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A picture of Barbara Schmid-Federer giving an interview
echo interview, December 2019

The Pension funds need to take a stand

ELIPSLIFE ECHO - INTERVIEWS WITH PROMINENT BUSINESS LEADERS

echo interview with Barbara Schmid-Federer

echo interview with Barbara Schmid-Federer, President of Pro Juventute and former CVP National Councillor

elipsLife echo: Recently, Pro Juventute seems to have disappeared from the public eye. Does this have to do with not selling postage stamps any more or are there other reasons?
Barbara Schmid-Federer: I can’t let this assertion go unchallenged. Pro Juventute was founded in 1912 with the aim of fighting child tuberculosis. Back then, selling postage stamps was a way of financing the building of clinics. Nowadays, selling stamps is only of minor financial significance. So compared to 30 years ago, there are indeed far fewer children engaged in this activity for Pro Juventute. But what we are doing is addressing some of the needs of children and young people in very targeted ways. Here, we’re indeed very well-known and in the public eye. Moreover, with the opening of five new regional offices, Pro Juventute will again be establishing a stronger presence across wider areas.

What does Pro Juventute do for kids and families today?
Our most well-known activity is undoubtedly the provision of a central counselling service for children and young people, called “+Hilfe 147.“ On average, 350 children per day seek help from this service. These are often kids with with serious personal problems and even with suicidal intentions. In recent years, Pro Juventute has opened new counselling channels such as a chat room where young people can counsel their peers. We want continue down this path and reach more kids and young people via digital channels. Pro Juventute also sends out newsletters to parents with practical tips on how to deal with babies and toddlers. Numerous first-time parents in Switzerland receive these newsletters and value them highly.

How many projects is Pro Juventute running and how many children are benefiting from them?
Around 265,000 children and young people as well as 100,000 parents use our services annually. We have five strategic priorities. These are physical health, participation, early childhood, media competence and the transition from school to professional life. We’re running at least five projects for each priority. We have a broadly-based offering, ranging from vacation packages for kids, to educational courses in media and financial competence. When I was still active in politics, by the way, media competence was my personal area of focus. Back in 2008/2009, together with Pro Juventute, I brought the topic of young people’s use of the internet and the associated risks to the attention of the National Council.

A picture of Barbara Schmid-Federer giving an interview

How does your organisation go about identifying young people’s problems ? Where do you get the ideas for your projects and services?
Based on its `147` counselling activities and the advice it provides parents, Pro Juventute – more than most other organisations – is fully aware of the worries of our children and young people. We’re in close contact with child experts and the schools. We also ask committed young people to assess our projects and invite them to join us in developing our activities.

Why do you think you’ve been elected as the new President of Pro Juventute?
As a former National Councillor, I was a strong advocate of the interests of children and young people. I therefore have a different background to my predecessor, Josef Felder, whose expertise is in the financial and economic field. He took on the job in 2008 and it was through his efforts that Pro Juventute was able to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2012. When he came on board, it wasn’t even certain, financially, whether the organisation was going to survive the subsequent two years. In his 10-year term of office, he did a magnificent job of restoring Pro Juventute’s organisational and financial stability. Following this successful phase of restructuring, the foundation began to search for somebody not only familiar with policies on families and children but also with good political connections. My pioneering work in the field of internet competence for children was undoubtedly one reason for my election to this office. It’s my goal to substantially boost Pro Juventute’s political voice.

What are the biggest challenges you’re facing as the new President of the foundation?
The digitisation topic is right at the top of the list. Developments in this field, particularly as they relate to youngsters, are moving at such a rapid pace that we have no time to lose. Secondly, Pro Juventute like all other NGOs, intends to boost its online fund-raising. Thirdly, I’m really delighted about the opening of the new regional offices. After all, it’s my ambition that Pro Juventute move back into the public consciousness where it belongs. If it’s about our kids and the younger generation, Pro Juventute should be the first organisation that springs to mind.

How many people work for Pro Juventute?
Currently, there are 170 people that work for us, 91 of whom are in full-time positions. During 2018, the Pro Juventute Foundation distributed CHF 18.636 million to support its work on behalf of children, young people and their families.

A picture of Barbara Schmid-Federer giving an interview

At the end of August, the Federal Council passed a bill to reform Switzerland’s old-age pension system (AHV) in order to put funding for the first pillar on a secure footing through 2030. Left-leaning politicians are against raising the pensionable age for women, and the conservatives don’t have solutions for the structural problems facing the AHV. What proposals do you have?
I was passionately in favour of the AV2020 bill. It was the perfect solution. The proposal to raise the AHV pension by CHF 70 was the ideal compromise. I was convinced that anything else wouldn’t be as good. And I still stand by this view. The time’s over now for the right and left wings of the political spectrum just to go on criticizing supposed weaknesses of the bill. Now we have to fight our way through this. So I support the Federal Council’s proposal. In the interests of our young people, I want to have the first and second pillars placed on a secure financial footing. If we don’t manage to do this, the younger generation will one day be faced with really serious problems.

What’s your view on raising the pensionable age for women to 65?
In respect to AV2020, we supported raising the pensionable age for women to 65, provided this was carried out with a degree of flexibility and included social compensation measures for those unduly affected. This is still the best solution in my view. That said, we’re all living longer and I realize that one day we’ll have to go beyond this age.

The Employers’ Association and the unions have put forward a proposal to restructure the second pillar. Among other things, this would include a pension supplement paid for through a percentage of wages, and lowering the conversion rate from 6.8% to 6%. Is this a good idea?
It’s comparable with the AHV situation: We would have had a workable solution had the original AV2020 proposal been successful. The minimum conversion rate would now be at 6% and the situation safely defused. However, I do give credit to the social partners that were able to reach compromise here. All concerned put their issues on the table even though they haven’t actually given up their maximum demands. All parties recognize the need to take action. So we are on the right path here.

Should current retirees also be asked to participate in restructuring the second pillar, or are already acquired pension rights a taboo topic?
We shouldn’t place a question mark against already acquired pension rights.

Despite political deadlock, demographic developments and zero interest rates, what should the pension funds do to prevent the second pillar hitting the rocks?
During the negotiations over AV2020, the pension funds took an active part with the other participants. However, the impression they conveyed to the outside world was as though they weren’t that concerned about the outcome one way or another. They neglected to make a public relations effort. So in my view, the pension funds should not only convey the urgency for reform to the politicians but also to the public at large.

A picture of Barbara Schmid-Federer giving an interview
Personal Profile
Barbara Schmid-Federer
Pro Juventute President and Vice-President of the Swiss Red Cross

Born in 1965, Barbara Schmid-Federer studied romance languages at the University of Zürich as well as in Paris and Granada. She was a member of the National Council from 2007 to 2018, most recently as a member of the Commission for Social Security and Health. She has been President of the Swiss Red Cross in the canton of Zürich since 2011 and in 2019 was appointed Vice-President of the Swiss Red Cross nationwide. In November 2019, she was elected President of Pro Juventute. She is also a member of the Board of Directors of Radio Zürisee and of the TopPharm pharmacy, Zürich Paradeplatz. Schmid-Federer is married and the mother of two grown-up sons.