US-style philanthropy on the rise in Sweden

2:32 min

It is becoming more common for wealthy individuals and corporations to fund academic and scientific research in Sweden. While American universities have a long tradition of philanthropy, it is a relatively new phenomenon in Sweden, where researchers have for a long time relied mostly on public funding.

A great number of private foundations have been established in Sweden in the past few years. Much of their capital is invested in research, education and science.

There is also increasing private wealth here and, for rich individuals, American business magnates are serving as role models. There is Warren Buffet's The Giving Pledge, for instance, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Johanna Palmberg, a research director at the Swedish Entrepreneurship Forum, says the taboo of openly showing your wealth is slowly disappearing in Sweden.

“I think there's greater interest and acceptance of philanthropic donations in Sweden…More philanthropists are becoming more public about their donations and what they're doing,” says Palmberg.

“That is partly due to this influence from the US where philanthropy is part of the social contract. It's the idea that that when you're wealthy and have become a successful entrepreneur, then you give back some of those resources to the community."

But sometimes it can go wrong. Kjell Blückert, CEO of the Ragnar Söderberg Foundation in Stockholm, says money can also create problems. One example is a generous donation to the Linnaeus University from Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of the furniture giant Ikea.

“You could say he had some sort of interest, which was to create a university in Småland, to create opportunities for research in design, medicine and entrepreneurship. But the Linnaeus University doesn't have a faculty of medicine, so this kind of donation really creates a huge problem," says Blückert.

Palmberg says that nowadays philanthropists and corporations tend to want to get involved in the projects they fund instead of just writing a check. That could also mean that there is a greater chance of the funders imposing their own agendas on research projects.

But Palmberg says it is up to the universities to ensure that the goals match up. And despite the pitfalls, the benefits outweigh the risks, she says.

“Often it's a long-term relationship and partnership so they can gain increased knowledge in the different topics or areas that they are doing research in, a greater network in the world outside academia, and different perspectives if there is a steering group or advisory board,” says Palmberg.

She adds: “I think philanthropic donations should be a complement to the public funding of science and education, to support new and innovative research."