March 11, 2004
Sindy organizes events where local Swiss & expatriates get together. Gabriel Sigrist interviewed Sindy's founders about their success.
“Expatriates have very little opportunity in Geneva to meet the local Swiss. And after we lived here for a few months, we realized that we, just like thousands of other expats who arrive in Geneva every year, face the same problems: it's hard to meet friends from outside our work environment, it's hard to meet local Swiss, and when we want to go out on the town - there's not much going on. Sindy is an attempt to change all that.”
Nir Ofek and Yossi Avital were 25 years old in 1999 when they graduated from Tel Aviv University and came to work for Procter & Gamble in Geneva. “We had difficulty in integrating into Swiss life, which was completely strange to us. Part of this difficulty was from Geneva's unique social scene: you have either places for the super premium jet set who are willing to spend CHF17 for a beer, a few hard core drinking places, and a few places for teens. There was no ‘middle market’ place for ‘regular’ people, who are 25 and up, and who just to have fun and get to know more people like them.”
So Nir and Yossi set up the Geneva Social Syndicate, soon shortened to Sindy ("people still ask me if Sindy is the name of my ex wife", laughs Nir), with the simple aim of “make expats, age 25+, feel at home in Geneva". In the first six months Nir and Yossi recruited some twenty members from different Geneva based companies, to act as the volunteer committee. The first Sindy event was held on July 1999 at the UN beach. “Each one of our 20 committee members invited 10 of his/her friends to this event, so we expected around 200 guests, from all companies, creating a nice mix. 3000 people showed up! At 19:30 we ran out of drinks. But it didn't matter. People stayed around all night, making new connections. We realized how much our idea meets a strong need. Our network was born.”
AT THE CHRISTMAS BALL. Since then there has been a steady flow of members joining Sindy.ch. Now Sindy has more than 4000 members (membership is free), who regularly participate in various Sindy events. Before each event an Email invite is sent to each members. "We estimate that our Emails reach around 10'000 people, with all the Email forwarding going on. And we are very proud that our events now attract many native Genevans, and not only expats. Around 30% of our members are Swiss, confirming that Sindy is a real integration tool in both directions.”
The club organizes around ten events per year. The big events, with venues like the Pitoëff Theatre or in summer the Wakeboard Club easily attract 2000 people. Smaller events, ranging from adventure trips to Salsa Weekends through After Work parties, are also organized on a regular base. The high spot is the annual Christmas Ball, in a luxury hotel, where black tie and evening dress are de rigueur.
In just a few years this social network has changed the lives of thousands of expatriates, not to mention a growing number of Swiss. “There have been five weddings, thanks to our events,” laughs Yossi, who also married not so long ago and has a young daughter. Procter & Gamble are delighted at the initiative of their two employees. “We are very aware of the improvement in the quality of life that these events bring to our 1400 employees based in Geneva,” says Nathalie Kratzer from the group’s external relations department. “We very much encourage this kind of initiative that helps expatriates to integrate.” The president of Procter & Gamble Europe, Paul Polman, was himself present at the last Christmas Ball.
In spite of the popularity of the events, Nir and Yossi don't want to turn Sindy into a business. Sindy remains a non-profit organization. “We cover out costs and the time invested in Sindy, and then plough income back into the organization of new events,” they say. “We both have good jobs - outside of Sindy - that pay good money. Sindy is about making a better life for us, our friends, and the other expats in Geneva. And to enable us to manage Sindy, and keep Sindy events at a high level, we outsource everything we can to outside professionals. We focus on coming up with new ideas for activities, on the personal contact with our members, and on keeping the ‘Sindy spirit’ of ‘have fun and meet people’ alive. And it's working.”
SKIING, FILMS, SALSA. Riding high on their success, Sindy has developed other activities. For example Salsa Weekends, for 60 Sindy members at a time. And last year, for the first time, an adventure trip to the Jordan desert. “The adventure trip was amazing. It got together a group of Sindy members who never met before, and turned them into close friends. Not to mention how much fun they had. As with our other activities, we outsourced the trip organization to a professional travel agent, and we focused on helping plan a content that will bring out the Sindy spirit.” Following on from this Sindy is organizing a skiing weekend at Tignes this winter. And there are other ideas in the pot.
At another level, Sindy decided to use its network for humanitarian causes. UNICEF, for example, was looking for voluntary workers with professional skills in marketing, and found thirty Sindy volunteers in just a few days by mailing Sindy members. “It’s very important for us, who work and live in Geneva and love it, to give back of all all the good things Geneva gave us. We can’t imagine living anywhere else but Geneva. Professionally, we could all get jobs in a different country, but we have built a life here that we couldn’t get anywhere else.”