Two days after the tragic crash at Ndola when Dag Hammarskjöld lost his life in what was then Northern Rhodesia, a small, informal meeting was held at the highest level in the Swedish government discussing different ways in which Dag Hammarskjöld’s contributions to international politics and development could be acknowledged and remembered.
Six months later, in March 1962, The Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation was officially formed. It would be an autonomous non-governmental organisation, carrying out its own programmes, governed by an international Board. The first chairperson was the Swedish Government Minister for disarmament, Mrs Alva Myrdal, who after two years was succeeded by Dr Ernst Michanek, who stayed at the post for almost thirty years.
It was laid down in the Statutes that the main activity of the Foundation would be the organisation of seminars and courses on the wide themes of social, political, economic and cultural development in developing countries. A fifth theme, environmental development, was later added.
The seminars during the first 10-12 years were mainly held in African countries and dealt with the problems confronted by the young African states emerging at the time. Examples of early seminar themes are ‘The Structure, Role and Function of the UN System’; ‘The Law of Treaties’; and ‘Correspondence Instruction in Adult Education’. The seminars, which had a training aspect, were mainly aimed at young academics and civil servants; they lasted 3 to 5 weeks.
In the early 1970s the character of the seminars changed to become more policy-oriented, gathering participants from higher levels of government and academia for considerably shorter time. The new directions were embodied in “The 1975 Dag Hammarskjöld Project on Development and International Cooperation: What now? Another Development. It outlined new perspectives on the whole development problematique and favoured an endogenous, self-reliant and environmentally sound development based on structural transformation. The report was published in six languages, including the Foundation’s own journal, Development Dialogue, which had had been launched a couple of years earlier.
Most of the activities of the Foundation in the following decades were inspired by the “What Now-report” and its search for alternative ways for development beyond conventional approaches. The activities after What Now were including Africa, Asia and Latin America and often also involved actors and perspectives from industrialised countries.
Examples of themes and topics of seminar series during the 1980s and 1990s are: the International Monetary System; Plant Genetic Resources; Education and Production in Southern Africa; Indigenous Publishing in Africa; Health and Pharmaceuticals and the Peoples Health Assembly; and the What Next Project.