Arctic Philanthropist: Interview with Frederik Paulsen

“When I was in my early forties, I travelled to the Faroe Islands, a long-time dream of mine. The following year we went to Spitsbergen, then to Greenland, and it was always further north – it became almost a challenge to go further and further every year. The ultimate goal is the North Pole where I stood for the first time around 2000. And, of course, when you've been to the North Pole, you have to go to the South Pole. So... it started accumulating over the years.”

This is how Frederik Paulsen became interested in the Arctic and polar regions. He is known as a passionate explorer, a pharmaceutical entrepreneur and billionaire, and a philanthropist who not only shows his support financially but also gives his time and attention to a wide range of causes.

In 2017 Paulsen was invited to join the Board of UArctic, and he is currently its only member from outside academia. Given his engagement in multiple organizations and initiatives, not to mention his position as the chair of Ferring Pharmaceuticals, I was naturally curious why he chose to become involved in UArctic.

“I had actually promised myself not to join any more boards – I'm already rather overloaded – but I think UArctic is unique. What really interests me is the potential, the intellectual firepower, that you have through the membership, if you can find a way to bring together the various resources these institutions have. I cannot see many other ways that could help solve the problems humanity is confronted with. The solutions will, to a large extent, come from the universities and other research institutions.”

As a Board member, Paulsen is one of the individuals responsible for UArctic’s strategic development and setting main priorities for the years to come. As we just published our new ten-year strategy and are now mapping out the activities around that, it felt timely to ask his opinion on how UArctic should still evolve.

“The challenge is to build a more effective network of interaction between the member institutions – to really harness all the knowledge. UArctic is doing a very good job already, but it must be expanded and deepened. You do need a structure, some administration to hold everything together. But you also need the research projects to be free to develop in the direction they want. The challenge for UArctic is to find the balance between the two: the necessary framework, and the academic freedom. That is what we have to do.”

Paulsen describes himself as very pragmatic. In his view, for people to work together, there must be an economic interest as well. This is where he believes UArctic could make a real difference: if we could use the network to not just bring people together but also find ways to finance their work, that would help crystallize and accelerate the research.

“That's why fundraising and philanthropy is important. There are lots of funds and funders looking for the kind of research projects that could be done between the universities in UArctic. They just have to be brought together.”

More interaction, more collaboration, and, in order to get there, more resources. To that end, in addition to his contributions as a Board member, Paulsen has also made a donation to help UArctic develop our own fundraising program. By definition, philanthropy aims at creating positive change, so how does Paulsen hope to make a difference in the Arctic?

“A big question! I hope, of course, to have the resources to help people, and to work as a catalyst in bringing people together from various scientific disciplines and also from different countries. For instance, there is big potential in working with Russia which is shut out from many international working groups. If you look at the Arctic, about half of it is Russian territory. We have to find a way – and I would be very glad if I could help – to form closer collaboration between the Russians who have an interest in the Arctic and the rest of the Arctic community.

We need collaboration. That's another thing where there's no discussion.”

By Hannele Palviainen, Fundraising Communications Specialist, UArctic

[Read the article in the Shared Voices magazine here.]