Nordic Center brings Nordic insights to UC Berkeley and beyond

The recently launched Nordic Center at UC Berkeley seeks to establish itself as the most comprehensive interdisciplinary hub of its type in the country, fostering dialogue and research to consider Nordic approaches for addressing sustainability, social inequalities, and other systemic issues.

The Nordics represent a hopeful agenda to address the world’s most pressing challenges.

“I feel the Nordics stand for social awareness and responsibility toward one another locally and globally,” said Barbro Osher. “These elements are part of Berkeley’s mission, to illuminate solutions for the public good. And the Nordic Center at UC Berkeley can be at the very heart of it all.”

Color photo of Barbara with a blond bob and a red-lined black jacket, standing in front of a lemon tree.

Barbro Osher’s belief that the Nordics represent a hopeful agenda to address pressing global challenges inspired her to support the Nordic Center.

The Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation and Bernard Osher Foundation have provided $2 million in funding for the center for the first two years of operations. The intent during this initial phase is to show the worthiness of the Nordic Center and attract additional funding going forward, said Robert Strand. 

Strand, the executive director for the Nordic Center, teaches the course “Sustainable Capitalism in the Nordics” to undergraduate and M.B.A. students at Berkeley Haas. Strand is passionate about the ripple effects that research at the Nordic Center will have at Berkeley and beyond, having lived and studied in the Nordic countries for years and seeing policies and practices at work with his own eyes.

Citizens living in Nordic countries experience some of the highest levels of prosperity, equality, and sustainability performances in the world. Strand notes that the Nordic nations regularly top the annual Sustainable Development Goals Index and related performance measurements. The 2020 World Happiness Report includes a special section about the Nordic region that examines how the Nordics are consistently rated the happiest in the world.

“No matter whether we look at the state of democracy and political rights, lack of corruption, trust between citizens, felt safety, social cohesion, gender equality, equal distribution of incomes, Human Development Index, or many other global comparisons, one tends to find the Nordic countries in the global top spots.” — 2020 World Happiness Report

The Nordic Center is established at the Institute for European Studies (IES). IES is also home to the Peder Sather Center, which seeks to foster research collaborations between UC Berkeley and a consortium of Norwegian academic institutions. The Nordic Center will be a close partner with the Peder Sather Center. The bulk of activities with the Nordic Center will be executed through a humanities hub at the Department of Scandinavian and a social sciences hub at the Center for Responsible Business within the Institute for Business and Social Impact at Berkeley Haas.

“As home to one of only three independent Scandinavian departments in the United States, UC Berkeley has very unique Nordic competencies,” said Mark Sandberg, the center’s faculty director and professor with the Department of Scandinavian. “We offer language instruction in five Nordic languages and have unique curricular offerings from Nordic history and literature to the influential cultural contributions of the Nordic societies of more contemporary times.” 

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute will be a key partner as will other UC Berkeley institutions, including Cal Performances and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

“UC Berkeley is the ideal place to foster and grow this connection between the United States and the Nordics. Opportunities at the Nordic Center are sure to spark a great deal of inspiration for Berkeley’s change makers,” said Linda Rugg, associate vice chancellor for research and professor of Swedish literature in the Scandinavian department. “It’s really part of the historical tapestry of Berkeley. We are grateful for the longstanding support of Barbro Osher. The Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation also made possible the first endowed chair in the Department of Scandinavian at UC Berkeley.”

“Cooperation is a core Nordic cultural norm, and we aim to cooperate across UC Berkeley and beyond to foster a vibrant Nordic constellation. We want to shine a bright global spotlight on the Nordics,” Strand said.

Related stories