New agreement signed with GGEM

Today Aurora signed a new loan agreement with Grassroots Gender Empowerment Movement (GGEM) a Sierra Leonean Microfinance  Institution that we have been supporting since 2014.

This is the third loan agreement signed with GGEM and will last for four years. Over the past years Aurora has worked closely with GGEM monitoring its Microfinance programme and supporting its development. Aurora has been very pleased with the work of the GGEM and is therefore proud to yet again support them in their quest to support individual entrepreneurs, and small and medium scale enterprises.

Launch of the Lettie Stuart Pottery Centre

Yesterday the Lettie Stuart pottery center was formally launched with all major stakeholders in the Waterloo area. Around 100 persons came to see the newly rehabilitated center and to learn about the pottery school that will soon commence.

Proud potters and the Pottery Coordinator

We are very excited to see the Pottery Center come to life and we expect a lot of good quality and beautiful household wares flowing out of there shortly!

Happy New Year!

Dear partners and supporters

We wish you a happy New Year – may joy and happiness follow you

We thank you for your partnership and support over the past few years and are looking forward to new adventures

Aurora’s year in a nutshell:


Aurora’s founders visited Sierra Leone and met with Aurora’s partners including the weavers in Brama Town, who are working with us in our Sweet Salone project


Weaving of a Sweet Salone pillow and blanket, designed by 1+1+1 underway, preparation for Design March 2018 underway


Sweet Salone products designed by 1+1+1 on display at Design March 2018


Villagers in Brama Town see the video Aurora made about the town’s weavers


And then they were four! Agnes joins Aurora’s office in Freetown


Fabric shopping in Malama Thomas Street Freetown for Sweet Salone dresses designed by As We Grow


Sweet Salone products for sale in Museum of Design and Applied Art, Iceland


We visited the two microfinance companies we have been supporting for the last few years


In Sierra Leone we have been looking for locally grown cotton for our Sweet Salone products, here we are in Samabendu, Tongolili seeing how the women spin the cotton


This fabulous team worked together in preparing for the re-opening of the Lettie Stuart Pottery School and Center


What a team! Musicians from Iceland, Sierra Leone and the UK jammed during the first Freetown Music Writing Week


The winners of the Kraumur Music Awards 2018

Aurora Foundation turns 11 years old!

Aurora Foundation was established on 23. January 2007. Looking back, it is nice to see how much we have accomplished through the years.

To date, we have supported and implemented 36 projects in 8 countries. The main focus has been on Sierra Leone (13 projects) and Iceland (15 projects). In total, we have spent over $7,8M on these projects (over 800M ISK).

With the largest recipient country being Iceland with $3,9M, which has mainly gone to support Icelandic musicians and designers, Sierra Leone has followed with $3,4M.

We at Aurora Foundation are proud of these achievements, and we all look forward to continuing our projects, as well as establishing new and exciting ones.

Aurora Foundation seeks to appoint an Intern to be posted in Sierra Leone

Please click on the link below for the full information regarding the internship


Aurora donates to victims of the mud-slide in Sierra Leone

Around 400 bodies have been found so far in the wake of the mudslide catastrophy, a large part of it children, but at least 600 are unaccounted for. Aurora has been working in Sweet Salone for over a decade but considers itself lucky that none of its colleagues and partners have been badly affected by this terrible tragedy. But many thousands of Sierra Leoneans have lost their loved ones and many also their homes. Today Aurora Foundation did its little part and donated new t-shirts to the victims of the horrible mudslide that happened in Sierra Leone last Monday. Our thoughts are with all those affected.

Aurora opens a new office in Freetown

Today is a big day for Aurora Foundation here in Sierra Leone with the opening of a new office in Freetown. Aurora has been actively supporting various projects in Sierra Leone over the past 10 years and has now gone through the process of registering its sub office. This step is done in celebration of Aurora’s 10th anniversary but the Fund was established in January 2007. It will certaintly further support the excellent relationship between the Fund and this amazing country.

Furthermore, Aurora today welcomed the first official staff member in Sierra Leone. Welcome on board Mr. Foday Balama Serray! Aurora is very much looking forward to work with you in the future.

