Category Archives: Swedish hosts

A very warm welcome to Ersta Sköndal University College and the 12th ISTR Conference

In this final blog post from ESUC we wish to make two observations: one of a rather practical nature regarding the practical arrangements for the conference, and a second one that concerns the current political and social situation in Sweden. However, first and foremost we wish to extend a sincere welcome to all of you.

Victims of success: many participants bring practical challenges

As local hosts we started this journey two and a half years ago. Since then we have managed to raise the necessary resources as well as enlisted the help of many volunteers, to whom we are extremely grateful. However, what we did not fully anticipate is that we would have more participants than ever before at an ISTR conference. We are proud and very happy about this level of interest and enthusiasm. However, because of the limited campus space at our disposal we have, in close cooperation with the ISTR board and staff, been forced to come up with creative solutions to a number of logistical challenges. We hope everything will work smoothly, but in case of occasional problems we kindly ask for your forbearance and good cheer.

These four days in Stockholm will be very intensive, filled with many academic events along with two receptions and surely many more informal occasions for networking and socializing. We are looking forward to all this and we hope you will enjoy it immensely as well.

 The Refugees Crisis and the Role of Civil Society

Finally a few words about the current socio-political situation here in Sweden. Stockholm, along with the rest of Sweden, is presently struggling with issues related to the recent extensive wave of refugees fleeing the war in Syria as well as difficult conditions in other countries around the world. Sweden has also received a large number of migrants from within the EU, many of whom lack both work and housing. While many think and hope that this will be good for Sweden in the long-term, the immediate difficulties are considerable and entail huge challenges to local governments in charge of providing schooling, healthcare, and social services. Even a well-developed welfare state such as the Swedish one cannot handle this situation without the manifold support of organized civil society as well as the more informal engagement by citizens in a variety of ways.

Given this situation, let us keep in mind that we, as engaged citizens but also as critical social scientists, have a special role and an important responsibility to contribute to a credible, long-term and sustainable policy with respect to the possible role of civil society in a crisis like this. This is not the occasion, we would argue, to simply celebrate civil society and “third sector” initiatives; it is equally important to maintain a critical stance and consider equally the limits as well as the potentials for civil society to play a part alongside public sector and for-profit actors. At the Institute for Civil Society Studies we have always worked with these critical points in mind. Here the long-standing Nordic tradition to foster collaboration between state and civil society might well be an advantage for society as a whole.

But now at last, we are very happy to see you here in Stockholm and you are most welcome!

Lars Svedberg & Lars Trägårdh



The following is a guest post from Therese Ydremark, a PhD student at Ersta Sköndal University College, who will be volunteering during the upcoming conference.

Therese-Ydremark2What could be a better start for a PhD student focusing on civil society issues than attending ISTR’s International Conference? We are a group of PhD students at Ersta Sköndal University College that will do so by volunteering. We are all in the process of shaping our subjects and most probably the conference will be a great source of inspiration. So, besides receiving the attendees, preparing the venue etc, we also hope to meet with prominent scholars from all over the world, to get new insights into how to use the theoretical approaches not familiar enough yet and, of course, to get to know fellow PhD students.

And we are not the only ones looking forward to ISTR´s 12th International Conference. One of the previous blog posts gave an idea of the interest from parts of Swedish civil society. There is a strong tradition of extensive contacts between civil society organizations and the Swedish academia focusing on civil society issues. But now it´s time to let us all be inspired by the rest of the world!

I also started out as a `practitioner´ on my way into academia, curiosity has made me move between the two worlds. Always the same procedure; observing a phenomenon and then letting curiosity lead the way to further studies. Now, as a PhD student, what fascinates me is the development and expansion of the Swedish civil society as a consequence of a more heterogeneous society. Migration, of course, is one reason to the increased heterogeneity. My interest has now turned to the role of civil society organizations for political participation in the wake of migration.

When it comes to the conference there is one scholar of particular interest to me. Theda Skocpol was one of the scholars I first read as a student of political science and international relations and I found her theories on social revolutions fascinating. Later on, studying at the master´s level, there she was again, with a focus on institutions, democracy and civil society. And now, as a PhD student, I read her analysis of the American welfare state, as a contrast to the Swedish welfare state. Do I need to say that I´m thrilled she is one of the Keynote Speakers at the conference?

