The foundation VI aims to improve the quality of life for 605,000 Norwegians with disabilities.
Compared to able- bodied, people with disabilities can experience lower quality of life, poorer health and greater isolation. There are also far fewer opportunities to participate in exercise and other leisure activities. To address these differences, Kjell Inge Røkke and Aker have launched a foundation named VI (English WE).
The initiative takes a three-pronged approach: 1) working with Olympiatoppen to support elite-level Paralympic athletes, and thereby creating role models; 2) cooperation with individual federations and clubs to improve the facilitation of sports at a grass root level for people with disabilities; 3) facilitate partnerships between the foundation VI, private companies/individuals and public offices to ensure that people with disabilities have the same opportunities and rights as able-bodied people.
“Norway is home to some 605,000 disabled persons – more than the population of Oslo – and there are documented disparities between the availability of opportunities as compared to able-bodied persons. The foundation is motivated to correct this situation,” says the CEO of the foundation, Knut Nystad.
The idea of launching the initiative and the foundation arose during conversations between Kjell Inge Røkke and Aker President and CEO Øyvind Eriksen.
“We began by discussing and refining the initial idea through dialogue with cross-country skier Therese Johaug, Paralympian Birgitte Skarstein and other key individuals from the arenas of sport, politics and business. The result of this dialogue is the foundation VI,” says Nystad.
Øyvind Eriksen, chairman of the board for the foundation VI, explains the initiative:
“Aker has been an important member of the Norwegian business community and society since 1841. Over the years, the Norwegian business sector has developed an inclusive and socially aware labour model in collaboration with the workforce and the government. The foundation VI will continue to build on the same principles. Aker is supporting the launch of the foundation VI, but this is not an exclusive Aker project. Our vision is that the project will engage the entire Norwegian business community and the public sector,” says Eriksen. He continues:
“Our aim is to turn the foundation VI into a knowledge and resource centre providing information and knowledge about opportunities and rights for people with disabilities. While an initial board has been appointed, member organisations will be able to influence the future board composition. An advisory board will be appointed to further refine the concept and to develop new projects. If the foundation VI is to make a difference, it will need the support of hundreds of members with a strong commitment. I have full confidence that we can achieve this. All donations from member organisations and individuals will go directly to the foundation’s goals and objectives, as TRG will be financing all operating costs,” says Eriksen.
Aker ASA, Aker-owned companies and Kjell Inge Røkke’s private company TRG have committed to a contribution of NOK 125 million over the next five years.
“The foundation VI will work on solving social problems associated with being disabled. The initial focus will be on elite-level Paralympic athletes, with the goal of creating role models. As in other sports, role models will serve to inspire, motivate and encourage participation, create opportunities, dreams and hope, particularly among young aspiring disabled athletes,” says Knut Nystad.
The foundation’s activities
The foundations VI’s guiding principle is that people with disabilities should have the same opportunities as able-bodied in achieving personal goals and to live fulfilling and meaningful lives. One important instrument will be to provide inspiration and motivation through participation in physical activity. Surveys show that participation in sports improves quality of life, self-esteem, and boosts physical and mental health and, as a result, increases participation in employment, education and more social involvement in general,” says Nystad.
The foundation’s first project has four parts and will be done in close cooperation with Olympiatoppen and the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and Confederation of Sports. The foundation VI will support:
- Develop knowledge through R&D, and strengthen the elite-level Paralympic programme;
- Professionalize national teams and the follow-up process;
- Improve the elite-level grants system; and
- Develop prioritized sport federations.
All of the four sub-projects are already financed by Aker ASA, Aker-owned companies and TRG. The aim is two-fold: 1) to give athletes of all levels access to emerging knowledge and expertise; and 2) to increase the level of physical activity and to achieve permanent improvements for people with disabilities.
On behalf of Olympiatoppen and the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports, Olympiatoppen’s Director Tore Øvrebø has welcomed the new initiative: “The initiative makes it possible to systematically increase the knowledge required to succeed at a Paralympic elite-level. It will give an opportunity to professionalize the work with, and for, the best athletes, making them better and part of a larger talent pool. Moreover, the foundation VI’s funding model, with its partnership between private organisations, the public sector and charitable institutions, improves the traditional marketing model with its philanthropic vision of social responsibility,” says Øvrebø.
Birgit Skarstein points out that sport is a fantastic mechanism for inclusion and engagement:
“This initiative is a real boost for Paralympic sports. I know what it feels like to be both included and excluded, and I immediately recognised the value of being part of a community. The foundation VI is powerful, important and appropriate; the timing is perfect,” says Skarstein. She continues:
“Finally, an initiative has been launched that will be capable of achieving permanent change. The foundation VI turns words into actions, and hence makes a difference to both current and future athletes. It will provide new opportunities on all levels, enhance knowledge and bring an integrated focus to elite-level programmes. Finally, but not less important, it will help make society more inclusive in the years to come. It has been an inspiring journey so far, I really look forward to what’s ahead.”
The foundation’s board has 13 members: Princess Märtha Louise, Marit Bjørgen, Tore Øvrebø, Tore Myrholt, Therese Johaug, Aksel Lund Svindal, Kristin K. Aasen, Cato Zahl Pedersen, Kjell Inge Røkke, Birgit Skarstein, Julie Brodtkorb, Åge Skinstad and Øyvind Eriksen (Chair of the board).
“I am proud and humbled to be a part of the foundation VI,” says Marit Bjørgen. “As a retired athlete, I know what it takes to reach the top. What impresses me is the hard work and dedication of disabled athletes. They work as least as hard, but under entirely different conditions. The businesses participating in this initiative are taking social responsibility seriously by providing everyone with an equal opportunity to achieve their goals, whether at an elite-, or grass root level . This makes me happy.”
The foundation will also create a team of ambassadors with a passionate interest in making a positive contribution and with a desire to support the foundation VI’s objectives. The board will include at least two ambassadors at any given time. At the time of the launch, the ambassadors are: Therese Johaug, Birgit Skarstein, Marit Bjørgen, Martin Johnsrud Sundby, Aksel Lund Svindal, Ole Einar Bjørndalen, Sara L. Rung, Nils Erik Ulset, Stine L. Hattestad Bratsberg, Bjørnar Erikstad, Aida Dahlen, Tommy Urhaug and Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
The foundation VI will strive to gather committed businesses and individuals who have a desire to make a difference. In addition to Aker and TRG, the law firm BAHR, the consultancy firm McKinsey & Company and others have made pro bono contributions to the foundation’s establishment.
TRG has provided the foundation’s starting capital of NOK 25 million, and will also cover all administrative and operational costs. Aker ASA and nine Aker-owned companies have agreed to provide NOK 10 million each in support of measures and activities for people with disabilities over the next five years – a total of NOK 100 million. The first member organisations are Aker ASA, Aker BioMarine, Aker BP, Aker Energy, Aker Solutions, Akastor, Cognite, FP Eiendom, Kværner and Ocean Yield.
“The Aker family is involved from the start. We have already begun the work with inviting and recruiting other partners to join us in building a community that takes an active role in exhibiting social responsibility through projects enhancing the quality of life for people with disabilities,” says Knut Nystad.