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Charity works overtime to support Covid-stricken mountain firms

Hundreds of small alpine businesses rely on the fund for support. © Keystone / Christian Beutler

A Swiss fund that supports small businesses in alpine regions bailed out 100 firms last year that were affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Schweizer Berghilfe (Swiss Mountain Aid) doled out an extra CHF2 million ($2.26 million) to support Covid-hit enterprises.

Volunteers put in 15% more hours evaluating and processing the extra demand for financial support, the organisation said on Tuesday. This resulted in experts spending an extra 1,200 hours (or 150 days) visiting each project in mountain regions to determine whether they should receive support.

In normal years, evaluators give around 8,500 hours of their own time to assess applicants. Last year, as a result of the pandemic, the number of volunteer hours approached the 10,000 mark.

“Personal contact is key. This is the only way to clarify the motivation of the applicant. You can see the whole site, the installations, you see how the people work and what they are like. That is essential,” said Pierre Praz, an experienced evaluator with Schweizer Berghilfe.

The non-profit organisation was established in 1943 to provide support to mountain communities and relies on public donations. Its goal is to help small and micro businesses flourish in remote regions, which in turn boosts local economies, provides employment and helps stop younger people leaving in search of better opportunities.

The fund typically gives out CHF35 million per year supporting on average 600 businesses, such as cheese makers and skilled craft workers.

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