Aurora donates 20 hospital beds

Aurora has donated 20 hospital beds to three different hospitals in Sierra Leone. Some were donated to the Koidu Government Hospital (KGH) in Kono, but Aurora has supported several projects in that region. Others went to the Princess Christian Maternity Hospital (PCMH) in Freetown, the main public maternity hospital, and to Aberdeen Women Center, a fistula center and a maternity hospital in Freetown.

PCMH, the main government maternity hospital was extremely happy to receive these new beds, especially since they have sidebars. They locate the beds in wards where pregnant women who have developed Eclampsia are admitted, as well as in the Ward for women who have had a Cesarean section.

Aberdeen Women Center got the bulk of the beds. They were set up in a recently built ward, soon to be opened. Aberdeen Women Center was initially established as a Fistula Center only but soon opened a Maternity Wing as well. Recently they have been scaling up the number of deliveries per month they can handle which required a new ward for new mothers and infants.

The KGH is run with support from Partners in Health. They received the beds and will transport them to the eastern part of Sierra Leone where the hospital is located. 

Deloitte Iceland supports Aurora’s projects

Aurora has had a good and successful cooperation with Deloitte Iceland over the past years. Deloitte Iceland has taken care of Aurora’s auditing and its Financial Reports as well as for the two daughter funds of Aurora, Kraumur The Music Fund and The Aurora Design Fund.

At Aurora´s recent Annual meeting Deloitte´s auditors announced to the Board of Aurora Foundation that all work related to the Financial Report for 2016 and all future auditing would be done Pro-Bono as a contribution to the great work that Aurora Foundation is undertaking. But Aurora has contributed over 7,5 million USD to projects both in Iceland and abroad, mainly in Africa, since it was created 10 years ago.

The Board of Aurora hereby wants to thank the Board of Deloitte Iceland for their generous support to Aurora´s projects in the future and is looking forward to a continous successful coperation.

Aurora Foundation Chronicle 2015

The year 2015 was a good year for Aurora Foundation and marked the eight operation year of the Foundation.

Seven different projects, both in Iceland and abroad, received in total approx. 430,000 USD.

In fact, the Foundation has supported projects in Iceland and abroad for about 5.7 million USD from 2007, when it started its operations, until 2015.

The year 2015 in a nutshell:

At the beginning of the year, Aurora Foundation donated 26,000 USD for the building of a new school building in Loitokitok, in the Masai Mara district in Kenya. The school was built through the ABC Children’s aid organization. The new building was ready when the new school year started in September.

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The two sub-funds of Aurora Foundation, Kraumur the Music Fund and The Design Fund Aurora, were both active in the year, although the formal operation of Kraumur has been reduced somewhat. The Design Fund Aurora received around 192,000 USD in 2015 and Kraumur 39,000 USD from the Foundation.

In March, Kraumur and the Design Fund organized a street-music-party in relation to DesignMarch. Musicians and bands, designers and architects got together in a pop-up city of the future, which was set up in the Reykjavik Art Museum, Hafnarborg, on 14th March.

gotuparty (1)

The Aurora Design Fund also hosted a show and an event in the Reykjavik Art Museum in relation to DesignMarch, where the project SLOWLY CHANGING COURSE was introduced. The Design Fund also published a brochure about the project. Both the show and the event got a good PR visibility and a five-piece radio documentary was done by the public radio RUV.

In July, the Design Fund supported a publication of a book about the Architect Högna Sigurðardóttir, which Guja Dögg Hauksdóttir Architect had worked on.</br>In May 2015 the final disbursement of 100,000 USD was made to one of the microcredit institution Aurora Foundation has been supporting, called Grassroots Gender Empowerment Movement (GGEM) Microfinance Services. Aurora had signed a loan agreements with two Microcredit Institutions in Sierra Leone in the latter half of 2014 and disbursed in total 300,000 USD to these institutions in that year. Both of these microcredit institutions re-lend the funds to individuals and small and medium sized companies. These projects have been going very well and we have shared here on this webpage some of the stories of the borrowers. The have been very grateful for this opportunity to enhance their businesses, especially during these challenges times when Ebola has been hitting the country hard, as many foreign institutions withdraw their support during the Ebola outbreak in 2014-2015.

