The Nordic Center’s launch at UC Berkeley brings campus opportunities to learn from successful sustainability, social and economical practices in Nordic regions.
Nordic countries such as Finland and Sweden have consistently topped rankings for their progress in meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. According to Nordic Center executive director Robert Strand, these are the “17 greatest challenges we face in this world.” The center offers research and study opportunities for students and faculty to examine the factors behind the Nordic region’s success.
“We face big challenges in the world for which we need inspiration and good examples,” Strand said. “The Nordic Center at UC Berkeley can be a platform from which we shine a bright global spotlight on the Nordics to understand where they are achieving their comparative successes.”
The Nordic Center will foster conversations around aspects of Nordic societies such as their culture and business models. Nordic Center faculty director Mark Sandberg noted students are often intrigued by the assumptions of what works in American society and the reason behind Nordic societies’ ability to consistently top happiness indexes and measures of civic engagement and social trust.
While Strand acknowledges Nordic societies are “far from perfect,” he said looking at Nordic policy experiments can lend insight into building market policies that encourage sustainable behavior.
“There’s support (at the Nordic Center) for any curiosity they have about the Nordic,” Sandberg said. “We’re here to help create opportunities and to make you aware of opportunities to apply your interests in whatever discipline to opportunities in the Nordic region.”
Strand added the center operates through three main branches: student pathways, faculty pathways and community outreach.
For student pathways, the center will provide more structure to existing campus Nordic resources while helping students study abroad in Nordic regions. The center will also help place students in internships related to Nordic studies.
The second pathway helps campus faculty to study the wealth of data collected by Nordic countries and carry out comparative studies with the Nordic region, while community outreach involves hosting campus events that invite constructive discussions on Nordic practices.
“The idea now is to try to introduce an element of planning, intellectual goals and strategy to (the current) more passive hosting of programs and content,” Sandberg said. “We’re interested in directing the conversation, and I feel like interdisciplinary work thrives best when there’s some structure to coordinate it.”
The Nordic Center’s first two years of operation were funded by a $2 million grant from the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation and the Bernard Osher Foundation as a pilot phase to demonstrate the center’s success, according to a Berkeley News release.
Additionally, Strand noted that the Nordic Center celebrates campus’s Nordic roots, as one of UC Berkeley’s co-founders, Peder Sather, was a Norwegian who believed in the power of universal education.
“As we look ahead on how to most constructively address the greatest challenges we face on this plane — climate change to growing inequality and beyond — we will be well served to further our connection and partnerships with the activities and endeavors of the Nordic region,” Strand said.