is steepest in those countries that are already considered the poorest of the poor. What does that mean for SOS Children's Villages' commitment?

Richard Pichler: The populations of the poorest countries are the most threatened, it's true. Countries where 30 to 40 percent of the population were already living below the poverty threshold will now see that percentage rise to 40 percent - that means stepping over a dangerous threshold. Children without parental care are utterly defenceless, so our help is needed urgently. This means that the support of our friends and supporters is more important than ever before.

I have just returned from a trip to Africa and sensed the insecurity of the people there. During the opening ceremony of a SOS Children's Village, a government representative expressed his concern that 2009 might see a decline in development support. Naturally, many people like him are wondering where the money that is currently being used to bail out our banks is coming from, and whether or not these transactions mean that spending on development projects will be the first to be cut. People are finding it hard to understand how 4,000 billion dollars could have been raised so quickly to buffer the financial crisis, while it is seemingly impossible to come up with ten billion dollars, an amount that organisations like "The Global Fund To Fight AIDS" could use to all but eradicate AIDS in Africa.

I am, of course, aware that the current situation in developed countries is difficult, but it compares in no way to what countries in the southern hemisphere are going through. I am hoping for a strong sense of solidarity and that people in the still relatively well-off north will feel a responsibility towards those children who have to bear the brunt of global developments.