GGEM-client (1)

In January 2015 Aurora Foundation and the Government of Sierra Leone signed an agreement about four Fish processing and landing stations. According to the agreement Neptune, a newly established company, partly owned by Aurora Foundation, will be responsible for renovating the sites and managing them for the next 10 years. Neptune has received around 62,000 USD in 2015 from Aurora to start the rehabilitation of the sites. This agreement is a certain milestone for Aurora Foundation as direct involvement of the Fund will be substantial in this project. Neptune formally received the sites towards the end of the year 2015.


In Iceland, a Red Cross entity called Vin (e. Friend) received its third and final disbursement towards the end of the year in the amount of 7,700 USD, for the very important support it gives to mentally ill people.</br>In December the Kraumur Music Fund choose its list of solo artists and bands that had released albums during the year, and that Kraumur thought had excelled during the year. 21 bands and musicians were nominated on the list this year but only 6 received the actual award in a lovely ceremony just before Christmas.


Aurora director, Mrs. Auður Einarsdóttir, leaves post

After serving as the director of Aurora Foundation for five years, Mrs. Auður Einarsdóttir has left her post in August, and moved to the Nederlands with her family.

Aurora foundation has, in recent years, been contributing to developmental projects in various locations around the globe. It has now been decided that the foundation will put less emphasis on supporting Icelandic projects, while increased efforts will be made with overseas development projects. Earlier this year, Mrs. Regína Bjarnadóttir, MSc in Developmental Economics, was hired to be the director of Aurora foundation and it’s development projects.

The board members of Aurora would like to extend their sincere gratitude to Mrs. Auður Einarsdóttir for the pleasant collaboration during the last years and wish her all the best in the future.

Regína Bjarnadóttir has been hired as a director of development projects with Aurora Foundation

Regína has been the Head of Research at Arion bank, one of the largest banks in Iceland, since November 2013. Previously she worked as an economist in the Economic department of the Central Bank of Iceland from late 2007. She was a programme manager with UNDP in Guyana 2005-2007 and a commodity specialist with CRU Analysis and CRU Strategies in London from 2001 to 2005.

Aurora foundation has decided to put more emphasis on its work in development and thus has hired Regina to lead that role. She will initially be situated in Iceland but spent substantial amount in the areas where the fund is working in close cooperation with local personnel. Regina has a BSc degree in Economics from the University of Iceland and MSc in Development Economics from School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

Many apply for the post of director of Aurora Foundation

Aurora Foundation recently announced the vacancy of Director of Development, for its upcoming development projects in Sierra Leone. Over 150 applicants from Iceland applied for the post, and 50 from Switzerland. With applications currently being reviewed, our aim is to conduct interviews with short-listed candidates in the month of February and finalize the hiring process in the month of April. The board members of Aurora are sincerely grateful to the number of applicants that came forward, willing to participate with the foundation in making the world a better place.

A meeting with the President of Sierra Leone

Representatives of the Aurora Foundation paid a courtesy call on the President of Sierra Leone Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma at State House based on an invitation from the First Lady, to express their investment plans for fishing industry and the continuation of their charity work in Sierra Leone.

Introducing members of the Aurora team, the First Lady’s representative said that the Foundation has been in Sierra Leone since 2005, and has built 67 schools, trained 270 teachers and established mothers clubs around Kono District. He informed the President that Aurora plans to invest in Sierra Leone using its business wing, through the operation and management of all or some of the fish landing facilities around the country.

The Chairman of the Foundation Olafur Olafsson informed the President that the Foundation through its fisheries company participated in the bidding process for the fish landing sites and won the bids for three of the four sites.  He mentioned that the documentation process is still in progress, near completion. He added that the three landing sites will together have about 300 employees with the majority recruited locally. He further stated that local fishermen and employees of the company will be trained in improved fishing and fish handling and proc’essing skills and they will be given access to standard fishing gears to improve their fishing capacity and quality.

