Marte Gerhardsen, the 41-year-old scion of a legendary Labour Party family in Norway, will take the reins of the newly established left-leaning think tank called Agenda. Gerhardsen’s new job will give her the power to help shape political thinking in Norway without being an active politician herself.
“We will generate important discussions, contribute with sharp analysis and offer solutions,” Gerhardsen told newspaper Dagsavisen just after announcing on Agenda’s own website that she had accepted the job as leader of Agenda. The think tank’s board is being led by high-profile lawyer and Labour Party veteran Geir Lippestad, who’s recently been tipped as the party’s mayoral candidate in Oslo.
Gerhardsen is the granddaughter of Einar Gerhardsen, who was Norway’s prime minister for many years after World War II and often is called landsfader (father of the country). His Labour Party ruled Norway for decades, his son Rune Gerhardsen was a longtime Labour politician in Oslo before moving over to the public relations field, and his other granddaughter Mina Gerhardsen (Marte’s sister) worked closely with former Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who now may become the next secretary general of NATO.
Marte has mostly stayed away from politics herself, apart from her involvement as a teenager in Labour’s youth organization AUF, where she later tried to bring it out of a scandal over fraudulent membership rolls. After growing up in Oslo’s working class district of Stovner, she went on to study at the London School of Economics and landed a prestigious spot in the foreign ministry’s internship program. She worked as a diplomat, then became secretary general of the humanitarian organization CARE in Norway until 2009 and then took a highly paid job at Norway’s biggest bank, DNB, whose chief executive Rune Bjerke is a Labour Party veteran himself but who recently ran into criticism over the bank’s executive pay levels and bonus system.
Gerhardsen told newspaper Dagbladet on Wednesday that she earned around NOK 1.5 million plus a bonus of NOK 400,000 at DNB and expected to take a pay cut at Agenda, which is funded by Norway’s trade union federation LO and Bergen-based industrialist and philanthropist Trond Mohn. At DNB she led a division with more than 850 employees who dealt with customers. At Agenda she’ll have a much smaller staff.
She hopes her influence, though, will be much greater. “It’s important to me that we will be independent of both the political parties and our owners,” she told Dagsavisen. She wants Agenda to employ the services of “exciting researchers and community thinkers” who can analyze and stimulate discussion. “It’s important to me that we are factually grounded and our discussions are based on knowledge,” she said.
Gerhardsen also wants to attract “the entire left- and center-left wing” of politics and parties, fending off criticism that Agenda already is far too dominated by the Labour Party. “I hope we can bring in folks from the Christian Democrats, the Center Party, the Liberals and the Socialist Left (SV), not least,” she told Dagsavisen. “But Agenda won’t just be about party politics. It’s not us who form the policies. We present the issues.”
Agenda was founded just last year as a response to other think tanks, not least Civita, which is based on more conservative thinking. Gerhardsen sees herself as an entrepreneur, in her new role, and said she looks forward to help build up an organization “from scratch.”