Anita Fahrni

The Best of All Development Aid

“Supporting education is the best of all development aid,” Anita Fahrni believes, and her experiences in the fields of development assistance, politics, and personal philanthropy have persuaded her that the education of women and girls is especially important. “Women should have as much education as possible, and in whatever ways they are active later on – in business, politics, family life – they should pass it on,” she said in an interview. Ms. Fahrni has acted on her beliefs with almost 20 years of support for education in Mongolia and, more recently, by establishing an endowment fund at the United Board to support women at Southern Christian College (SCC) in the Philippines.

Ms. Fahrni devotes significant amounts of her time to Mongolia, where the needs in higher education are great. “I went to the UN women’s conference in Beijing in 1995,” she recalled, “and then started networking with women’s organizations locally, nationally and internationally. A colleague suggested I go to Mongolia to meet active women there.” Those personal contacts inspired her to collect and ship containers of books to Mongolia (now totaling more than 400,000 volumes!) from her base in Switzerland, place Swiss teachers in Mongolian schools and universities, and invite Mongolian students and teachers for training in Swiss schools. “I seek out people from the Mongolian countryside,” she said. “They are not as well connected as their urban counterparts, so these exchanges have greater benefits for the individuals and their communities.”

Southern Christian College is far removed from Mongolia in distance, geography, and culture, yet Ms. Fahrni’s support of the college reflects her interests in women and higher education. She had a family connection to SCC, as her father, a theologian, and a former SCC president had met in the international ecumenical movement. Her mother was active on the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Her own connection took root shortly after her graduation from Oberlin College in the United States. She spent two years teaching English and French at Tunghai University in Taiwan, and during Tunghai’s summer break, went to SCC to teach during their summer term. Decades later, she made a gift in support of SCC through an endowment fund at the United Board, in order to “give the possibility of education to those who might otherwise not have it.”

The endowment provides support for the tuition and fees of female students whose families are unable to pay for their daughters’ education at Southern Christian College. “I call myself a feminist, and I have been pushing for women’s issues for a long time,” Ms. Fahrni said. Through her endowment, generations of young women in the Philippines will now have opportunities to further their education, enrich their lives, and benefit their communities.