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Social innovation in Norway

Europe Tomorrow - Social innovation in Norway

Social innovation in Norway

Pacifist, democratic and extremely stable, the Scandinavian countries have always been a model for Europe. Despite the Oslo tragedy orchestrated by an opponent to multiculturalism, which also shows the existence of similar issues in most European countries, Norway remains one example of a successful democracy..

With the second-highest GDP per-capita among European countries (after Luxembourg), and the fourth-highest GDP (PPP) per-capita in the world, Norway ranks among the richest countries in the world. The land of fjords also ranks first for the UNDP Human Development index. A development that wouldn’t have been possible without a key national resource: oil.

Europe Tomorrow - Social innovation in Norway
Social innovation in Norway - Europe Tomorrow

1 – Natural ressources and petro-democracy :

About 99% of all power production in Norway comes from hydropower, one of the cleanest energy source available today, and renewable energy accounts for more than 60% of the total energy consumption in the country. In addition, Norway has access to more than 50% of the untapped hydropower reservoir of Europe. As a European leader in renewable energies, the Norwegian company statkraft is also exporting its hydropower knowledge and expertise.

This easy access to clean energy also has its drawbacks as it is pretty common to see inhabitants wasting energy. In fact, Norway is known for having one of the highest per capita energy consumption rate. As a comparison, the country is about 8 times larger than Switzerland but a third less populated; though Norwegians consume 26 000 kwh per inhabitant on an annual basis, i.e. 3.25 times more than in Switzerland.

Another major source of energy is the deposits of oils and gas under the North Sea. Norway is self-sufficient in terms of natural gas and oil, and doesn’t need to import such resources.

When the the small kingdom of 5 million inhabitants started the exploitation of black gold in 1969 after the discovery of the Ekofisk gisement in the North Sea, Norway was one of the poorest country in Europe. Today, the country is the world’s 7th largest oil exporter and the 3rd largest gas exporter, while not being a member of the OPEC. This supply of oil and gas brings in money from exports to other countries . There are further large areas of oil and gas under the seabed, which will provide energy for the upcoming years

Statoil is the main oil company in Norway but also the biggest company of the country. Previously state-owned, the company has now been privatized to 70.25%.

The State can only charge 4% of oil revenues every year. As the first world’s sovereign wealth fund, this oil fund is estimated to total 7 000 billion norwegian Krone (about 817 million Euros). It also accounts for 1.3% of the world market capitalization and is invested in more than 9 000 companies across the world in order to not destabilize the national economy. These investments are spearheaded by an ethics committee, which excluded about 60 companies accused of Human Rights violations and environmental degradations. On this note, the decision to divest Norway’s sovereign wealth fund from coal assets was formally endorsed by the Parliament on June 5, 2015.

For the NGO « Framtiden i våre hender » (the Future in our hands) : « We are so rich that we can afford to leave petroleum in our soil ». One of the main barrier this NGO faces is the low oil prices. Indeed, what’s abundant is cheap. With such low prices, any investment decision to become the « European battery » and to export hydraulic or windpower becomes a serious economic and political issue.

The sea itself is also a valuable resource and there are rich fishing grounds off the country’s long coastline, particularly in the oceans off the north of Norway.

Today, the farmed Atlantic salmon industry in Norway accounts for 90% of the farmed salmon market and more than 50% of the global salmon market. In addition, Norway provided 60% of the world production of Atlantic salmons in 2012. This intensive salmon production causes critical environmental issues, such as an increased sea pollution given the use of pesticides and persistent organic pollutants, especially in farms located close to the coasts where the sea pollution level is higher and salmon food is different. According to Norwegian Environment Agency (SFT), releases from a medium-sized farm producing 3 120 tons of salmons a year are equivalent to the emissions of a city of 50,000 inhabitants (annual emissions)

In the north of the country, the extractive industries directly compete with the fisheries in the region because of the destruction of ecosystems. Several Norwegian initiatives, such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiatives (EITI) or Green Warriors fight for the protection of the Norwegian environment and the establishment of (more restrictive and legal) norms for the extractive industries.

