In the picturesque expanse of the Nordic region, a history of collaboration and shared values has woven a tapestry of unity that extends across borders and sectors. From the era of explorations to modern scientific frontiers, Nordic countries have fostered collaborative efforts to achieve scientific advancements, weathering challenges and celebrating successes.
The roots of cross-border collaboration in the Nordic region trace back many years, driven by a shared cultural heritage, economic interdependence, and geographic proximity. In the early days, seafaring explorations, trade routes, and cultural exchanges paved the way for intellectual exchanges and collaborative pursuits. These early interactions laid the foundation for the partnerships that flourish today.
When you write the history of Nordic collaboration, it’s usually a history of shipwrecks. There were a lot of ambitious projects that failed, but then something has usually materialized in the wake of these failures.”
That is not to say there haven’t been setbacks.
“When you write the history of Nordic collaboration, it’s usually a history of shipwrecks. There were a lot of ambitious projects that failed, but then something has usually materialized in the wake of these failures,” says Johan Strang, Associate Professor at the Centre for Nordic Studies (CENS), University of Helsinki.
While that may be part of the history, these days it is quite different.
“There are many examples of excellent collaboration, both on the scientific level and increasingly on the industrial level,” says Hanne Mette Dyrlie Kristensen, CEO of The Life Science Cluster, based in Norway. Her organization is a science-based industry cluster with 120 members. This includes small startups, large global players and investors, hospitals, universities, and expert service providers.
The origins of Nordic collaboration
Throughout history, the Nordic countries have collaborated on a diverse range of endeavors, transcending disciplinary boundaries. Since the 1950s they’ve invested in cultural cooperation and in creating a sense of commonality in the Nordic countries.
Initiatives have encompassed fields such as education, trade, technology, and, most prominently, the life sciences.
“There was this idea of uniting the Scandinavian countries in the 19th century, but that failed dramatically, and then there was this people-to-people cooperation, associations and professions started cooperating with each other. When we think of collaboration in the region, this is probably the best way to view the origins of it,” explains Strang.
These top-down projects allowed for more communication between the nations, so both the politicians and the bureaucrats knew each other to a certain extent.”
While collaboration among the Nordic countries has consistently evolved, certain events have acted as catalysts for intensified cooperation.
“If we were to look from the view of the mid-20th century onwards, the Nordic Council was founded in 1952, and then they created the Nordic Council of Ministers in 1971. These organizations have not succeeded in their great projects. They’ve not created economic unions, but what they did create was what some scholars have called a transnational bureaucracy,” says Strang. ”These top-down projects allowed for more communication between the nations, so both the politicians and the bureaucrats knew each other to a certain extent.”
Different approaches during the pandemic
While collaboration often reaps rewards, there are instances when divergent interests or cultural differences might pose challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic serves as a recent example, underscoring the necessity of unified efforts in addressing global challenges. The Nordic countries all took different approaches to addressing the pandemic, with Sweden being a notable example of forging its own path.
Strang notes that the previously close politicians and bureaucrats were no longer as close as they were, and with EU membership and this new age, the links slowly evaporated to a certain extent.
“The result of this was these low-key networks were not there anymore. The Nordic healthcare authorities would have collaborated much more, and there would have been a common plan, and they wouldn’t have diverged as much as they did,” he says.
A collaborative life science mindset
Central to the success of cross-border life science collaborations in the Nordic region is a culture of openness and transparency, believes Dyrlie Kristensen. This culture encourages the sharing of knowledge, resources, and best practices, allowing researchers and professionals to learn from each other’s successes and failures. By embracing a collaborative mindset, the Nordic countries create an environment where breakthroughs can be achieved collectively, leading to advancements that benefit the entire region.
“I think we have a very strong Nordic identity and an interest in collaboration. That has not necessarily always been easy, but there’s a joint interest in making things happen,” she suggests.
Careful consideration and effective communication become paramount to ensure equitable outcomes and to preserve the integrity of individual countries’ goals and values. When asked about the commonality between the nations, Dyrlie Kristensen explains that there is a sustainability focus, compassion and tolerance, that people are equal.
By harnessing these strengths and encouraging knowledge exchange, collaborative projects can tap into a broader spectrum of expertise, leading to more impactful outcomes.”
“Those values I believe are core for all the Nordics. That also gives us some advantages. It actually can bring down costs, because openness and trust can empower people,” she says. “Each Nordic country possesses distinct strengths in various life science domains. By harnessing these strengths and encouraging knowledge exchange, collaborative projects can tap into a broader spectrum of expertise, leading to more impactful outcomes.”
Collaboration between academia, industry, and governmental bodies can accelerate research translation and commercialization, leading to a more vibrant life sciences ecosystem. Nordic countries can further strengthen this collaboration by fostering partnerships that leverage the expertise of these sectors, driving innovation and economic growth, suggests Dyrlie Kristensen.
Bridging the gap between theoretical research and practical applications accelerates the translation of scientific discoveries into tangible products and solutions. Life science clusters such as the one Dyrlie Kristensen leads exemplify this outlook as they facilitate collaboration from the perspective of having a deep industry knowledge and understanding of what it takes to make the transition from excellent, scientific knowledge and move it towards commercialization.
“Supporting international scientific collaboration is something the universities to a large extent already do and have good networks within their own fields. Our contribution is to help transition science to solutions for society,” she says.
As societies increasingly prioritize health, well-being, and environmental consciousness, life sciences will play a pivotal role. Collaborative projects focusing on personalized medicine, genomics, and eco-friendly solutions will not only benefit the region but also contribute to global scientific advancement.
Looking ahead, the Nordic region stands poised to leverage its rich history of collaboration to shape the future of life sciences, believes Dyrlie Kristensen.
“The region is a stable and peaceful corner of the world, this can actually translate into business opportunities. By pooling resources, expertise, and research efforts, the Nordic countries can position themselves as leaders in these transformative fields, driving scientific progress and impacting healthcare outcomes worldwide,” she says.
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