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Changing Focus or Changing Role? The Swedish Nonprofit Sector in the 1990s

Published in GPS, Vol. 1 No. 2

Some observers speculate whether there exists a nonprofit sector at all in Sweden, others conclude that the Swedish nonprofit sector must be very small - in terms of the welfare services it produces. This is the stereotypical and somewhat biased picture of Sweden that has too long prevailed internationally. Data from a major Swedish research project, within the framwork of the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project,1 is used in the following article to give a better picture of the Swedish nonprofit sector, and to highlight some of its main characteristics.

Sweden is considered to be a social-democratic welfare state regime, and in the paper the importance of the popular movements, the membership and volunteering, and the general negligence of nonprofit activities in the mainstream welfare state literature are highlighted and discussed. The paper concludes that in its economic size the Swedish nonprofit sector is similar to the sectors in the other countries included in the Johns Hopkins Project, but that it is financed to a lesser degree with governmental money. This is an effect of the special structure of the Swedish sector. While the sectors in most of the other countries in the study are dominated by nonprofits active in the core domains of the welfare state - social services, education, health care - the major Swedish nonprofit actors are to be found in the field of culture and recreation, and in interest mobilization. Nonprofit activities within the core do-mains of the welfare state are massively financed with public money - in Sweden as in most other countries. Since these core domains only represent a minor part of the total Swedish sector, the Swedish sector is less financed with public money than the sectors in most of the other countries included in the Johns Hopkins survey.

Finally, the relations between the Swedish nonprofit sector and the government are described and analyzed, and the current development towards a contract culture is briefly discussed in the light of this development and the traditional role of the sector in Sweden.

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