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Final seminar of the Nordic Demography Programme

On April 23rd 2015, the final seminar of the Nordic Demography Programme was held at Nordregio, Stockholm, Sweden.

The Nordic Demography Programme was launched in 2012 by the Nordic Council of Ministers to support initiatives in Nordic municipalities and regions aiming to address demographic challenges. Nordregio welcomed the six projects which received funding from the Nordic Demography Programme 2014-2015 to present their results, spread experiences and share lessons learnt. The seminar was structured in three overall themes Tracing young people and their mobility (A), Local economy and rural entrepreneurship (B) and Creating attractive communities (C) under which the projects presented their results. Each theme was followed by a discussion. A panel debate summarized the outcomes of the Demography Programme.

Theme A Tracing young people and their mobility was introduced by a presentation of a study on youth perspectives in the Arctic (Anna Karlsdóttir, Nordregio) and also included the presentations of the projects Home is where the islands heart beats (East Island, Bornholm (Denmark), Vesterålen (Norway) and The Faroe Islands) as well as Money of my own – how to earn a living for young people in the archipelago and other sparsely populated areas (archipelagos in Sweden, Finland and the Åland islands). The projects emphasized that both, staying and leaving, are considered by the youth in rural and sparsely populated areas and that each decision should be respected. Even if the youth is not staying (e.g. for educational reasons), they usually keep the ties to their former home and moreover intend to give something back. In this context they can become a real resource for the region in various ways. To maintain these ties, it was stressed that the youth and their activities need to be supported as they are very vulnerable. Therefore it is crucial that municipalities and regions are aware of the youth and their needs and work from a youth perspective, supporting and acknowledging them. In regard to this, the current zeitgeist and the concept of multi-locational lifestyle were mentioned. Additionally it was highlighted in course of the discussion that, involving the youth in decision making and democratic processes, showing them possibilities early on as well as providing them with information, e.g. how to earn a living, is a decisive factor to keep them.

Ylva Lundkvist (NGO ”Hela Sverige ska leva!”) introduced theme B Local economy and rural entrepreneurship which covered the project Participation and innovation in remote areas- focusing on academic support system for local entrepreneurs (Faroe Islands and West Iceland). The presentations underlined that there is a direct link between employment and demographic issues. To keep up local businesses and entrepreneurship in rural areas, united action, cooperation and networking between different stakeholders is needed. Furthermore the trend of community interest companies, often starting as a voluntary association, is growing. It was highlighted that therefore other means, like regional micro-funds or fundraising are necessary as traditional banking sources are not aware of the special needs in rural areas. Also the application of the concept of sharing economy – nowadays mainly popular in urban areas – should not be underestimated in rural areas.

Theme C Creating attractive communities was introduced by Knut Vareide (Telemarksforskning, Norway) giving an overview of the concept of attractiveness. The projects Demographic challenges in Hedmark (Norway) and Dalarna (Sweden), Regional collaboration on the theme of migration/ demographics for maintaining employment and taxbase (Jämtland (Sweden), Westfjords (Iceland), Kainuu region (Finland) as well as Next stop – small islands (island communities in Denmark, Finland and Sweden) have the common goal to increase their attractiveness by promoting the area and present opportunities. To reach this aim, local businesses need to be involved and basic needs (esp. on the islands) like transport and fundamental services have to be provided. The projects stressed that national and EU level should raise their awareness of and focus more on demographic issues. Programmes and funding should be developed to enhance the ambition of municipalities and regions to meet demographic challenges. The discussion also highlighted a demand for policies for shrinking municipalities and regions and sparsely populated islands as rural and urban areas should be equal.

The final panel debate has shown that the steering committee, the Nordic working group on demography and welfare, is impressed by and satisfied with the outcomes of the Nordic Demography Programme. They emphasized that methods, experiences and lessons learnt should be adjusted, spread and tested in other regions and municipalities. The working group moreover stressed that making places attractive and dealing with demographic challenges is a local issue. Therefore national level should provide the local level with the requirements needed, e.g. policies, but also infrastructure, broad band, education and housing.

In a final step of the Nordic Demography programme the results of the projects will be disseminated in a joint publication that will be published in June 2015.