Stephan Schmidheiny

Avina Stiftung was founded in 1994 by Dr. Stephan Schmidheiny. As an industrialist and pioneer, Stephan Schmidheiny has continued his family tradition in his own, special way and, in so doing, written industrial history. In addition to his economic activities, Stephan Schmidheiny has also always closely accompanied political, social and cultural developments. As consultant to the UNO and the OECD, as a speaker, an author, founder of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and creator of the term eco-efficiency, he has brought an important impulse to the debate on sustainable economic, social and ecological development globally.

He became involved in philanthropy from an early stage. Besides Avina Stiftung, Stephan Schmidheiny created the foundation Alexander Schmidheiny Stiftung which is also active in Switzerland. His foundations Fundes, Fundación Avina and MarViva are active in Latin America. The Latin American foundations are funded by the non-profit Viva Trust, to which Stephan Schmidheiny bequeathed his industrial participations in the region in 2003. To date, the foundations of Stephan Schmidheiny have invested more than 500 million Francs in non-profit projects.

At the end of 2017, Stephan Schmidheiny passed the presidency of Avina Stiftung on to his wife, Dr. Viktoria Schmidheiny. This change at the helm marks the end of an era for the foundation: Stephan Schmidheiny had been leading Avina as president since its constitution. He designed and constructed Avina as a non-for-profit organisation following entrepreneurial principles. His visionary work for society has inspired numerous people and institutions. Under Viktoria Schmidheiny, Avina Stiftung will continue its charitable work according to the model of Stephan Schmidheiny.


The Avina Stiftung Board of Trustees is responsible for the strategy and effective implementation of the foundation’s objectives. It leads Avina according to the principles of Good Foundation Governance. The office is responsible for operational business. It prepares the relevant decisions for the hands of the foundation board. The foundation board’s committee on donations decides on the sponsored projects; projects with unusual content or large volume are presented to the President for the final decision. The members of the foundation board do not receive attendance fees or other compensation for their activities. 

The accounting books of Avina Stiftung are reviewed according to Swiss standards by the independent auditor ORG Ostschweizerische Revisionsgesellschaft AG. Avina Stiftung is subject to the supervision of the Swiss Federal Supervisory Authority for Foundations.

Foundation Board

  • Dr. Viktoria Schmidheiny, President
  • Heinz Hefti
  • Elisabeth Meyerhans Sarasin
  • Marcel Nauer 


  • Sibylle Feltrin, Director
  • Barbara Wilhelm, Project Administration
  • Laurenz Werner, Research Analyst  
  • Heinz Pauli, Advisor

Avina in numbers

Funding according to areas of activity in 2018


Funding according to regions in 2018


Total of approved funding, 10 years (in CHF)


Number of received / approved grant applications, 5 years



Avina Stiftung actively enters into partnerships with other non-profit foundations and networks people and organisations which deal with similar issues. Thus, our projects profit from a network of various expertise and experience and a widespread effect. 

Avina deliberately enters into risks. We also provide carefully targeted start-up funding, therefore enabling projects to prove themselves. This provides the basis for further investors (including commercial investors) to get involved in the projects in a second phase.

We prize our partners as a valuable source for the exchange of information, the acquisition of new knowledge and the further development of professional foundation activity.


Avina Stiftung is closely connected to the Alexander Schmidheiny Stiftung which focuses on local initiatives in Schmidheiny’s native home, the Rheintal. Stephan Schmidheiny founded Alexander Schmidheiny Stiftung in 1993 in memory of his brother Alexander, who died at a young age.

Avina Stiftung is closely connected to the non-profit foundation Fundación Avina which operates in Latin America and which emerged from the Avina Stiftung in 2001.

Today, Fundación Avina is present in 15 countries in Latin America via a network of physical and virtual agencies. It aims to support actual and relevant changes which lead to sustainable development in Latin America.

Today, the two organisations are financially and organisationally independent of one another. However, we work together regularly in order to promote the exchange of information between Europe and Latin America.

In order to intensify the relationships between Europe and Latin America, Avina Stiftung is working together with the Initiative Fundes. Stephan Schmidheiny founded the Fundes foundation in 1984, with the aim of sustainably reinforcing private business in Latin America. Fundes is committed to micro-businesses as well as small and mid-sized businesses and is currently active in 10 Latin American countries.

Together with Erica Knie, Stephan Schmidheiny called the Fundación MarViva to life in 2002. The Foundation is focused on the preservation and sustainable exploitation of marine life and the coastline in the eastern tropical Pacific. MarViva currently operates in Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia.

In 2003, Stephan Schmidheiny bequeathed his industrial participations in Latin America to the Viva Trust, which he had established. The Viva Trust invests a considerable amount of its profits from industrial activities in Fundación Avina and in other philanthropic activities and is thereby contributing to long-term development in Latin America.

Avina Stiftung is one of the eleven founding members of SwissFoundations. The association of Swiss grant-making foundations aims to improve the image and the opportunities for development of grant-making foundations in Switzerland with a strong and independent voice.

SwissFoundations has developed the Swiss Foundation Code as an orientation framework for modern foundation governance for the effective management of foundations. We adhere to these principles as part of our conviction.