24 Dickinson Street
Amherst, MA 01002
July 31, 2009
Dear Scandinavian Alumni and Friends,
We have just embarked on a major reorganization, and I wanted to let you know the reasons for the changes, as well as our plans for the future – which you can help shape.
Let me first provide you with some background:
As you know, for many years we have been successfully running Elderhostel programs in Scandinavia, Europe and Eastern Europe. This has been both very satisfying and rewarding, and we are extremely proud of our accomplishments. We have provided more than 45,000 senior Americans with unique and memorable educational travel experiences during this period. Recently, because of the severe economic downturn, Elderhostel enrollments have dropped sharply. We expect this will be a relatively short-term phenomenon, but it will generate significant financial losses for the first time in our history of managing these programs.
At the same time, we have continued our efforts to establish equally unique programs for younger Americans to study in Scandinavia. We have done our very best to recreate, in a modern - relevant format, the life altering experiences many of us shared while participating in the Seminar’s early full-immersion folkehojskole programs. In this regard, we have provided wonderful opportunities for hundreds and hundreds of young people. However, we have found it very challenging to create large, sustainable, and financially viable student programs which accomplish our underlying purpose – namely, from a Nordic perspective, to expand the insights and knowledge of younger students as they learn about themselves and the world. As you know, the landscape for international studies has changed dramatically, with virtually every college now with its own programs and countless other organizations established for setting up international education opportunities.
University of the Arctic
With the encouragement of some of our key Scandinavian board members, we became actively engaged in and a founding member of the University of the Arctic (UArctic). We have played a significant role in creating, building and guiding its development – as board members and funders. UArctic now consists of 116 educational institutional members from 8 countries, and there are about 700,000 students in these universities. UArctic’s Secretariat is located in Rovaneimi, Finland and there is no question about its Nordic roots and educational approach. (Take a moment and look the University of the Arctic up on the web.)
Finally, as background to our decisions, because of the success of our Elderhostel programs and our Danish Foundation, as well as the excellent management of our financial resources and the generosity of our alumni and board, we now have an endowment of approximately $2 million. This is down considerably from its high point prior to the market setback, but still provides us sufficient latitude to consider additional program options.
Based upon the above factors, the Board decided to take the following actions:
The most significant action was to spin off Scan Sem’s Elderhostel activities, asking the larger Elderhostel organization to integrate our efforts into their operating structure. It was our view that Elderhostel could run the programs more efficiently this way, and it would ensure a secure future for our staff involved in Elderhostel endeavors. I raised the issue with Jim Moses, the President/CEO of Elderhostel. He is a remarkable man, has been a very close friend of the Seminar’s for years, and we shortly reached an agreement.
Consequently, as of July 1st, our Elderhostel program staff and responsibilities have been transferred to Elderhostel. The transition has been seamless and the cooperation between the two organizations continues in its traditional generous spirit.
Jacqueline Waldman, with her experienced travel and planning team of Adelia Pope and Megan Montgomery, will move to a new Elderhostel Office in Amherst by September. In the meantime, she and her team will continue to operate out of the Scandinavian Seminar offices in Amherst and can be reached as in the past.
We are extremely fortunate that Bruce Buxton, a Scan Sem board member and recognized leader in America’s independent school movement, has agreed to assume the staff leadership position, and manage the organizational transition underway.
Strategic Program Development
At the June Board meeting, with the Elderhostel agreement confirmed, the Board decided to aggressively re-examine the Seminar’s program options. Daphne Davidson (Vice Chair) will actively explore establishing a special student scholarship program, possibly in conjunction the American Scandinavian Foundation. Daphne will work closely with members of our Program Committee, and with Soren Dyssegard, a board member of our Danish Foundation to come up with a plan over the coming months.
Secondly, Erling Olsen (Chairman of our Danish Foundation and Scan Sem board member) and I will work with the leadership of University of the Arctic to determine whether UArctic should create a US hub, to more actively engage US students, educational institutions and foundations. And, if that is viable, determine whether the Scandinavian Seminar should become the USA hub of UArctic.
Thirdly, we will continue to explore ways to be supportive of the folk schools in Scandinavia.
Finally, we would more than welcome and appreciate your thoughts on the above, as well as any additional ideas you think we should consider in shaping the Seminar’s future. Please communicate your advice, questions or concerns to Bruce Buxton (firstname.lastname@example.org) in the Amherst office.
Of course, I would also be happy to discuss any of these matters with you.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Best personal regards,
William J. Kaufmann
cc: Scandinavian Seminar Group Board of Trustees; Bruce Buxton