The Swiss South African Co-operation Initiative (SSACI) was initiated in 2001 by the Swiss Agency for Co-operation and Development (SDC) and a group of Swiss private companies operating in South Africa. Their intention was to create a public-private partnership for social and economic development.

SDC had been active in South Africa since the early 1980s with the goal of contributing to the emergence of a prosperous, non-racial, democratic society. SDC’s mandate from the federal government of Switzerland was to operate a country programme in South Africa until the end of 2004, and then shift its focus to a regional programme for the whole of southern Africa. In 2000, as part of its phased transition to a regional programme, SDC began searching for private sector partners who could progressively take on responsibility for accessing and deploying local funds. Many of the 250 Swiss companies operating in South Africa at the time had a strong sense of corporate citizenship, expressed through their own social investment programmes. Some of them had previously collaborated in local community-development projects and were willing to undertake a more ambitious joint initiative.

In a series of meetings in Bern and Johannesburg, agreement was reached between SDC and a "founding group" of ten Swiss-owned companies in South Africa on the establishment of a trust fund for socio-economic development with equal capital from SDC on one hand and the companies on the other. The Deed of Trust was formally signed in February 2001 and registered with the Pretoria High Court in April that year. On 1 March 2001, SSACI officially opened its doors as the operating arm of that trust fund.

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