Therese Ydremark, PhD student at Ersta Sköndal University College

Civil Society Research at Ersta Sköndal University College


Johan Vamstad

Ersta Sköndal University College has more to offer than just a pretty view and an impossible name. This small, private college is home to the largest and liveliest civil society research group in the Nordic Region. About 30 senior and junior researchers, representing a multitude of disciplines share facilities at Ersta Sköndal’s two campuses in Stockholm.

It all began in 1992 when a small group of researchers around Professor Lars Svedberg decided to explore the extent to which civil society was of significance to Swedish social work and helping. It had at that time been widely assumed that civil society was of marginal importance in a Scandinavian welfare state like Sweden, something that members of the growing research group had the opportunity to disprove several times over the years.

The research scope has widened since the early 90’s and the group today performs research on organizations, volunteering, philanthropy, theory and a number of other topics. Several research projects are based on data collected by the national survey on civic participation that has been performed five times in the last 25 years.

Another great resource as the university college is the civil society library, CivLib. This small but excellent library hosts a carefully selected collection of 1600 books about civil society. The main focus of the collection is civil society in Sweden and the Nordic countries but also other parts of the world, as well as theory on civil society. CivLib is located at the ISTR 2016 conference venue and it will be open for visitors from 2:00-5:00 pm on the 29th and from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm on the 30th of June.

To be able to host the 2016 ISTR conference is of course a great privilege and an important milestone in the history of the research group. It is especially humbling for everyone involved in the local host committee to see the record numbers of attendees that are now confirmed for the conference in Stockholm this summer. It is a practical challenge but first and foremost a pleasure to be able to welcome you all to Ersta Sköndal University College.

Johan Vomstad, Ersta Sköndal University College

Remembering Sweden: Celebrating twenty years of endearment and ISTR’s 12th conference!

Remembering Sweden: Celebrating twenty years of endearment and ISTR’s 12th conference!

Luz E  Quiñones-GonzálezThe following is a guest post by Luz E. Quiñones-González from University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, who reflects on her memories of living in Sweden 20 years ago and celebrating her return this June for the upcoming ISTR Conference.

This year 2016 is a special year filled with many good memories. Twenty years ago, in January 1996, I arrived for the first time to Sweden for two years of service among people from all around the world gathered in a small community named Rinkeby, in Stockholm. Those two years were a life-changing experience for me.

I went to Sweden to partner with a non-profit organization that provides assistance to immigrants and refugees, including Spanish-speaking people. Since the very beginning, I got involved in the multiethnic international community, where every culture contributes to the taste, flavor, and sound in the square, small businesses, and the general economic development. Collaborating with faith-based organizations, the cultural integration was also an enriching experience. I had the privilege to meet people from different countries such as Ethiopia, Eritrea, Egypt, Syria, Greece, Kosovo, India, Uganda, Iran, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Honduras, El Salvador, Cuba, and even another Puerto Rican, among many other people from many other countries, and of course, many good Swedish friends.

This year, I commemorate the experience of living in this beautiful Nordic country, a cold place, yet full of warm people. I learned the language, fell in love with Sweden’s nature, its amazing landscape, and its four intensive seasons. I learned to appreciate their culture, and of course, to enjoy the cozy cafés in Gamla Stan (The Old Town). After my first good-bye to Sweden in January 1998, I have visited it twice: first in 2000 when I participated as representative of academia in a conference of gender empowerment in science and technology, and then again in the summer of 2012 for vacation.

This year, a year of jubilee, I will be back in my dear Sweden to combine a long-awaited summer vacation with a special occasion for my academic career: to participate in the 12th International Conference held by the International Society for Third Sector Research (ISTR).  After attending the Latin American and the Caribbean Regional Conference in San Juan and Ponce, Puerto Rico in August 2015, and serving as a moderator of two sessions, I immediately planned to join the Stockholm Conference. The focus of this year ISTR conference is “The Third Sector in Transition: Accountability, Transparency, and Social Inclusion”. It will be held at Ersta Skondal University College, Stockholm, on June 28 – July 1, 2016. I will be presenting the results of my study on volunteers in a non-profit organization in Puerto Rico. It will be an opportunity to learn and to share with all the global guests who will be telling the story of their respective countries, contributing to a better equipped civil society.

I am sure this year’s conference will encompass new challenges, and new open doors to welcome valuable contributions through research on the Third Sector from all around the world. Aware that “there is nothing more practical than a good theory”, we are eager to learn by studying, learn by doing, and learn by serving; praxis.  As an extra bonus, we will enjoy the beauty of Stockholm City, a city on water. Ola Segnestam Larsson asked in a previous blog: “Why Stockholm?”, and I add: “Why not?” To all ISTR members and guests, we welcome you to the enchanting country of Sweden!