Social innovation in Norway - Europe Tomorrow

2 – Confidence, equality & citizenship :

Norway is a « social-democratic » state. However, following the elections of the Conservative Party in 2013, the government has adopted a more liberal economic policy, while maintaining strong social and environmental orientations. According to the Global Democracy Ranking, the country of Gro Harlem Bruntland has the highest Democracy Index, ranking first in 2014 and for five consecutive years.

The generous Norwegian welfare state is mostly financed by the black gold industry, whether in terms of parental leave, education, employment, health, or retirement. As an example, after graduating fromsecondary school, students can decide to attend the « People’s School ». During this year, there are no diploma and no classes but students are encouraged to participate in outdoor activities. Norway counts about 82 « peoples’ schools » : most of these schools propose sport and recreational outdoor activities, while some of them focus on arts, tourism or communication activities. 11% of young Norwegians attend these schools, their tuition fees being paid by the State of Norway.

The welfare state protects and repairs a strong democratic system based on transparency and modesty, simplicity and pragmatism. Also found in other Scandinavian countries, this modesty (or modest-spirit) is inspired by the « Jante law » that was described by the Norwegian writer Aksel Sandemose in the 1930’s. This law is also influenced by the Lutherian tradition in which success can only be enjoyed in moderation.

Therefore , money in Norway is not a major source of corruption or conflict, as this is often the case in countries where oil and petroleum prevail. This « society of trust » is also characterized by a higher level of transparency, whether for elected officials, businesses, or citizens. Norway relies on a system of withholding taxes, all these being available to the public and are all available online. Furthermore, business leaders are not invited to assist and travel with government officials, as we often see in France.

The egalitarian values of the Norwegian society have kept the wage difference between the lowest paid worker and the CEO of most companies as much less than in comparable western economies. This egalitarism reflects the strong social cohesion of the country, and results from a long tradition of social economy.

Finally, the country has a very low unemployment rate of about 4%. However, based on an OECD study, this low rate should be weighted against an important welfare population receiving unemployment benefits. Norway also has the highest number of « welfare people »  in comparison to its overall population.

Social innovation in Norway - Europe Tomorrow

3 – The emergence of social innovation :

Social innovation is an emerging concept in Norway. In fact, the welfare state often took precedence over the civil society and, contrary to western and southern European countries, the development of social innovations as substitutes for state-regulated activities did not happen. However, a few networks and key actors have emerged over the past few years :

In Oslo, the coworking space Socentral gathers 70 members and residents working in various sectors, ranging from health, education, wellness, or food. Socentral also works as a social entreprise, offering consulting services to the public sector and playing a key intermediary role between the state and its members. Among its members, Epleslang is a social integration enterprise that combats food waste by selling 100% local and natural apple juice, made from hand-picked apples. Eplesland has hired 28 people with disabilities, avoiding the waste of 80 tons of apples. In the sustainable food sector, Kooperativet is a purchasing coop for local, organic and/or biodynamic products. The Open Food Network was also recently established in Norway. Its mission is to facilitate the connection between producers and consumers, reducing the need for intermediaries. In the education sector: Bua uses activities and equipement for social entrepreneurs to reduce social inequalities in health for young people and children ; Abildsø skolegård uses the farm as an educational tool to prevent dropout from school and work ; Pøbelprosjektet AS aims to help young people who are outside the established educational system and the labour market ; and Forskerfabrikken overhauls the teaching of science in Norway.

In Bergen, the Impact Hub network is located in an old building of the downtown area, hosting a few social enterprises. Among them, Baerkraftige liv pâ landâs is an association inspired from the Transition Town movement which supports and fosters the development of a sustainable food system, collaborative economy, clean transportation, and sustainable housing.

In Stavanger, known as the oil capital of Norway, Urban Sjofront is a recent association that aims to develop a more « positive city », working in close collaboration with the inhabitants, business owners and elected officials. Looking at urban development and housing issues, Gaining by sharing has also created a participative (or cooperative) housing, fostering mutualisation and a « vivre ensemble ».

In order to support the development of social entrepreneurship and social innovation in Norway, Ferd – a family-owned Norwegian investment company – highly contributes to financing this growing sector.

Sources : 


Boris Marcel - Europe Tomorrow

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