Harvard Swiss Day : ‘Dancing between the Toes of Elephants'

For many people Harvard is the intellectual capital of the world.

53 Nobel laureates – 8 US presidents – 32 heads of states – and countless successful alumni as entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg. With a $33 billion endowment – it the best funded educational institution in the world. Because of its stature and means, Harvard is able to capture a disproportionate share among the world's best professors and students.

This also makes its campus among the most sought after ‘podiums' in the world. Recent speakers have included Kofi Anan, Ben Benanke and J.K. Rowling.

Against this backdrop it was already an achievement that the small handful of Swiss students around Emanuel Ritschard, managed to grab the stage and host the first ever ‘Swiss Day at Harvard'.

During the course of an afternoon, a packed audience were whisked through a tour of those aspects of Switzerland social, economic and democratic systems that have contributed to the country's success.

Professor Nancy Hoffmann, who advises the OECD on a 17 country wide study on vocational training, explained how the Swiss apprenticeship program has helped overcome the malaise of youth unemployment prevalent in western countries and helped Switzerland avoid the debilitating effects of inequality. James Breiding, author of ‘best selling' book ‘Swiss Made – the untold story behind Switzerland's success' and a fellow from Harvard' walked the audience through Swiss path from a poor, backward country to how it has become the most competitive country in the world, while pointing out to the surprise of many that Lincoln's famous quote: ‘ A government for the people, of the people and by the people' is a better description of Swiss, rather than American democracy.

However Harvard has not achieved its reputation by promoting propaganda. Professor Karl Hofstetter, teaching at the Harvard Law School on leave from Schindler where he is a member of its executive committee, explained why Swiss politicians need not be that good, owing to checks and balances and the engagement of its citizens. With 30 referendums in the pipeline, he also expressed concern about whether there is a limit to the volume and complexity that the Swiss electorate is able to digest and deal with.

Professor Urs Gasser – who runs Harvard's prestigious Beckman Center for Internet and Society (and grew up in Solothurn) said that Switzerland must catch up with regard to high throughput internet infrastructure– and cautions about the impact of so called ‘digital divide' as internet capabilities are increasingly concentrated in urban centers like Geneva, Basel and Zurich, leaving the country side a shortage of next-generation Internet access without significant investments.