A wave of post-War decolonisation led to the creation of new nation-states, with much international discussion on how to support their economic development.
Switzerland, eager to play its part, contributed one million francs to the first UN Technical Assistance Programme in 1951. At the same time, several hundred thousand francs were set aside to finance expert missions and scholarships in favour of "economically disadvantaged" countries. This bilateral technical assistance fell under the responsibility of the former Federal Office for Economic Development and Labour (FOEDL, subsequently the Federal Office for the Economy and Labour, now part of SECO).
A federal coordination committee comprising representatives of the public sector, the scientific community and private enterprise defined the policy and oversaw its implementation. This was done in close cooperation with other federal agencies, including the Trade Division (subsequently renamed FOFEA, now part of SECO), the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology as well as economic associations.
This support was justified with arguments citing economic policy and the market orientation of the aid, alongside with those of universal solidarity and humanitarian reasons. Public-sector support was consciously kept low-key: its purpose was to supplement private-sector initiatives and improve their opportunities abroad or, more specifically, cover the associated risks. The FOEDL took over the chair of the coordination committee in 1955.
Economically too, Switzerland has (...) a vested interest in helping to increase the productivity of human labour in underdeveloped parts of the world. Each step in this direction means greater purchasing power for millions of consumers and, in turn, new markets for the products of our export-dependent economy.
Friedrich Traugott Wahlen, Head of the Division for Agriculture, later a Federal Councillor (in a speech given at the ETH anniversary celebrations in Zurich, 1950)