President Koroma welcomed the team, expressing his gratitude that they decided to visit his country during this difficult period. He mentioned that he was delighted to know that the Foundation has been in Sierra Leone since 2005, contributing to the transformation of Sierra Leone and improving the lives of Sierra Leoneans through their support to the education sector and now with their future investment plans.The President stated that he was very impressed with the approach of the Foundation, the holistic approach. He added that this is the first group that is combining charity and business, noting that it focuses on sustainability as the business wing will maintain the charity department and at the same time improve the income and business processes of the local people. He apprised that Sierra Leone is blessed with fisheries resources and that even though a lot of people are engaged in fishing activities, they are however not benefitting enough and the impact is not great as a result of archaic fishing and fish processing methods. He ended by wishing the Foundation the best in all their projects and pledging his full support to their projects.</br>

Visit to Sierra Leone in November 2009

We waited anxiously at the check-in desk at London’s Heathrow Airport, eight men and women on our way to Freetown, Sierra Leone, early in November. The tension rose a notch when we were informed that our flight was overbooked, but we turned down the offer of an extra day in London along with a tidy sum to spend in the shops. Our tight schedule for the following day had taken months of careful planning, and we desperately wanted to reach our destination.

Our group was made up of the board members and managing director of Aurora, along with the Director of UNICEF in Iceland.

Aurora sponsors a range of educational projects in Sierra Leone in partnership with UNICEF and the country’s education authorities. Our group was on the way to West Africa to see at first hand how some of the projects were progressing. We wanted to see what had been accomplished and visit some of the schools that had been established using grants from the fund. We also wanted to see some of the new projects proposed by aid agencies and, in some cases, by individuals.

Dozens of schools have opened all around the country with financial assistance from the founders of the Aurora Foundation. Early efforts concentrated on building schools, mostly in remote parts of the country where they were desperately needed following the devastation wreaked during the civil war that divided the country from 1991 to 2002.

In 2007, Ólafur Ólafsson and his wife Ingibjörg made donations that helped build 50 schools. The following year, they established the Foundation, which has since given grants for educational projects. The Foundation decided to concentrate its efforts in a single region, and chose Kono District, in the east of the country on the border with neighbouring Guinea. This area is home to Sierra Leone’s largest diamond mine, which led to widespread destruction during the civil war.

The emphasis is now on improving the quality of schooling and meeting the needs of the children, especially girls. Rather than building more schools, the Foundation is focusing more on teacher training and educating the educators in child-centred teaching. Every school now has a mothers club and a school management committee. One of the functions of the mothers clubs is to help mothers in the community to understand the importance of education and encourage them to monitor and support their school-age daughters. The mothers are defenders of their children’s rights, and they play a vital role when cases of sexual assault or abuse arise. They have to keep track of the process and ensure that the authorities are informed.

The school management committees are in many ways similar to parent associations. Their purpose is to give the community more responsibility for running the schools. They are responsible for ensuring that the schools run as expected, appointing teachers, arranging teacher training and handling all communication with the authorities. This arrangement empowers the community served by each school and gives residents the ability to improve their children’s education and increase their knowledge, which will to lead to a brighter future.

Following our long flight, we left Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, early on Tuesday morning and took a domestic flight to Kono District. We landed just outside Koidu, the principal city in the region and the third largest in the country, with over 100,000 residents. Local UNICEF representatives were there to meet us. Vidha Gangesh, Assistant Director of UNICEF in Sierra Leone, is from India, and she has broad experience of development matters. Alison Parker works in the main office in Freetown, Sunkarie Kbba Kamara is in charge of UNICEF’s Makeni office and Mario is one of the organisation’s civil engineers. Four drivers completed the reception group.

We made our first visit immediately, to the Sirajudeen Islamic Primary School, a new unit built in 2009 with a grant from Aurora. The school roll numbers 438 (224 girls and 214 boys). In 2003, the school had 90 pupils (50 girls and 40 boys). We were delighted to find that the head teacher was a young lady, although the rest of the staff were all men. Alongside her school duties, the head is following a distance learning course to gain a teaching qualification. The national government’s Ministry of Education began working with UNICEF just over a year ago to improve teacher training.

