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The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad was established in 1916 in the middle of the First World War by the Neue Helvetische Gesellschaft (New Helvetic Society, NHS) as the “Secretariat of the Swiss Abroad”.

The NHS, established just two years previously, thereby implemented one of its pivotal ideas – to strengthen Swiss expatriates’ links with their homeland and enable them to play a more active part in national life.

As an advisory committee for issues related to the Swiss diaspora, the NHS Committee for Swiss Abroad, the predecessor of today’s Council of the Swiss Abroad started work in 1917. In April 1918 the first Swiss Abroad conference was held as part of the Basel Trade Fair, thus paving the way for the traditional annual Congress of the Swiss Abroad.

Soon after the end of the war a permanent secretariat was set up in Geneva in 1919. The Secretariat of the Swiss Abroad relocated to Fribourg in 1923. It moved to the Swiss capital of Berne in 1928. It has occupied its own building at 26 Alpenstrasse since 1957, acquired thanks to a generous bequest.

From providing assistance to those returning home to a comprehensive range of services

Over the years, the sphere of activity of the Secretariat of the Swiss Abroad has constantly adapted to new challenges. One of the early priorities was to look after returning expatriates who had lost their livelihoods through war and revolution.

Until the Pro Helvetia cultural foundation was set up after the Second World War, one of its main areas of activity was the promotion of Switzerland’s cultural assets abroad. Providing information to Swiss nationals abroad has always been a priority. The monthly magazine “Echo” served this purpose for 60 years. The organisation has been publishing the “Swiss Review” magazine together with the Federal Department for Foreign Affairs (FDFA) since 1970. However, the key activity has always been individual advice, care and support for compatriots abroad.

Conversion to a foundation

In March 1989 the NHS granted its successful subsidiary legal independence with the status of a private law foundation, the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA). It is subject to federal foundation supervision, and is recognised as a non-profit organisation and thus exempt from taxation.

In 1991 the “Swiss Path” was created on the banks of Lake Uri with a stage for each of the 26 cantons as part of the 700th anniversary celebrations of the Swiss Confederation. Thanks to a global fundraising effort and a contribution from the Confederation, a piece of land, the “Area for the Swiss Abroad”, was bought to symbolise Swiss nationals abroad, who form something like a 27th canton.