‘126 Heartbeats for Geneva International’: Stories from civil society

Zahi Haddad shot by Aurélien Bergot, whose photographs in the book capture each person's unique story. Credit: Aurélien Bergot.

To mark the 100th anniversary of the first meeting of the League of Nations in Geneva, author Zahi Haddad celebrates the people keeping the spirit of diversity and collaboration alive in the city today.

Since moving to Geneva from Lebanon at three years of age, author Zahi Haddad has witnessed first-hand how the city has evolved, drawing people from around the world to live and work in a place with international collaboration and multilateralism at its core.

To mark the centenary of the first meeting of the League of Nations, Haddad wanted to highlight just how “international” International Geneva is, and to celebrate the people working here to create a better world elsewhere.

“Celebrating this anniversary inspires us to think about the essential, and sometimes underestimated, role civil society plays in the organisation of our world,” writes Haddad in the foreword to “126 Heartbeats for Geneva International”, published today. “The people presented in this book all change our world on their own scales. They shape it to make it better, more bearable, happy, harmonious, efficient - and they are the sources of new paradigms.”

“We always say that Geneva has 180 nationalities and that we’re the best in the world, ” says Haddad. “I wanted to see what ‘International Geneva’ really is.” To do so, he set about tracking down people from the 185 or so nationalities registered as living in the city, 126 of which feature in the final publication.

Finding the heartbeats. Rather than starting with the UN and international NGOs, Haddad wanted to tell the stories of people from civil society - to “show another face of Geneva,” he says. “The real one.”

He began by talking to people within his own network who would then introduce him to others, with the process gradually evolving as he met more and more people whose work he had never come across, but who left a profound impression on him. “There are a lot of people in Geneva who are working to make Geneva shine internationally,” says Haddad. “They are working to build a better place - to shape the future.”

The 126 profiles in the book represent people of all ages, passions, and walks of life, whose work spans numerous sectors - from humanitarian and scientific to environmental and the arts.

Among them are humanitarians working to combat global problems of modern slavery and racism, health professionals searching for the secrets to emotional wellbeing, and musicians who use their music to bring people together and promote peace. Some were born in Geneva or moved to the city to embark on their projects, telling Haddad it was “the only place in the world where they could do their project” and make a difference. Others arrived here as refugees, fleeing oppression, persecution, and conflict in their home countries in search of a better life, which they then endeavoured to build for others.

A shared love for Geneva. What did all these people have in common? “Their love for Geneva,” says Haddad, who spent 18 months working on the project amid the global pandemic. “All of them have an amazing love for Geneva. They are connected to the city. ”

“These people are change-makers. They all want to change the world as we know it,” he continues. “When you have something that doesn't work, why would you continue to do the same? It doesn't make any sense. So these people come with a project that creates a way to change - a better way. And to me, this was very important. ”

The finished work embodies the spirit of collaboration, determination, and belief in a better world that lies at the heart of International Geneva, and which has become all the more vital in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. As the world continues to grapple with a global threat that spans countries and societies, Haddad’s book has a poignant message, highlighting what can be achieved when people come together for “a common good”.

“If you go through the book, you have artists, you have human rights defenders, you have all these people working,” he says. “If you put them all together and forget about power, money, and all that, maybe we can do something.”


“126 Heartbeats for Geneva International” is published in French and in English by Editions Slatkine