28 July 2023

Paying It Forward with Suspend'Us

Inspired by the concept of caffe sospeso, Suspend'us is a Swiss association founded by Clémence and Laure Oriol, a local mother-daughter team who wanted to digitalise the trend that originated in Naples during the Second World War, when locals would pay for coffees at local cafés and leave the receipts hanging at the counters so that they could be claimed by soldiers. Through their platform, Suspend'Us allows donors to pay for items and services at local businesses and credit them towards people in need, who can claim them at a later date. Master student at the Geneva Graduate Institute and Research Assistant at the Centre for Finance and Development, Grégory Cerutti is Vice President of Suspend'us and tells us about the work that they do in fighting poverty in Switzerland.

Grégory Cerutti
Contrary to popular belief, poverty in Switzerland represents a significant social issue. According to the Federal Statistical Office, in 2021, 8.5% of the population was considered to be living below the poverty line.
Grégory Cerutti

Tell us about Suspend’us and how you got involved in the project.

Founded in Nyon in May 2020 “Suspend'us” is inspired by the concept of caffe sospeso. Neapolitans would pay for a coffee with the ticket hanging on the counter, and the coffee could be enjoyed free of charge by someone else. “Suspend'us” was born out of the inspiration of this concept and the desire to make it relevant to today' issues. Thanks to a digital platform, people in precarious situations have access to free goods and services from local shops. The principle is simple. Donors are free to choose the amount and the partner shop to which they would like to donate. The amount donated then becomes available at that specific shop to people in precarious situations. They can then benefit from a free good or service of their choice. As I was already familiar with the principle of the “Suspend'us” café, I found the idea of extending the concept beyond the simple café very interesting. Today, people in precarious situations can benefit from free haircuts, dental care, books, and groceries of course. Furthermore, I like the idea of involving donors. Suspend'us gives each donor the opportunity to become personally involved through their choice of benefits they are willing to offer.


What role do you play in Suspend’us?

At the end of 2021, I began as an external advisor to the association. I wanted to get more personally involved in the project, so I joined the committee as vice-president over a year ago. As we're still a small association, everyone has a bit of a hand in everything. However, given my background, I mainly focus on the financial side of association, including auditing, budgeting and fundraising.


Switzerland has the reputation of being one of the richest countries in the world, yet poverty and precarity still exist. Is poverty in Switzerland much worse than we perceive?

Contrary to popular belief, poverty in Switzerland represents a significant social issue. According to the Federal Statistical Office, in 2021, 8.5% of the population was considered to be living below the poverty line. This represents a population of more than 700,000 people. People over 65 are the most affected by poverty and this situation has definitely not improved since the Covid crisis. Precariousness is therefore a reality in Switzerland contrary to the perception one might have from abroad... On the other hand, Switzerland's good economic situation, which can be a source of bias in the perception of precariousness, largely benefits the more than 60,000 not-for-profit associations present on our territory. To give an order of magnitude, more than 2 billion was donated to non-profit organisations in 2021.


Given Geneva’s place in the international world, do you find that people you encounter and talk to about your work in the international community find it surprising that there is a serious need for financial aid in Switzerland?

When I talk about “Suspend'us” to the people I meet at the institute, I can say that two reactions come to the fore. On the one hand, the people I talk to, most of whom belong to the international community, are well aware of the inequality issues facing developed countries. That's why they're not surprised that there's poverty even in Switzerland. On the other hand, I found interesting that most of them are actually surprised by the real extent of precariousness in Switzerland. In fact, even as a Swiss citizen, the above figures do not leave one indifferent.


How do you see Suspend’us evolving in the coming years? Do you see it playing a bigger role in Swiss society or even growing to neighbouring countries?

Together with the members of the committee, the volunteers and the beneficiaries, we want “Suspend'us” to develop on a wider scale so that it can benefit as many people as possible. As “Suspend'us” is based on the relationship between beneficiaries, donors and shops, it is essential to develop this ecosystem locally to ensure its sustainability in the region over the long run. After setting up in Nyon, Geneva, Yverdon-les-Bains and Fribourg, we want to focus on the Lausanne-Renens region. The advantage of our concept is that it can be replicated in any region. That's why, in the medium term, we hope to be able to export our solidarity model well beyond the borders of French-speaking Switzerland.




Read More about Suspend'Us through their Platform