Luz E. Quiñones-González, Ph. D. – University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez – College of Business Administration

To go by charter to the promised land of academics

The following is a guest post by Ulrika Erksell, Johan von Essen and Fredrik Kron describing how Swedish civil society practitioners will be involved in the conference.

An ISTR-conference is obviously an occasion for academics and scholars to meet, discuss and share findings, and tackle intellectual puzzles. This  conference, dedicated to the study of organizations and processes within civil society, is also of importance and interest for the people active in and responsible for managing these organisations and networks. These so-called “practitioners” are not just empirical examples of the research that is discussed at an ISTR-conference, they are also actors in their own right, interested in and not seldom dependent upon the outcome of this research.

Thus, to open up and make the upcoming ISTR-conference in Stockholm accessible to Swedish practitioners in particular, Ersta Sköndal University College is collaborating with Ideell Arena, an organization within the Swedish civil society engaged in research and training regarding organizational development and leadership in civil society. Together we have created a “guided tour,” or fast track, into the conference for persons that are initiated practitioners but not necessarily part of the academic community.

A group of about fifty persons, both board and staff members in about ten major civil society organizations, have declared their interest in participating in the ISTR-conference. The group will meet before the conference to exchange experiences as well as prepare themselves by studying the programme and choosing among the many themes or tracks that will be presented at the conference. The individuals in the group are, of course, free to choose panels and paper sessions, but there will be a particular interest in research on civil society in the Scandinavian countries. It is too rare for people active in Swedish civil society to participate in discussions about their own organizational and political environment in relation to other parts of the world, not least to the rest of Europe.

The group will meet every morning before the sessions and panels begin in order to make up the plans for the day, have a common cup of coffee and a chat. Luncheons will be arranged for the group to discuss and meet invited researchers from the field. Finally, the group will meet at the end of the day to debrief, share experiences and discuss how the day´s sessions and seminars could fit in their daily work as practitioners. The general idea and backbone of the fast track to the conference is the belief that civil society organizations could gain enormously by having an interest for contemporary civil society research and use it in their strategic work when developing their own organizations.

Ulrika Erksell and Fredrik Kron from Ideell Arena and Johan von Essen from Ersta Söndal University College will be responsible for keeping the group together and guide it into the promised land of academic research.

Ulrika Erksell, Johan von Essen and Fredrik Kron

Welcome to Ersta Sköndal University College!

The following is a guest post by Per Nilsson, Vice-Chancellor, CEO, and Professor of Ersta Sköndal University College, co-hosts of the 12th International ISTR Conference.


Welcome to Ersta Sköndal University College and to the 12th ISTR research conference in Stockholm!


Ersta Sköndal University College is a university dedicated to studies in the fields of social work, nursing and health care, psychotherapy, theology and church music with an explicit ethical and diaconal orientation.

A distinguishing characteristic of the University College is that it offers courses in which theory is combined with practice, research with studies in the field, and that special attention is given to questions within philosophies of life and world views, professionalization and societal issues.


Research is vital for Ersta Sköndal University College.

The university college’s historical background has created an academic culture where human health, welfare and vulnerability are the focus of study. This explains how research fields such as civil society studies, palliative care and care ethics have developed and given the university college its specific profile.

In our research program, we explain that our research will be based on social development trends that influence health care, care and social work in particular. This is also clear in our application for entitlement to award postgraduate degrees within the field of “The Individual in the Welfare Society”, an application that was sanctioned by the government in 2014.

Strong diaconal heritage

Our university college has a long and a strong diaconal history. In 1851, the first nurse training course in Sweden was launched. The first socially oriented program at national level began at the turn of the last century in the form of diaconal training courses.

Education and research at Ersta Sköndal University College has over long time contributed to the development of knowledge within health care, care and social work in such a way that people’s right to live in dignity, autonomy, participation in decision-making and influence are maintained, and enforced.

The conference

Ersta Sköndal University College is keen to make a difference in society.

The ISTR conference signals, as stated in the invitation, a hands-on approach to deal with the current situation of Third Sector Research. In the conference there will be excellent opportunities to focus on the challenges for research and social practice in face of financial austerity and market driven policies. The effects of these changes in society on the strategies, practice and theory are the topics to be discussed.

