An interview with Rasmus Malmborg from Nordic Innovation

An interview with Rasmus Malmborg from Nordic Innovation

Rasmus Malmborg is a Senior Innovation Advisor at Nordic Innovation and works with the Health, Demography and Quality of Life program. Nordic Healthy Cities is part of that program and explores how cities can mitigate and prevent health challenges in the Nordic region. 

Rasmus shares his thoughts on smart city visions and unique Nordic solutions to urban health challenges. 


Can you share a bit about Nordic Innovation: who are you, what do you do? And what is your professional background?

Nordic Innovation aims to make the Nordics a pioneering region for sustainable growth and works to promote entrepreneurship, innovation and competitiveness in Nordic business. We support programs and projects which contribute to fulfilling the goals of the Cooperation Program for Innovation and Business 2018-2021 which is decided by the Nordic Ministers for Business and Innovation. Nordic Innovation is an organization under the Nordic Council of Ministers.

I am Danish but live in Norway and have had the fortune of studying in both Denmark, Norway and Sweden. I have an academic background of human geography and public health and have spent nearly 15 years prior to starting in Nordic Innovation in October 2017 working with health system development and the fight against Tuberculosis in international settings. Hence public health issues and public-private collaboration are very close to my heart.

At Nordic Innovation, I work on the Nordic Prime Ministers’ Initiative called Nordic Sustainable Cities in addition to the program called Health, Demography and Quality of Life. I find it important to combine the thinking of sustainable cities and health because if current projections are correct, the world will see still bigger cities and with a still increasing number of people living in urban areas, it is, therefore, paramount to look at cities as innovation platforms and also very important in the aspect of health.


Tell us about the overall Health, Demography and Quality of Life program in relation to the health challenges we see in the North these years.

The Nordic countries have done a fantastic job in setting up well-functioning health care systems that are good at tackling public health issues. And as with many other countries in Europe, the population is growing older. There is in other words the challenge of a lack of “warm hands”. There is also a natural interest in the populations to want to live longer. Life expectancy in the Nordics are already among the highest in the world and while the men are catching up to the women, the reality is still that women live longer than men.

The program called Health Demography and quality of Life works on making the Nordics the most sustainable and integrated health region in the world, providing the best possible personalised health care for all its citizens by 2030. This among other things means that we need to change focus from treatment to preventive health. Today in the Nordic countries, roughly spend 10% of GDP on health care, with 10% being spent on treatment and only 0,3% on preventive health. Nordic Innovation supports the view that we need to change this ratio to something closer to 5/5.

The Nordics have excellent health data and reliable data sets at the individual, municipality and national levels which could be utilized more than it is today to come up with new solutions to tackle the challenges presented by a continuing older population and rising costs.

At Nordic innovation we believe that by better utilizing both health data and other routine collected data in a safe and secure way, we will be able to come up with new innovative solutions that will be part of the answer to ensuring the goal the most sustainable and integrated health region in the world, providing the best possible personalised health care for all its citizens by 2030.

I need to stress the importance of safe handling of data also when we are talking about cross border data sharing. Here synthetic data clearly could play a big role.


What are the special Nordic strengths when it comes to developing solutions to health challenges? And what part can the Nordic countries play on a global scene?

The Nordic countries are early adopters of technology and combined with good data sets and strong public health care systems there is a potential for the Nordic countries to be able to come up with solutions which can be useful not only in the Nordics but also beyond. The Nordic cities have a lot of data that is very important in developing new innovative preventive health solutions and Nordic companies given better access to data sets, health or otherwise, will be able to develop new innovative solutions that can become instrumental in tackling the challenges of an increasingly older population. 

This will furthermore make the Nordic companies able to compete on the international scene using Nordica data, rather than Nordic data being picked up and used by big international companies to develop solutions which they then sell to the Nordic countries.


In the project description, Nordic Innovation stresses a gender equality perspective. Can you explain why this perspective is of importance to Nordic Innovation? And how do you see it in relation to the health challenges Nordic Smart City Network tries to solve?

Equal rights and representation is a core Nordic value, something which is also important in the projects that Nordic Innovation supports. Furthermore, innovation is best achieved with multiple perspectives and a focus on ensuring that both ideas, views and benefits are distributed equally across gender in the population.

As alluded to above, the reality is that women live longer than men and that projections show that a population of old people, is disproportionally made up of women, hence there is a need to factor this in when designing new solutions.

Solutions that are developed through the collaboration with the Nordic Smart City Network must be solutions which benefit across gender and that solutions developed by companies are also distributed equally across gender.   

Furthermore, the share of female entrepreneurs in the Nordic countries is lower than in the EU. This is partly because there are fewer entrepreneurs in general in the Nordic economies, and partly because a smaller share of the entrepreneurs are female. In order to maximize innovation in society, it is important to ensure that female entrepreneurs and female-led companies get a fair involvement in Nordic funded projects.

What is also clear is that women innovate and start businesses within sectors where they make up the largest part of the workforce, i.e. the social, health and educational sectors. Hence in the Healthy Cities project, it should be possible to ensure that the companies which are engaged are a good mix of female-led and male-led companies.


What does it mean to you in Nordic Innovation to have a network of 20 cities to work with – what possibilities and advantages do you see?

I think it is a huge advantage for both Nordic Innovation, the companies which are involved, and the Nordic societies and citizens that we can work with the Nordic Smart City Network and that there are 20 cities involved. The fact that we have seen cross-learning between cities from different Nordic countries in the network is of value because it means that the network is functioning as a learning platform and that for companies that come up with solutions is an arena where solutions being tested in one city will to a much larger degree be applicable or easier gain access in another Nordic city.

In addition, we know from other projects and programs that focus more on export, that many foreign cities will much prefer to purchase solutions which have already been tested out and set up and are running in cities in the Nordics, rather than being having their cities being first to test sites for Nordic solutions. Hence when companies, in reality, can have their solutions “tested” in more than one city at the same time, because cities in the network collaborate it has a positive impact on the companies’ possibilities to export their solution or product.


What do you hope to get out of the projects you support and give funding to?

Nordic Innovation wants to see more Nordic collaboration, both with regards to public entities and private companies. We hope that solutions are found and tested which will benefit the environment and the people living the cities and we hope that Nordic companies will be able to come up with these solutions, get them tested and be able to export them.