The Swedish Institute was founded in 1945. With the Second World War at an end, the principal aim was to develop international cooperation.

Both the government authorities and the business community wanted to make Sweden better known abroad and to boost international confidence in the country. The result was a new association charged both with disseminating information about Sweden and with supporting a broad-based programme of cultural exchange with other countries.

1940s – Sweden after the war

With the arrival of peace in May 1945, the Swedish Institute for cultural exchange, SI, has been up and running for three months. SI is to be an association for cultural exchange and be responsible for raising the country’s reputation in the world, in consultation with cultural institutions, universities, businesses and popular movements. The interest in Sweden abroad is immense. The first SI publications are printed: Introduction to Sweden and Facts about Sweden. National officials, trade unionists, industry leaders and researchers visit the welfare country, guided by the Institute. Study exchange programmes are initiated primarily with the United States, the Nordic countries, the UK and Germany. UN asks for Sweden’s assistance regarding study exchange programmes. Swedish lecturers abroad are in demand. Swedish craft and architecture is on display in Paris and Milan. The exhibition Sweden Today is shown in all continents. Arne Sucksdorffs movie Symphony of a City (Människor i stad), produced on behalf of SI, receives an Oscar in 1949. The Institute has 25 employees and is funded both by the state and by private stakeholders.

1950s – The beginning of Swedish aid work

Swedish living standards improve and Sweden can afford to help the rest of the world. People’s attitude towards international aid change and the Institute are given additional assignments in the field of international development. This pioneering work lead to the formation of the Council for International Development (NIB) who takes over international aid programmes from SI in the early 60s. NIB is further developed to become the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida. A continued interest in visiting Sweden to study public health, education, technology, consumer cooperatives and urban planning allows SI to set programmes for international visitors. Regarding information about Sweden SI begins producing fact sheets on various topics and in several languages. Close to eighty universities abroad employ Swedish lecturers, an important position for the dissemination of knowledge about Sweden. The heyday of Swedish design begins. In cooperation with the Association for Swedish Design, SI produces exhibits and worldwide tours. The number of employees at SI increases to sixty.

1960s – How should Sweden profile itself?

The government’s interest in how Sweden is viewed abroad increases. In 1966 they establish the Council for information about Sweden, an initiative to coordinate the various actors in the field with a clear focus to profile Sweden abroad. The initiative leads to an increase in budget. SI expands operations in several areas. Sweden’s ability to participate in international theatre and music festivals are enhanced. Swedish glass art receives international recognition and through SI’s distribution of feature films, the increasing interest in Ingmar Bergman is met. The possibilities for contact with Eastern Europe improve and several exchange programmes are set up. The Institute is able to print publications and fact sheets in more languages. The publication Facts about Sweden is printed in large editions in several languages. The building Sweden House is inaugurated in 1969.

1970s – Contacts with new parts of the world

In 1970 the Swedish Institute for cultural exchange changes name to the Swedish Institute, now a government-funded foundation. Relations with Western Europe and the United States, and to some extent with Eastern Europe, are well established. A growing interest in developing countries takes place. SI’s expertise in handling scholarships brings more and more assignments related to education and research. The Guest Scholarship Programme is established, open to applications from all over the world. UN grants are once again managed by SI and scholarship management becomes a significant part of the work. Experts, politicians and researchers are studying democracy in action and create lasting contacts with Swedish institutions. During 1973-1974 nearly 1,300 visitors programmes are carried out. In 1971 the Swedish Cultural Centre in Paris (CCS) is inaugurated. Ever since it has organised exhibitions, conferences and concerts, screened Swedish film, arranged courses in Swedish and been an important distribution point for information about Sweden.

1980s – More resources mean bigger initiatives

One of the biggest initiatives is Scandinavia Today, an acclaimed Nordic group exhibition in the U.S. with focus on Northern Light, about Nordic art. It is followed by the project New Sweden – 88 with more than 70 seminars on social issues organised around the United States. During the 1970s and 80s, SI has a research grant programme of SEK 25 million per year. Interest in exchanges with developing countries remains strong and a part of international aid is earmarked for cultural exchange. Musical and theatre groups from Africa, Asia and Latin America tour Sweden. Swedish cultural performers travel abroad. The greatest success in the ’80s is Meet India, a festival that begins in the Stockholm park Kungsträdgården and continues across the country. Swedish language is on the curriculum at eight universities in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The new information technology is creating new opportunities for the distribution of information about Sweden. During the 80s, computerising contact records create opportunities for more targeted mailings.

1990s – New neighbours in the east

Following the fall of the Berlin wall, the Institute has an important role in the process of integrating the new neighbours into a European collaboration. With a significant increase in funding, contacts with neighbouring countries to the east are intensified. Within the fields of education and research the Visby Programme for exchange with the Baltic States, Poland and north-western Russia is established. The Visby Programme is the largest of SI’s scholarship programmes. In the mid-nineties, 500 scholarship fellows annually arrive to Sweden with the help of grants from SI. SI is commissioned to inform about Swedish higher education abroad. Seminars on the topics of the Swedish government, democracy and human rights attract international journalists, aspiring parliamentarians and researchers. A project at the Grand Palais in Paris is the largest cultural manifestation that SI has ever implemented. The interest for Swedish dance increases and SI supports Swedish participation in international festivals. More than 3,500 screenings of Swedish films are organised in 84 countries in partnership with local film institutes and theatres. SI has 110 employees.

2000s – The promotion of Sweden is the main focus

SI is an agency with the task of creating goodwill and confidence in Sweden. The Institute is now openly referring to “public diplomacy” and “nation branding” to spread knowledge about the tools we and others are using to promote Sweden abroad. With the launch of Sweden.se – the official gateway to Sweden the potential to spread information about Sweden has entered a new phase. Many more people around the world now has access to information about Sweden. SI arrange greater initiatives in selected countries, such as the Scopriamo la Svezia in Italy, and Svédületes in Hungary. SI develops and utilises contacts with the many students who annually come to Sweden through an alumni network. SI leaves the Sweden House building in 2002 and moves to the Old Town. Sweden Bookshop, SI’s bookstore with books on Sweden in many languages now attracts many more tourists.

2010s – New countries on the global scene

The international arena is changing and new geographic priorities are made to give countries such as China and India greater attention. As the digital landscape is changing, SI is represented on a growing number of digital platforms. SI works with focused concepts such as Swedish Innovations to increase total impact. SI has around 140 employees.

Gunnar Granberg 1945 – 1954
Gunnar Heckscher 1954 – 1957
Tore Tallroth 1957 – 1963
Per-Axel Hildeman 1963 – 1977
Göran Löfdahl 1977 – 1983
Anders Clason 1983 – 1993
Per Sörbom 1993 – 1997

Erland Ringborg 1998 – 2005
Olle Wästberg 2005 – 2010
Annika Rembe 2010 –