Anne Berner discusses role of the third sector in Nordic society

A former minister in the government of Finland, a long career in business and chair of the board of the New Children’s Hospital Foundation in Helsinki, Anne Berner’s experience has a striking breadth. She is currently setting up a foundation with representation from across the Nordic countries to establish a Centre of Excellence for the Rehabilitation of Children in Ukraine. At the recent Nordic Foundations Conference in Norway, she spoke to Alliance about the project and about how she sees the role of the third sector in Nordic society.

AM: You’ve had a very varied career, ministerial appointments, jobs with various public and private bodies, TV appearances – where does your philanthropic impulse come from? Was there a specific motor for it, and how has your experience informed your philanthropy?

AB: I’ve been mostly focused on children and children’s healthcare in my NGO type of work, and that was triggered by my own experience. I have three sons and my oldest son was born with something that had to be taken care of, and so I had experienced the children’s hospital in Finland for many years as a parent, but that didn’t trigger the need to do something about it until very much later. The Nordic countries are very much welfare states, and we live with the assumption that the state takes care of the investments that are needed, and it took me a while to see that there was something that we could take in our own hands and help to do.

Our Helsinki University hospital had a huge debt and our first initiative was to see if we could raise 30 million euros and donate that to Helsinki University to build a children’s hospital. There was a long-standing and urgent need to build not only a new children’s hospital, but also a new cancer hospital, and a new trauma hospital, none of which moved forward because they couldn’t decide which one to prioritise. So they did nothing for 30 years, and all of the hospitals deteriorated until finally the children’s hospital was in a state where they said that it was an unsafe place to work.

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