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New profile leaves Nordic traces around the world

New profile leaves Nordic traces around the world

| Text: Bengt Östling, photo: Tomas Bertelsen

The Nordic Region is attractive, with its 27 million citizens over five countries living in peaceful coexistence. We are far from perfect, but perhaps that is what makes us fascinating. The Nordic Council of Ministers tries to look after all this by creating a Nordic brand.

Profiling the Nordics abroad is a priority for Nordic governments’ cooperation. The project has been running for a few years already, with many joint activities. In 2019, money was allocated for 17 projects divided between four continents. Nordic values are being promoted hand in hand with the UN sustainable development goals. 

The process is now being streamlined, focussing on fewer events. Nordic trust in Russia, gender equality in Argentina and China, Nordic movies in Morocco and Nordic rock stars in a desert festival in the USA are some of the attractions. The project is scheduled to run until 2021.

Focus on similarities means joint progress

After a thousand years of war and fighting, the Nordics now agree on most things. The focus is on similarities rather than differences. 

Shared values like transparency, equality, environment and sustainable development have led to progress. It has given us opportunities and welfare, explains Tobias Grut, who is responsible for the branding of the Nordics at the Nordic Council of Ministers' secretariat in Copenhagen.

There is much pride to be found over the progress the Nordic region has made – a sentiment also expressed by Danish Prime Minister Mette Fredriksen during the Nordic Council’s session in Stockholm last autumn.

Mette Frederiksen

She talked about the Nordic structure as one of the best things that had ever been constructed. The very different Nordic social models contain so much peace, security, strong welfare and well-functioning democratic rules, according to the Danish Prime Minister.

The whole world is talking about the Nordics

The Nordic Council of Ministers has started a dialogue with the rest of the world about the Nordic model. The project is called "The Nordics – Traces of North". The aim is to showcase how the region has left its mark in other parts of the world.

The talk is about the Nordics, and not Scandinavia. The latter is not the correct term for the five Nordic countries. The term Nordics will eventually become well-know, says Tobias Grut.

The Nordics have spent decades focusing on cultural projects abroad. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, cooperation with the neighbouring Baltics and Russia increased and Nordic information offices were established.

Security politics was avoided, on request from Finland. EU issues were not yet considered to be an area for Nordic cooperation in the 1990s. Culture was considered to be a sufficiently innocent issue to be used as a door-opener.

Yet little by little a desire grew to do something together out in the bigger world. The joint profiling aims to strengthen the Nordic region and the Nordic countries’ competitiveness and international influence.

Politicians expect great things from the project, and talk about how the Nordic region now enjoys momentum internationally. What is shared can be summed up in Nordic perspectives, values and a culture which stems from a common history.

Nordic Council of Ministers

The Nordic aims are never far from the UN sustainable development goals. In this corridor at the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Nordic ecolabel "The Swan" flies towards the UN goals, quite literally.

Joint values build on Nordic strengths. These can be summed up as tolerance, transparency and freedom of expression, trust, fresh thinking and innovations. Now there is focus on the UN sustainable development goals, gender equality and the freedom and equality of all humans.

“It’s a really good story”

Tobias Grut is the project leader for "The Nordics – Traces of North". His background is from “the creative sector” in Copenhagen, and he has worked with branding and identity for many companies and organisations. He mentioned Danish Police, rock bands, the Danish Royal Theatre and “everything in between”. 

“The job was to always find a good story and to develop it further. That can be difficult in certain sectors, but with the Nordics it’s the opposite. It is really difficult to find bad stories about the Nordic region,” says Tobias Grut. The Nordic region is just one, big good story.

He talks about well-functioning societies where the weak are being looked after. There is free education for all and free healthcare. You have child benefits, unemployment benefits, and capital and investments for startups and others. 

Photo: Tomas Bertelsen

Some countries call this Socialism, but Tobias Grut disagrees. The benefits of a welfare society looking after its citizens enjoys broad support in the Nordic region.

Tobias Grut feels he has got a dream job in Copenhagen. After just over three years he is still enthusiastic and quickly moves on from questions about obstacles, problems and any latency in the Nordic organisation. 

Nordic branding complements national names

The Nordic profiling is a continuation of national branding. The embassies around the world have done a good job here for a long time, says Tobias Grut.

There have also been benefits to be had from other sectors’ progress. Danish design is a well-known term globally. The Nordic project avoids cannibalising any national progress. There is no point showcasing a bearded hipster on a bike with his caffe latte in a Nordic capital, jokes Tobias Grut. Such imagery has already been successfully spread by the Nordic countries and companies.

Rather than showcasing the Nordics to the world, the aim is now to showcase the Nordics in the world – which traces of the Nordics can already be found, or should be found? It is also a question of efficiency. It is no use for Norwegians to organise a sustainability event somewhere one week, while Sweden does something similar in the same place the following week. You get more effect from working together, points out Grut.

Useful in the world

But why is this so important? Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen gave one answer to this during the Nordic Council’s session last autumn.

“The Nordic region has a strong global brand which can support exports from Nordic companies,” Fredriksen said as she presented the Danish Presidency programme.

She mentioned tourists who increasingly seek out the Nordics, where they find great variations in beautiful nature, history, culture and experiences. Modern, sustainable cities make the region attractive. 

The steering group which works on the Nordic project also has a background from tourism and public and economic diplomacy, at the National ministries foreign affairs. With a focus on efficiency, there is very good control of costs and benefits. 

Dialogue first, trading later

Tobias Grut underlines that branding first and foremost is about dialogue.

“First dialogue. Then we can sell our products, get tourists to visit the Nordics, get some company to set up shop in Haparanda.”

Branding the Nordics is not about cultural imperialism, nor is it about showing how good or clever we are, he points out.

“The idea is for us to learn something from the world around us, and then it can hopefully learn something about us. After that we can do business, exchange students, visit each other. Dialogue is important,” points out Tobias Grut.

Russian trust, American paternal leave and food in China

The next big project now is “Nordic Talks”, which is held in different parts around the world before being published as a podcast. The first episodes are ready, from a debate at Berkeley University in California, one debate on food waste in China and one is from an event that ran paralell to the climate conference.

The debate in California focused on the experiences around paid parental leave. The USA recently introduced 12 weeks’ paid parental leave for federal employees. Earlier the country only had 12 weeks’ unpaid maternal leave. 

For most Americans, Nordic benefits like paternal leave, free education and healthcare is but a dream. Other Nordic values are being explored on other continents.  

A counterweight to populism and ignorance – also at home

There are many in California who support Nordic values, although the rest of the USA is less enthusiastic.

“When Donald Trump came to power, many thought this would be great for anyone working with Nordic branding. We could now be the guardians of decency – and we still are of course,” says Tobias Grut. What we see across the Atlantic might strengthen our values.

But not everyone can agree on everything. We see growing populism at home too. The solution is to not ignore those who think differently, but to open up for dialogue and understanding. The same things that we offer to the world. 

Far too few know what Nordic society is about and why it exists.

“This is a communication challenge. But it seems like the Nordics should be branded internally in the Nordic region too,” says Tobias Grut. Some of the material which is now being produced around the world will also be used in the Nordic region, to improve knowledge about Nordic values and cooperation.

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