Pupils are divided between three classrooms, which means there are almost 150 children in each class. The school is already bursting at the seams. The head explained that when children from surrounding villages saw the beautiful new school building they returned to school after having stayed away for one reason or another. Seeing children of all ages in the same class was a common sight, but it was especially pleasing to see what an attraction the school had become. The school buildings included a new segregated toilet block with hand-washing facilities and a well. The toilets are extremely important. They improve awareness of hygiene and help prevent sexual assaults, which girls frequently suffer in schools that do not have toilets.

Wells are also an essential part of school life. Villagers living in communities that don’t have a well often need to travel long distances to fetch water. Water carrying is usually done by young girls, and it can prevent them from attending school. Providing a well in the school solves this problem, and the water source is also a valuable asset for the community.

Our next destination was Bandafaye Community School, built in 2007. The school attends to the needs of 273 pupils: 146 boys and 127 girls. We went directly into a meeting with the School Management Committee and the Mothers Club. As they described their work, we couldn’t help but admire their determination, will and energy to improve their community. After looking into the classrooms and listening to the pupils singing, we gratefully accepted an offer to look around their village. The women were hard at work, washing clothes, grinding corn or selling produce on the market in the village square. We took in the scene, and were wondering where the men were, when we spotted them lounging in the shade of a tree. A common sight in this part of the world.

We had a meeting booked with Mr Komba, the man in charge of education matters in Kono District. Mr Komba was extremely proud of the progress that had been made in schooling in his district, including an increase in the number of schools, thanks to Aurora and UNICEF, and greater interest from parents in sending their children to school. He pointed to a table showing the results of the latest primary school final exams: almost 80% of the pupils had passed the exam, 70% of the boys and over 90% of the girls. These figures improve every year, he explained.

Another interesting document hung on the wall. It was from the World Food Programme, and it outlined what each pupil should get to eat each day: 100 g corn, 30 g beans, 10 g vegetable oil and 3 g salt.

Our final visit of the day was to the Sumbedu Community School, where we met the head teacher and his staff. The head told us about the positive influence continued teacher training was having on both his teachers and his pupils. Continuing teacher training involves educating and training teachers in child-oriented teaching techniques, in which the needs of the child have priority rather than those of the teacher. He said that he no longer regards himself as a teacher but as a “facilitator”, meaning that his role is to simplify and assist pupils in understanding their subject matter on their own terms. He added that this had a very positive effect on the pupils, who became much more attentive and happier at school. The result was higher levels of academic achievement.

The head teacher went on to explain that only one teacher apart from himself was paid by the state – a monthly salary equivalent to USD 50. The other teachers rely on the parents and village residents, who assist with small payments or recompense in the form of food or work. The school management committee is also active in supporting teachers for whom it bears responsibility. The committee also raises funds to pay the teachers.

Once again, the pupils gave us a wonderful reception and treated us to some lively singing that revitalised us at the end of a very long day. We joined them at play in their new playground in the school grounds. The children were animated in their responses, every one of them wanting to show us his or her tricks on the newly installed equipment, and we came away with many memorable pictures.

Wednesday began with a visit to the district hospital in the city of Koidu, specifically to see the maternity unit, a relatively well-equipped department housed in a new building, constructed thanks to funds from UNICEF. The unit was empty when we looked in and there was little sign of activity. The nurse in charge confirmed that this was a very unusual situation – the previous day had been so busy they had hardly had room to cope with the demand.

A recent report from WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and the World Bank shows that maternal mortality rates are higher in Sierra Leone than anywhere else in the world, with 2,100 women dying for every 100,000 births. Afghanistan is next, with 1,800 maternal deaths per 100,000 births. The main reason for this is that most women give birth at home in the village, a long way from help, should it be needed.

Our next call was to Magburake, a health centre with a special unit for malnourished children. Up to 57% of deaths of children under 5 years old in Sierra Leone are attributable to malnutrition. Mothers frequently cannot breastfeed their babies because they are themselves suffering from malnutrition. They feed their young children with dried milk mixed with contaminated water which causes diseases. The unit treats the children and educates the mothers so that they become more aware of nutrition and hygiene issues. We noticed a large number of young mothers in the unit. One of them had brought her son for treatment. She had been raped on her way to school. She was just 14 years old.

