How Iceland Has Turned Misfortune Into Opportunity

How Iceland Has Turned Misfortune Into Opportunity

PSFK travels to Iceland to see how the country's creative economy is rebounding from the financial collapse.

Laura Feinstein
  • 7 december 2011

Back in 2009, Monocle Magazine ran a cover story hypothesizing what’s next for Iceland. Less than half a year after a spectacular economic crash, the country was still reeling from its highly-public fall from its perch as one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and grappling with an ultimately uncertain future. While Monocle suggested the embattled country should turn to abundant locally-generated sources of revenue, like geothermal energy and other agricultural assets, two and half years later it appears Iceland has decided to place its bets on its most reliable resource yet: the Icelandic people.

On PSFK’s recent trip to the country, we were tasked with a mission — aided by the Icelandic Tourism Board and government — to discover how the small island nation’s design and creative economy is inspired by their traditional past, and what effect the events of the last few years have had on its culture and the innovators of tomorrow? Sure to be a hefty assignment, we reached out to some of the country’s most prolific tastemakers to see how Iceland has not just rebounded, but–in several unexpected ways–flourished since their 2008 brush with doom.

Inspired by Iceland 
Our initial investigations led us to research Inspired by Iceland, a groundbreaking new campaign created out of a broader message of international goodwill, and meant to combat the excess of negative press caused by the Mt. Eyjafjallajökull eruption last year. The almost unpronounceable volcanic disaster, which sent sub-particle ash throughout the north Atlantic, grounding flights across Europe and the US for weeks, proved cause for a massive PR makeover- out of which Inspired by Iceland was conceived. As part of a digital experiment initially created by the President, Inspired lets visitors use Facebook to turn the entire country into a virtual tour guide. Containing almost daily offerings by local Icelanders, the site allows the public to “sign up” and inquire about ongoing events, which can include anything from photographing the northern lights, to scouting glaciers and Icebergs, to meeting with the President of Iceland himself. The last of these PSFK was actually able to take part in during the Have Pancakes with the President  invitation.

President Grimsson, himself no stranger to social media, recently flew to Camden, Maine, to give a standing-ovation worthy lecture on the state of Iceland’s economy at this year’s PopTech conference. Showing a keen awareness of how the country is viewed both at-home and internationally, he has, in effect, become one of the country’s most savvy and engaging PR men. Going as part of a group of twenty or so visitors (all tourists, and most coming from the US and UK), we were able to dine with the President and his wife in what could only be described as the Icelandic version of the White House.

Though the photographers and press on hand let us know this wasn’t exactly an everyday occurrence, there was still the sincere feeling amongst guests that the government of Iceland does in fact have an unusually high level of transparency; showing that it’s taking an active role in both sustaining and promoting the country, rather than merely acting as figureheads. For those who watched President Grimsson’s speech at PopTech, there is no doubt that the Icelandic government is not just aware of its flaws and shortcomings, but with a humility uncharacteristic of most nations, has a flexibility and communal spirit that has allowed it to roll with the punches through this tumultuous period.

Though on the whole, our travels through Iceland let us become better acquainted with this intimate nation, getting to know the “real Iceland” would not have been possible without the help of Inspired by Iceland. For those of you planning a trip there in the near future, be sure to check out their offering calender. And even if you don’t end up meeting the president, chances are you’ll meet someone who grew up with him: The country currently boasts a population of less than 400,000 people, many of whom can even trace their lineage back to Viking times.

Below are some of our favorite Inspired by Iceland videos, as well as some pics of our visits, and check back soon for our upcoming posts on design, fashion, and tourism in Iceland.


Viggo Mortensen is inspired by Iceland from Inspired By Iceland on Vimeo.

Yoko Ono is inspired by Iceland from Inspired By Iceland on Vimeo.

Inspired by Iceland


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