A new wave of purpose-focused strategies and leadership transformations are passing through foundations in Denmark and across the World. At the end of 2018 we helped The East Asiatic Company Foundation develop a focused youth strategy, finding ways of supporting business students and the next generation of business leaders to get involved in business in Asia. During 2019 we are developing and focusing the overall purpose, identity and strategy of the EAC Foundation.
Image above: East Asiatic Company’s headquarters from 1897, Asia House in Copenhagen, is now surrounded by buildings and hosts the EAC Foundation today.
The societal purpose of foundations
For the size of the country, Denmark has a large population of foundations, almost 1,400 and more coming. In 2018 alone, 28 new foundations were added to the list. One of the biggest Danish foundations, Novo Nordisk Foundation, gave 5.8 billion DKKR in 2017, primarily to health causes, medical science and diabetes centres across Denmark, connecting very well with the Novo Nordisk legacy and business the foundation builds on. Many of the foundations are quite small but together the Danish foundations donate a total of about 17 billion DKKR. That means they are an important participant in maintaining and shaping Danish society and solve issues such as social inequality, health, research, innovation and culture.
Over the past few years many of the biggest foundations have made remarkable shifts towards a more focused, meaningful and professional leadership, trending towards impact and societal change rather than administering and maintaining their fortune. The evaluations have developed from accounting of return on invested capital and grants dispersed towards the impact on society and the positive change that the foundation is contributing to. Two brilliant examples are worth looking at for inspiration towards a more focused, impact-driven, yet authentic way of leading a foundation:
The Poul Due Jensen Foundation owns the Grundfos company who produces water pumps. The purpose of the foundation is – besides active ownership of a large corporation – to support inclusion in workspaces (fits well with the history of a factory in rural Jutland), collaborate with universities regarding science and fundamental research and finally working with experienced NGOs to bring pure drinking water to the poorest parts of the world such as the African continent – an activity that can bring the pumps that Grundfos produce to practical use for the development of planet Earth.
Tryghedsgruppen (“The Safety Group”), the owner of the Danish insurance company Tryg, promotes safety through the Tryg Foundation. While working separately from the insurance company, it has served at least two main purposes with some very noticeable activities. Across Denmark there are lifeguard stations at beaches and public baths that are run by the foundation. They are visual and cool and a very clear and tangible sign of safety. Besides the obvious purpose for the security of Danes and visitors, they also help build the Tryg brand.
But while some foundations are mapping the degree of corporate responsibility in investments and this new wave of “impact investment” has moved through Denmark and the international investment- and business community, many small foundations are still resting on laurels with foundation boards that are governing themselves and who may not see the reason or necessity of tuning their capacities for real change. With 25 of 1,400 Danish foundations distributing half of the total funds, the impact of the smallest foundations is naturally lower, but with the right strategy even small foundations with the right focus can make significant change.
Strategy for East Asiatic Company Foundation
Recently, we have been working with the board and the organization of East Asiatic Company Foundation to create and shape a new focused strategy for the foundation and their secretariat, Asia House Business.
The East Asiatic Company (EAC), also known as ØK (Østasiatisk Kompagni), was founded in 1897 based on a small firm trading in Thailand. The founder, captain H. N. Andersen, saw shipping as the main opportunity and established the first direct shipping line from Copenhagen to Bangkok. But from the outset he pursued shipping, trade and industry. In a very short period of 20 – 30 years, Andersen created a company with more than 20,000 employees across Europe and Asia and he personally played a significant role in Denmarks foreign policy. In the 1990s and 2000s the company became smaller and sold off it’s last activities, making the largest disbursement to shareholders in Danish history. During that process the EAC Foundation was created.
The foundation resides in the remarkable Asia House in Copenhagen, which was built in 1897 and served as the company’s headquarters up to 1907. Today the house serves to preserve the East Asiatic Company’s history and provide the workspace for the Asia House Business secretariat. The building represents the tangible heritage of the East Asiatic Company but over the past few years the foundation and the Asia House Business secretariat has been running a series of remarkable and innovative projects that live out the ideas of founder H. N. Andersen in new contemporary ways that both tap into the heritage of the organization while pointing into future developments for Danish and international business. For instance, the project Innovation Lab Asia enhances the cooperation between Danish and Asian innovation ecosystems. And another development project, Nordin, helps Danish SMEs navigate in the Indian markets.
Bringing ØK heritage to future use
I am very pleased about our collaboration with one of Denmarks historic business crown jewels, ØK, and excited about the new developments of the EAC Foundation. The new strategy and development of the identity will be finalized and put into use during 2019 and I’m sure the businesses, organizations, diplomacy and universities that cooperate with EAC Foundation and Asia House Business will benefit from the new ways of focusing the competencies and resources of the organization in the future.
Transform your brand
The foundation Hedeselskabet focused their purpose, brand identity and visual design in 2015 with help from Stagis. If you want to know more about the process and how your organization can focus it’s strategy and identity, read our case or look into our Approach to developing authentic brands.