When we returned to Freetown in the evening we accepted UNICEF’s invitation to dinner with the Minister of Education, Dr Minkailu Bah. Meeting Dr Bah once again was a particular pleasure, as he had visited Iceland two years ago when we invited him to attend the presentation of Aurora’s contribution to educational matters in Sierra Leone. At that time, he had been newly installed as Minister of Education following the elections in autumn 2007. Dr Bah delivered a speech that evening in which he mentioned how pleased he had been when one of his first duties was to accept an invitation to visit Iceland, far to the north, in order to receive a grant of USD 2 million for child education projects in Sierra Leone. On his return to Africa, Dr Bah had informed the government of the grant from the Aurora Foundation. And now, to our great pleasure, we learned that Dr Ernest Bai Koroma, President of Sierra Leone, wanted to meet us.

The entire group awoke early on Thursday morning, and after dressing in our finest attire, we set off for a formal meeting in the Ministry of Education with the Minister, who later took us to our meeting with the President of Sierra Leone. We were thrilled as we entered the government buildings. In this part of the world, an invitation to meet the leader of a country is a very great honour.

Dr Koroma has been in power in Sierra Leone for two years, and he is well respected for the work he has done. He does not tolerate corruption within the government or civil service. The day before our meeting, the Health Minister and two of his advisers were asked to leave the government, reportedly because of corruption. We learned that sacking a minister for this reason was unprecedented, and the President’s action caused a stir both in Sierra Leone and further afield – it was widely reported on news channels in Europe. However, the President has an unenviable task and a huge workload. The economic collapse of a small nation in the north seems almost trivial compared with the situation in Sierra Leone. As may be expected, not everyone agrees with the order of priorities, and some people think that improvements are not happening quickly enough. But the changes were quite tangible for those of us who were visiting this West African country for the fourth time in the last five years.

The President greeted us warmly as he welcomed us into his office. He thanked us for the kindliness we had shown his country, and for our assistance in educational matters. He also discussed the need to rebuild the nation in partnership with the private sector in order to help bring the financial system back to life. Substantial effort has gone into improving the legal structure of the financial system, with the objective of attracting foreign investors.

Being able to meet the President was a tremendous honour for the Aurora Foundation, and it was clear confirmation that our contributions were appreciated and were being put to good use.

As mentioned at the start of this article, the purpose of the trip was also to acquaint ourselves with potential new projects being implemented by the aid agencies and by individuals. We had to split into three groups in order to do everything we wanted. One group went to find out what the aid agencies were doing in the health field, especially in regard to women, childbirth and malnutrition. Another group looked further into educational matters, visiting a teacher training centre operating on the edge of Freetown, while the third group explored ways to help revive the economy in a country with 70% unemployment. At the end of the day we compared notes, and it was obvious that there was still much to do. We just had to identify the areas where help was most urgently required.

Exhausted but content, we said farewell to Sierra Leone at the end of the week. The precise results of our trip will become apparent later, but the Aurora Foundation will certainly continue to do all it can to help the residents of Sierra Leone build a future they can look forward to.


Looking beyond the horizon

“May the Aurora Fund open the way for all to see beyond the horizon!” said Ingibjörg Kristjánsdóttir, Board Chairperson of Aurora, among other things when she opened the meeting at the National Museum of Iceland on 23 January where the first grants of the fund were announced.

“May the Aurora Fund open the way for all to see beyond the horizon!” said Ingibjörg Kristjánsdóttir, Board Chairperson of Aurora, among other things when she opened the meeting at the National Museum of Iceland on 23 January where the first grants of the fund were announced.

The ceremony began with an excellent musical performance by the group Hjaltalín, which performed later in the programme as well, and ended with an enchanting piece performed by violinist Una Sveinbjörnsdóttir.

In her address, Ingibjörg recounted the prelude to the fund’s formation, and closed with the following remarks:

“Just as the four children of the goddess Aurora represent the four cardinal directions north, south, east and west, we are here today to support four projects: two cultural projects in Iceland – one in North Iceland and one in the south – and two development projects in Africa – one in the east and one in the west. Detailed information about the fund and the projects is available on the fund’s website  Before I bring on the Board members, I would like to thank everyone who has played a role with my husband and me to make this project, which is very dear to us, a reality. May the Aurora Fund open the way for all to see beyond the horizon.”

