The Foundation’s assets stem from the capital, in the form of shares in Rederiaktiebolag Nordstjernan, that Axel (1876-1958) and Margaret (1887-1966) Ax:son Johnson bequeathed in 1958 and 1966 respectively, to the Foundation named after them.
The international dependence and scope of his company gave Consul-General Axel Ax:son Johnson a thoroughly global and international perspective on Sweden’s development. He was consequently aware of the intimate link between international research and social development, industrial progress and success.
The Consul-General’s international perspective lives on to this day, not only in Nordstjernan, but also in the activities of the Foundation. It informs the vision of enabling Sweden and Swedish research to benefit from international research.
The Ax:son Johnson family, after which the Foundation is named, has a long philanthropic tradition, starting with the founder of Nordstjernan, Axel Johnson (1844-1910), who bequeathed a large sum to the founding of the Department of Geological Sciences at Stockholm University in 1910.
During the Second World War, large amounts were secretly donated to Denmark, to child evacuees in Finland, to the building of homes for the children of Finnish aviators, to victims of the Blitz in London, and to the Norwegian resistance movement, whose members Axel Ax:son Johnson also assisted by hiding them in his home on Karlavägen 37 in Stockholm, before they were smuggled over to the UK. The greatest share of the support went to Norway in 1943 – 44.
The Consul-General was awarded a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 1948 for his contribution to the allied war efforts, alongside Ture Nerman and others. Peter Tennant, who worked for the British intelligence service during the War, wrote to Axel Ax:son Johnson in 1948 that this recognition of his help to the allies was “long overdue”.
But major donations were also made to earthquake victims in Argentina and to the Swedish Club and the Swedish Church in Buenos Aires.
Axel Ax:son Johnson reacted in 1944 to Ernst Wigforss’ socialisation plans, the “Post-War Programme”, by making contributions to business-friendly, newspapers and writers who opposed the socialist planned economy policies. Therese Nordlund’s dissertation Att leda storföretag (2005), financed by the Foundation, has studied the Consul-General’s efforts to stop the socialisation of Swedish industry. During this period, Axel Ax:son Johnson made generous contributions to the Liberal Party election campaign under Bertil Ohlin, with the same purpose.
He funded the Swedish Arts Council (Swedish Institute), of which he was a member until 1944, and co-founded the World Wildlife Fund.
In 1946, he saved Swedish PEN from bankruptcy, with the largest private donation ever made to the organisation. Scholarships for studies abroad were also awarded to writers, including Lars Ahlin.
Swedish defence was another area to which Axel Ax:son Johnson had a deep commitment, and he contributed substantially to the Sala anti-aircraft units and other projects.
Today, the Foundation engages in a number of issues internationally, including Nordic-Baltic security within the Changing Character of War Programme at Pembroke College, Oxford, and activities relating to the international cultural heritage and to museums all over the world, as well as projects about India and Japan. The Foundation also supports Swedish academics studying abroad, especially in the UK and the USA, and offers scholarships for young students at the United World Colleges in Wales.