Farewell interview with Nordregio’s Director Kjell Nilsson

Kjell Nilsson standing in front of Nordregio, on the island of Skeppsholmen in Stockholm. Photo by Natalia Muntean.

At the end of January, Dr Kjell Nilsson is retiring after eight years as the director of Nordregio. Under his leadership, the institute has grown from 30 to more than 50 employees and has more than doubled its turnover – thereby making Nordregio the largest institute under the Nordic Council of Ministers. Before retreating towards retirement and some well-deserved retirement days with the family in Skåne, Nilsson looks back at his career with fond memories and leading Nordregio as one of his greatest achievements. But he ensures us that even though quieter days are on the horizon he has no intentions of leaving work life entirely.

Nilsson’s achievement to lift Nordregio to its current altitude is undoubtedly thanks to his strategic and persistent work to strengthen the institute’s role within the Nordic collaboration and to further expand its research portfolio with more European projects. Thanks to an increased number of assignments from the Nordic Council of Ministers, Nordregio currently serves eight out of the twelve policy sectors, and the number of European projects is on the rise.

“I hope that Nordregio continues to develop towards a Nordic equivalent to the OECD, but that is something that the Nordregio’s new director Rolf Elmér, the employees and the board members should decide”, Nilsson paints his vision for Nordregio.

When it comes to the work of the Nordic Council of Ministers, he shares his insights on how to make it more effective based on his extensive experience: “The Nordic Council of Ministers needs to strengthen its muscles through a clearer division of labour between the institutes and the secretariat in Copenhagen. The secretariat should concentrate on the political side and the governance of its institutions and leave the project activities to the institutes”, Nilsson states.

Looking back, Nilsson shows gratitude for all the work experiences he has had through his active years and shares fond memories as the leader of Nordregio:

“During my work life, I have had the privilege to experience three highlights: Starting up and developing the Movium secretariat at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences was definitely the first one. Followed by the years in the Danish Ministry of the Environment with Svend Auken as Minister, making this period the second highlight of my work career. The third highlight is from my years at Nordregio where I consider the last four years to be perhaps the best of my entire professional career. A particularly strong memory arises from the launch of the State of the Nordic Region report on the 8th of February 2018 at Skansen in Stockholm, an event hosted by Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström.”

“I have also had the privilege to travel extensively across the Nordic Region. If I was to pick two favorite destinations amongst them all, I would say that Iceland and Åland have a special place in my heart and I am always looking forward to another visit. And getting to know the societies and landscapes of the Faroe Islands and Greenland has been extremely educational.”

But after 27 years of travelling and, especially weekly commuting, perhaps it is time for some peaceful retirement days in Skåne?

“Yes, I do look forward to spending more time with my wife Karin and our children and their families nearby. But, with plenty of neglected forestry maintenance work waiting for me as the owner of a small lot in Småland, perhaps my days will not be quite as peaceful as one might imagine. I will also devote time for writing and small consulting assignments through my private company Nilsson Landscape”.

On behalf of Nordregio staff, we can only say that we surely hope this is not a goodbye. For many of us, Kjell Nilsson has been the greatest leader we have had the pleasure to work with.

By: Pipsa Salolammi & Communications team

Here you can read Kjell Nilsson’s Five proposals for better Nordic collaboration