Dozens of well-wishers were present at the ceremony, and the atmosphere was energised! Minister of Education, Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir, honoured the gathering with her presence, as did her counterpart from the government of Sierra Leone, Dr. Minkailu Bah. After Dr. Bah accepted a document from Ingibjörg, the Fund’s chairperson, confirming the three-year cooperative project between Aurora and the educational authorities in his home country, he conveyed heartfelt appreciation from his government and his fellow citizens for the gift.

Sigurður Guðmundsson, Iceland’s Medical Director of Health and Board member of Aurora, introduced the Malawi project for guests. In a way, he was on home turf since he worked in Malawi on behalf of the Icelandic International Development Agency in 2007, along with his wife, Sigríður Snæbjörnsdóttir. As no representative from Malawi was on hand to accept the grant from Sigurður, an Icelandic girl, Hekla Sól Kristjánsdóttir, was selected to duly represent Malawi and carried out her responsibility with distinction.

Þórunn Sigurðardóttir, Artistic Director of the Reykjavík Arts Festival and Board member of Aurora, introduced the decision of Aurora’s Board to establish the Kraumur Music Fund to support young musicians. Eldar Ástþórsson, newly appointed managing director of Kraumur, accepted the grand and said that the fund would provide great support for music and musicians in Iceland. The group Hjaltalín conveyed its thanks, and the thanks of young musicians, in its own way ? with selected tones from the far end of the museum’s hall.

Ólafur Ólafsson, one of the Aurora Fund’s two founders and a Board member, presented the grant to Sigurgeir’s Stuffed Bird Collection in Mývatnssveit district. He commented that the entrepreneurial spirit of the family at Ytri-Neslöndum had impressed him, when it took the bold decision to build a home for the bird collection that Sigurgeir Stefánsson left behind after he died in a tragic accident at Mývatn in early winter 1999. Ólafur praised those behind the museum for their determination, courage and vision, as well as their prudence, during the implementation of the project. Pétur Bjarni Gíslason, Sigurgeir’s brother-in-law, was present to accept the grant from Ólafur. He hoped that the grant would make it possible for the museum to open on 1 July next summer.

At the beginning of the ceremony, Ingibjörg Kristjánsdóttir, Board Chairperson of Aurora, made mention of the fund’s name, Aurora, and among other comments said:

“An African once had the task of translating into his language a text that included the concept “hope.” He felt that the translation was particularly difficult because the word “hope” just did not exist in his mother tongue. Time passed and nothing happened when suddenly the man´s face lit up with excitement and he shouted, “To hope is of course to see beyond the horizon!”

It is no coincidence that we chose the name AURORA for the fund that is today announcing its first grants. The name has two meanings:

1.    Aurora is the Roman personification of the dawn. In this manner, Aurora connotes the spiritual value of light and luminosity, the dawn that makes it possible for us to see beyond the horizon where hope resides.

2.    Aurora is related to aurum, which in Latin means gold and is related to the Icelandic words eyrir and aurar. Aurora, therefore, refers to worldly value, to the financial resources that can bring good if the right attitude is in place, and matters properly handled. This is exactly the twofold nature of the fund: To ignite within people NEW HOPE, and strengthen the capacity to do GOOD WORKS.”

Ingibjörg also discussed in her address how it came about that she and her husband, Ólafur, began focusing on Africa and development aid on that continent, and cultural projects in Iceland:

“The idea to actively support development aid in Africa, this magnificent cradle of mankind, arose during trips that Ólafur and I took there and projects we were involved in. It would be difficult not to feel a strong emotional bond with this continent of unbelievable expanses, ever-changing nature and fantastic people.

“When I think of Sierra Leone, I always feel the power that lives within this nation despite all the adversity. I see throngs of people in Freetown, untamed and vibrant lifein a city that never sleeps. Despite a difficult employment situation and a multitude of adversities, the people of Sierra Leone are able to forget the toil of daily life in song and dance. Smiles and laughter are never far away, and it is easy to be enchanted. Ólafur and I have often spoken of how in these trips our spirit fluctuates. It swings from lack of hope, even resentment of the situation, particularly the completely pointless destruction that occurred during the civil way, to exhilaration and excitement over all the possibilities standing before this fantastic continent ? IF the bedrock of society is in order, i.e. health care, education, clean water and transportation. Finally, gladness seeps in because of all the positive things that are being done. And then the big question pops up: ‘What can be done?’

