‘Innovation Journalism’ and Philanthropy on two continents: differences and similarities
On the last Thursday of each month, the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco hosts a pea soup luncheon with a speaker. The traditional ärtsoppa and Swedish punch is a perfect treat for the darker, chilly months of fall, winter and early spring. Topped off with Swedish pancakes it becomes a hearty treat. There were two so far this fall—one introducing David Nordfors of Stanford University’s Center for Innovation in Learning and another with Swedish Consul General in San Francisco, Mrs. Barbro Sachs-Osher.
September 25 welcomed David Nordfors, an innovative profile in the development of new approaches to journalism. Nordfors, a senior research scholar at Stanford University’s Center for Innovation in Learning is credited with co-founding the Innovation Journalism Program at Stanford in 2005, and still leading the program today. Nordfors also founded the Swedish Innovation Journalism Fellowship Program and is a Special Advisor to the Director General at VINNOVA, the Swedish Agency for Innovation Systems.
His speech focused on the phenomena he has come to dub “Innovation Journalism” – how journalism covers innovation and the differences between business journalism and science journalism. Nordfors described how journalism is changing with the new economy -“more of the same economy” - versus the innovation economy. Because of this, the business model in journalism is changing. Nordfors sees a great problem in this – that we are lacking infrastructure in the public debate regarding the new economy and innovation journalism.
One of Nordfors’ concerns is China, which has close media ties between legislature and the public; it is working better than in Sweden and the US. The big difference is of course that Sweden and USA are democracies.
One way Nordfors has chosen to address the problem is to start a program called Swedish Innovation Fellowship Program (sponsored by VINNOVA). It started by sending Swedish journalists to San Francisco and Silicon Valley. The idea behind the program is to develop collaboration between countries where journalists serve as intermediates. The journalists will be linking together different parts of the public debate, such as public, legislature, tech companies, and business. More players will come to compete for attention and the journalists and media will then be able to “deliver eyeballs.” As Nordfors chose to put it: “Thus in the long run beating communist China at it!”
On October 30, the popular monthly event draw a particularly large crowd. Guest speaker was the Swedish Consul General in San Francisco, Mrs. Barbro Sachs-Osher. The topic of Mrs. Osher´s speech was “Philanthropy on Two Continents: differences and similarities.” The Consul General is an authority on the subject as she is the chairman of the Bernard Osher Foundation and of her own ProSuecia Foundation, which is involved in countless activities to further cultural ties between Sweden and the USA.
In her speech Osher pointed out that these are hard times for philanthropists and their recipients, because foundations, like other businesses, have their assets invested in stocks or other financial vehicles that are tied to the global financial markets. Consequently the recent financial crisis has affected the Bernard Osher Foundation’s wealth and, therefore, its ability to fund worthy nonprofit projects.
The foundation nevertheless managed to provide 250 reentry students (those returning to academia after a significant break) with scholarships this year, giving them a chance to complete their education. Many of those students lacked the financial means to otherwise continue their education. In contrast, Osher noted that Swedish students in the U.S. seldom get financial support from their government.
The Bernard Osher Foundation also supports programs in integrative medicine in the United States and Sweden, including centers at the University of California, San Francisco; Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston; and, the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. Business Week reported that the Bernard Osher Foundation has donated over $800 million in past years through scholarships, grants, and benefit programs. This makes the foundation one of the largest private contributors in the U.S.
The Bernard Osher foundation has a special focus on teaching the younger generation about culture, such as music and art, according to Mrs. Osher. She added that donations are especially important to cultural institutions, e.g., art museums and opera. In many cases cultural organizations receive little or no funding from the U.S. government and are therefore highly dependent on individual, foundation, or commercial donations; in Sweden, cultural institutions receive a majority of their funding from their government.
“Lately, the foundation has also begun to focus on the older population in the community,” Osher said. Noting that the U.S has a large and growing, older population, she stated that they started the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes program for seasoned adults, aged 50 or older, who are interested in learning for the sheer joy of learning.
Mrs. Osher shared the fact that until fairly recently the foundation, although very generous, was handled by a single full time employee.
The luncheon ended with the Consul General answering questions from the audience.
The venue of choice for the luncheons was Urban Tavern – the latest culinary project of Christopher Condy and Laurent Manrique of C&L Partners, located in the heart of San Francisco and managed by Swedish born Pierre Johansson. People have been turned away for lack of space at the events; make plans and reserve early for the SACC luncheon.
The luncheons will continue in 2009.
Reported by Michael Kazmierczak and Jonas Lönnqvist
SACC-SF/SV intern Michael Kazmierczak, left, Swedish Consul General in San Francisco Barbro Sachs-Osher, center, and SACC-SF/SV executive director Nils Welin.