13 years ago a group of scientists and business representatives were stuck in Ny-Ålesund in Svalbard due to bad weather. This resulted in the foundation of one of the most important Arctic hubs globally – the Arctic Frontiers conference.
Text: Malin Mathisen. Photo: Alberto Grohovaz / Arctic Frontiers
“The group of people that were stuck in Svalbard recognized the need for communication across sectors. This is how Arctic Frontiers was founded,” says Anu Fredrikson.
She has just started her new job as an Executive Director in Arctic Frontiers, which have been hosting thousands of visitors to Tromsø every year. The conference links policy, business and science for the responsible and sustainable development of the Arctic. The main premise is to connect academia with decision-makers from government and business.
With a background working as a political advisor for the Embassy of Finland in Oslo, and as a director of the international organization Arctic Economic Council, Fredrikson is looking forward to linking her experience from politics and business to academia and science. She highlights that the most important aspect of Arctic Frontiers is to gather people from all over the world and showcase Northern Norway as a well-developed part of the Arctic. There are already too many misunderstandings about our region.
“The image of the Arctic globally is totally different from what we know here in Norway. Part of the information that is shared can potentially harm our interests. Several North American and European financial institutions have stated that they wish to withdraw investments from large oil and gas projects in the Arctic. Companies within retail and shipping have announced that they will not use Arctic sea routes because they don’t want to contribute to climate damage. The signals this sends is worrying and it is our job to educate and keep talking about what we do, how we live, and that the Arctic actually is developed,” Fredrikson explains.
Tromsø as an important platform for communication
Arctic Frontiers has always been arranged in Tromsø. Fredrikson points out that this is beneficial for Northern Norway, Norway and the Arctic discussion.
“There are many benefits of hosting the conference in Tromsø as it is the perfect example of a well-developed Arctic community. In Tromsø we have good infrastructure, as well as all the facilities we need. Throughout the years we have established important collaborations and a professional network of suppliers.”
Fredrikson continues by providing proof of why Tromsø is the perfect location for discussions on sustainable development – the feedback from international visitors.
“A former colleague from the American embassy came to Tromsø. She called me the minute she landed and was overwhelmed that she had cell service, and that there were roads and public transportation. I had the same experience with one of the CEO’s of Ericsson when he visited us from Canada. He was astounded by the technology in the tunnel system. This was something they didn’t have in their biggest cities in Canada,” says Fredrikson and smiles. She highlights the importance of inviting international guests to our city.
“The fact that we’re able to host guests from governments and political leaders from all over the world and have discussion about our region is huge. This may be the first time they visit Norway and bringing them to the North is extra special. They bring their impressions and experiences back to their home countries and become ambassadors for the Arctic region. This is how we contribute to placing Northern Norway on the world map, and this is also something we want to strengthen in the future.”
In addition to the main Arctic Frontiers conference every winter in Tromsø, there are several smaller thematic events other places in Norway and abroad throughout the year. Arctic Frontiers Abroad is a concept developed to promote the conference and partners both national and international.
Arctic Frontiers 2021 – a conference with a twist
The theme for this year’s conference in February 2021 is Building Bridges. Fredrikson and her colleagues hope to do this by not only including businesses, politicians, and academia, but also building bridges between generations and borders. The voices of the younger generations will be even more important in the years to come.
“The pandemic will not stop us from focusing on the development of our region. When we started planning the 2021-conference in May 2020, we thought we could invite guests from the Nordic countries, maybe about 200 people. In August, the number of Covid-19 cases increased and Norway had to start living under new restrictions. This is when we decided to arrange a fully digital conference. It will be different, but at the same time, it is important to us to continue the dialogue and communication,” Fredrikson explains.
“In order to facilitate the conference in the best possible way and creating value for our participants, we’ve reviewed several platforms for digital solutions and have now partnered with myOnvent. The main reason for partnering with them is that they have the best solution for covering our main need; networking and digital meeting rooms. In addition to this they offer regular chat functions and digital rooms that can be used as showrooms for scientists and partners that wish to display their presentations, set up talks and so on,” says Fredrikson.
The future of Arctic Frontiers
With Fredrikson as the new Executive Director of Arctic Frontiers, as well as being in the middle of a pandemic, the concept is in a transition in many ways.
Fredrikson speaks about the continuous demand for Arctic knowledge, and the goal is for Arctic Frontiers to be a hub and facilitator on the discussions on responsible and sustainable development of the Arctic, all this in collaboration with their partners. Their network of partners consists of about 30 businesses and institutions, many of them leaders in their field. The wide spectrum of partners also ensures the discussion is well embedded throughout the country.
Frederikson is aware that for Arctic Frontiers to have legitimacy as an Arctic Conference, it needs to adapt and ensure that the delegates receive an Arctic Experience.
«Tromsø is an authentic city and we offer something extra - nature combined with a well-developed city. Despite what many still think, we have good infrastructure, facilities and services that gives us the opportunity to arrange high quality conferences here in Tromsø.”