“The idea to support cultural projects in Iceland came about when Ólafur and I decided to support financially Kjartan Ragnarsson and Sigríður M. Guðmundsdóttir in establishing the Icelandic Settlement Centre in Borgarnes. It has been a joy to see how this terrific project of theirs has sown seeds for new, bold ideas, and has demonstrated how short the distance can be between good ideas and reality.”

Philanthropic foundation established

The formation of a philanthropic foundation, which was later given the name Aurora, was announced at a news conference held at Hotel Borg in Reykjavík on 20 January 2007.

The following news release was distributed at the meeting:

The couple Ingibjörg Kristjánsdóttir, landscape architect, and Ólafur Ólafsson, Chairman of Samskip, have formed a philanthropic foundation that they have personally funded with ISK one billion. Income from the foundation, which will derive from dividends and interest, will on the one hand be earmarked for various projects in developing countries, and on the other to enhance life in Iceland by supporting projects in areas of culture, education and the arts.

This will be done in accordance with the foundation’s articles of association and decisions made by the foundation’s board of directors. It is estimated that ISK 100 – 150 million (USD 1.5 – 2.3 million) will be available for allocation annually.

A five-person board has responsibility for developing policy and operating the foundation. In addition to Ingibjörg and Ólafur, board members are Sigurður Einarsson, Executive Chairman of Kaupthing Bank, Sigurður Guðmundsson, Iceland’s Medical Director of Health who is currently involved in providing development assistance in Malawi on behalf of the Icelandic International Development Agency, and Þórunn Sigurðardóttir, Artistic Director of the Reykjavík Arts Festival and board member of UNICEF in Iceland.

The board will set further operating procedures, but it is expected that foundation grants will be announced early every year beginning in 2008.

Educational project in Sierra Leone and the Icelandic Settlement Centre in Borgarnes

The new foundation is a direct continuation of two special projects that Ingibjörg and Ólafur are currently involved in at home and abroad, to which they have contributed a total of well over ISK 100 million (USD 1.5 million).

Firstly, they have sponsored an extensive UNICEF educational project in the African nation of Sierra Leone. The support involves building 50 communal schools in cooperation with the country’s Ministry of Education, as well as providing them with furniture and other equipment. About 100 teachers will be trained to work in the new schools, and students will be given the necessary educational materials.

Secondly, the couple has supported the development of the Icelandic Settlement Centre in Borgarnes in memory of Ólafur’s parents, Anna Ingadóttir and Ólafur Sverrisson, who lived and worked there for many years.

A few large projects rather than many small ones

Ingibjörg and Ólafur envisage the new philanthropic foundation as being involved in only a few projects at any one time, enabling them to provide substantial support to each one. They plan to monitor and participate in projects as much as possible, and have closely followed developments in both Sierra Leone and the Icelandic Settlement Centre in Borgarnes. Ingibjörg is a board member of UNICEF in Iceland and on the board of the Settlement Centre. For many years, Ólafur sat on the board of the Icelandic Red Cross. They word their personal vision as follows:

“Social responsibility is both natural and self-evident, and in addition to that we are simply interested in doing our bit to provide development support, and to sponsor various projects that enhance life in Iceland. Many people in developing countries live in unacceptable conditions, yet often it does not take much to achieve real improvements. We want the foundation to be a dynamic force in providing development assistance in close cooperation with governing bodies and local populations, just as we have done in Sierra Leone.”

“In Iceland, we envisage taking part in innovative projects that enhance and enrich life in the fields of culture, the arts and education, projects that have a constructive impact on local communities as well as the entire nation. The Icelandic Settlement Centre in Borgarnes is an excellent example. Sigríður Margrét Guðmundsdóttir and Kjartan Ragnarsson are the pioneers who launched the project and convinced others, including us, to embrace their vision. This journey ended when the vision was realised, and the Settlement Centre immediately became the pride of Borgarfjörður district, and a magnificent arena of culture and art.”