An important mission is to bring together a diverse group of researchers and practitioners with an interest in the research and study of Third Sector from Europe and other world regions. By inviting academic people representing different disciplines as well as practitioners representing different organizations, the ISTR conference hopes to provide a broad context to discuss some of the most crucial challenges to the Third Sector and social work.

The bringing together of researchers and practitioners also gives an opportunity to address some essential issues concerning the interaction between research and practice.

I really look forward to the conference.

Per Nilsson

Vice-Chancellor, CEO, Professor

Why Stockholm? Welcome from your Swedish hosts.

In a series of blog posts, researchers from and friends of Ersta Sköndal University College will introduce conference participants to ISTR 2016 in Stockholm. This first post is by Ola Segnestam Larsson, researcher and member of the ISTR board.



Are you ready for Sweden and ISTR 2016? As a board member of ISTR and an expatriated Swede, living in Costa Rica, I am of course exceptionally excited about the ISTR conference in Stockholm, this coming June. As we speak, I am shopping around for the best airline ticket, working on my papers (at least in theory…), and planning my stay in Sweden.

What are your plans for the ISTR conference? Are you planning to see more of Stockholm than just the inside of a number of classrooms?

In a series of blog posts, colleagues of mine and friends of ISTR will do our best to prepare conference participants for ISTR 2016 in Stockholm by writing about the PhD Network seminar, the two receptions, and related matters. (Do you have suggestions for useful information? Do not hesitate to comment on this blog or send an email to

 In this post, I will try to restrict my enthusiasm somewhat and focus mainly on a few words about what you can expect of Stockholm and Ersta Sköndal University College.

Why Stockholm?

The organization behind Visit Stockholm argues that it is one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Be that as it may, we – the “Stockholmers” – usually tell our guest that Stockholm is built on a set of islands, located on the verge of the archipelago with its more than 30.000 islands, and that it offers plenty of opportunity for sight-seeing, shopping, and outdoor activities.

Skating in Stockholm

For those with an interest in all things civil society, Stockholm also has a lot to offer.  As showed by research, a large welfare state notwithstanding, Sweden has a vibrant civil society with more than 200 000 associations (one per every 50 Swedes), an estimation of 3,5 memberships per capita, and every other Swede volunteering on a regular basis. While in town, take the opportunity to visit a Swedish “folkrörelse” (popular movement) or volunteer as a “soccer parent” with the rest of us.

Everything is not shiny, however. Although Stockholm is generally considered a safe city, similarly to the rest of Europe, Stockholm and Sweden is currently struggling with issues related to migration, solicitation for money and food in the streets, and the refugee crisis in the Middle East. What should the role of civil society be in relation to these issues? How can the conference, civil society researchers, and practitioners contribute to the on-going discussion about possible solutions?

Why Stockholm as a venue for the ISTR conference?

Given the size of the Swedish civil society and generous research funding (at least historically), over time Sweden and Stockholm have witnessed the establishment of a set of research centres focusing on civil society related issues, including centres at Stockholm School of Economics, Södertörn University, and Stockholm University. Over and above the conference itself, Stockholm provides ample opportunities for networking and developing new and exciting research ideas. (Who knows, they might even be fundable?)

One of these research centres is located at the ISTR 2016 conference venue – Ersta Sköndal University College. We pride ourselves with the best location in the city, with a 360-degree view from the top of our campus of Stockholm, including the Old City, the royal castle, and the inner city ski slope. Although the university and its city campus are quite small, even by Swedish standards, it hosts one of the largest civil society research groups in Europe and CivLib – an information centre for Swedish, European, and international civil society researchers.

See more of Sweden

For those who simply cannot get enough of civil society issues and want to see more of Sweden, I would strongly recommend visiting the island of Gotland. In addition to the possibility of “seeing the world in one day” as the slogan goes, every year the island is the meeting spot for national politicians, civil society practitioners, policy-professionals, business representatives, and lobbyists. “Almedalen” – as the democratic experience is called – conveniently takes place the week directly after the ISTR conference (3 – 10 of July).

With that, its time for me to wish you all the best in your preparations for ISTR 2016, and hope to see you in Stockholm and in Almedalen,

Ola Segnestam Larsson

Board member, ISTR

Researcher, Ersta Sköndal University College, Stockholm University, and Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza


What are your plans for the ISTR conference? How will you make sure that some of those Swedish meatballs come your way? Comment on this blog or send an email to