In addition to being a successful entrepreneur and a social worker, Niklaus Samuel Gugger, known as Nik, has created history in Swiss politics by becoming the only member of the Swiss Parliament who is originally a first-generation Indian. Manasa Mukka and Keerthana Nagarajan interviewed him to know more about his fascinating life.
Nik Gugger takes us back in time. Back to the early 1970s in India – a time when he was born to an Indian mother in Basel Missionary Hospital, Udipi, Karnataka. “My mother had to make a difficult decision. Being a young widow, she knew it would be difficult to bring me up with any kind of quality life. So, she gave me up for adoption as soon as I was born.” Gugger states what he has heard while growing up.
Adopted as a two-week-old baby by a Swiss couple Fritz and Elizabeth Gugger, working at the time working in India, Nik says, “As a child, my parents always made me feel special and cherished my childhood. As I was just 4 years old when I moved to Switzerland, my parents journaled the first years of my life. My mother made photobooks of the first 3 years of my life and my father made Super 8 movies. These photos and videos are very close to my heart and help me sort of recollect and imagine my earliest days,” he says.
Gugger lived with his Swiss family that came from a humble background in Uetendorf, Switzerland. He drove trucks, worked as a gardener and went to school. Earning his degree in mechanical engineering, he went on to study social work, management and innovation, political communication and emergency psychology (“I was the emergency psychologist during Tsunami,” he states) and was awarded an honorary doctors title by the Kalinga Institute Orissa for his work on social science. He believes in dual education and has set up similar programs in India.
In 2002, he was elected town councillor from Winterthur and in November 2017, he was Member of Parliament in Switzerland. October 2019 saw him being re-elected by a large number of voters in his favour, into the Legislature for 4 years. He is an acclaimed entrepreneur and delivers talks on innovation and management. He owns the famous Ayurvedic ginger drink in Switzerland – Zingi and is the co-founder of the counselling firm Herzkraftwerk. In addition, he holds important positions, including one at the Council of Europe.
‘Work hard, be powerful, believe in the forces of the universe, and most importantly, be humble. That’s my mantra for life. That’s what keeps me going,’ says the 50-year-old.
Joining politics was a coincidence. Through his father’s work in the deaf and dumb home of the Uetendorfberg Foundation, Nik had made contact with people with disabilities early in life. Later, his parents took over the management of the new retirement home in the village, so he grew up in the environment of elderly people. Early experiences in social work helped Nik work as a leader in the Uetendorf parish and the YMCA.
“During the 1998 attacks by the terrorists in Luxor (Egypt), the person who was standing for elections in Evangelical People’s Party (EVP) got killed. I was then asked to represent the party to replace him, and the rest is history!’ he says.
Here are some excerpts from our very enlightening talk.
You worked in Colombia and in India with the youth – in what area exactly was that? How was your experience and visit to these countries – in terms of learnings and other thoughts?
In Colombia, I was with an NGO that helped orphaned and run-away children who had to live on the streets. I helped by providing them with food and shelter. In India, I work with the tribal in Orissa and with the Nettur Technical training foundation in Kerala to provide education to children of all castes so they can get equal opportunities in life to succeed. In Switzerland, I worked as a volunteer and as a Youth church leader with the church for most of life as well with young drug addicts. My experience with children and youth living on the streets all over the world has been pretty much the same. Their situation is dire. I work hard to help them get food, shelter, love and respect.
You’re Swiss, but your origins lie in India. How was growing up for you here? Did you face social issues?
In the 1980s, it was difficult growing up in Switzerland. I am quite open-minded, but I am aware that not everyone is like me. I am also quite instinctive and am able to adapt to circumstances easily. I’d like to say, I am well adapted and successful here.
Moving to your political choices: Why EVP? What motivates you every day to deal with national issues and plans – it’s not a light job after all…
As mentioned before, I was already involved in social service and when EVP approached me to represent them, I said yes! There are only 200 MPs in this country with a little over 8 million citizens. Even though EVP is the smallest party, I have great relations with SVP as well and I try to be a bridge-builder between the left and right-wing. I am motivated to work for the Swiss Parliament as its one of the oldest democracies and it is possible to really make a difference.
You also are an ethical and social entrepreneur and work with the first market as well – could you tell us more about your professional life – and how you split it between entrepreneurship and politics?
I handle most of my work myself and this actually makes me more efficient, saving a lot of time and effort. I am the co-founder of the counselling firm Herzkraftwerk. Here we train and counsel leaders. I also own the Swiss ginger drink company Zingi. I am also the Global Brand Ambassador for Pocdoc by Innotas and also on the Council of Europe for human rights. Although I was earning 3 times more before entering politics, I find it very satisfying to work for the community in Switzerland and the returns.
You got married in 1994 – do tell us something about your personal life, hobbies, life’s lessons as you go along.
I live in Winterthur with my wife and 3 children who are between 10 and 18 years old. I love snowboarding, travelling and being together with my family and friends.
And with that, we run out of time with a very interesting person who surely has more to say. For more on Nik Gugger, visit https://nikgugger.ch/ueber-mich.html
Disclaimer: Written in good faith, we do not undertake any financial/reputational impact or other obligations/liabilities that may arise from the content.