Giving Compass' Take:

• HistPhil explores the history and current status of philanthropy in Sweden, including the conflict between nonprofits and for-profit companies in the social sector as a new generation calls for systemic change.

• What are the main differences between the U.S. and Sweden in the nonprofit sector? How can we learn from innovators in Europe?

• Here's how Sweden is working to become carbon neutral. 

Compared with most other Western countries, Sweden stands out for the relative absence of a strong philanthropic tradition, especially during the post-WWII period. Indeed, until recently “philanthropy” and “charity” carried distinctly negative connotations, emitting for many Swedes a faint odor suggesting practices that are old-fashioned and morally dubious. The country’s welfare state reflects and reinforces this general public perception, placing a premium on financing through taxes over private giving and on tax-funded social rights and investments over charity and nonprofit ventures.

However, there is in Sweden today a growing interest in nonprofits and philanthropies. We see a new generation of young entrepreneurs such as Niklas Zennström (Skype), Markus Persson (Minecraft), Stefan Persson (Hennes & Mauritz), Daniel Ek (Spotify) and Sigrid and Lisbet Rausing (Tetrapak) inspired by the likes of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg and other American so-called philantrocapitalists, a concept coined by Matthew Bishop and Michael Green in their book Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save The World (2008). Such Swedish philanthropic actors see, just as their American counterparts, philanthropic investments as a natural continuation of their commercial activity, imagining that they can invest the same energy and creativity that has made them wealthy in their for-profit companies in non-profit ventures, and with similar success. There is also a small but possibly growing interest within the academic community to explore both the history and contemporary landscape of charitable giving, as suggested by the 2017 seminar inspiring this HistPhil forum.

Scholars’ and entrepreneurs’ increased interest in philanthropy and charity in Sweden overlaps with a national discussion on the ability of the public sector to meet the future demands and expectations of the citizenry. This debate has also been normative, pitting those who defend state monopolies against those who prefer greater diversity with respect to the provision of central social services, including education, healthcare and elderly care. This has led to reforms that have opened up the possibility for both for-profit and nonprofit producers to enter these fields.

Read the full article about philanthropy in Sweden by Lars Trägårdh at HistPhil.