The Heal Fund aims to bring people from around the Arctic community together and provide scholarships for students and early career researchers in the Arctic, including those of Indigenous background. The initial goal for the fund was reached thanks to generous contributions from many UArctic Founders alongside the Heal family’s seed donation. A year and a half after the launch, we invited Stephen for a conversation about the future of the Heal Fund and his vision for the UArctic Founders' continued engagement.

Your father was deeply involved in UArctic in the early days. How did your engagement with UArctic begin?

“As I was growing up, my father would talk about his work with the International Biological Programme (IBP), so I would hear about the tundra, the peoples and the ecosystems of the Arctic.” Stephen also met his father’s colleagues, including some of the UArctic Founders, at the family home in northern England. “At that time, before UArctic’s founding, how to conduct great science was always the conversation, and the Arctic was always the setting.”

When Bill passed away in early 2021, Stephen got in touch with some of his father’s collaborators, namely UArctic Secretary General Outi Snellman and UArctic President Lars Kullerud. “They invited me to Rovaniemi to take part in the 20th anniversary celebrations. That was actually my first time in the Arctic and my first time interacting directly with UArctic.”

The Heal Fund was established to foster collaboration and support early-career researchers and youth through scholarships. What are your hopes for the future of the Fund? Why is it important to support youth and especially Indigenous youth?

“The purpose of the Fund is two-fold. On one hand, it is symbolic: it provides a permanent connection between the Founders and future generations - I hope it will help pass on the values that shaped UArctic in its foundation. On the other hand, it will highlight that it is possible to share and collaborate across borders in the Arctic. This is one of the reasons why UArctic was founded - to bring people together, people who may not otherwise meet, to share resources around the North in order to benefit the North. My father knew that bringing people from different perspectives, disciplines, and experiences together can be the most powerful act toward solving common problems. I hope that the Heal Fund, even in its first years, will emphasize that.”

Instead of giving one or two scholarships per year, Stephen envisions being able to support up to a hundred students, graduates or doctoral candidates in the future. “Under the right conditions, little things tend to grow. The Founders’ Fund is a big idea with a small start, and I hope it will grow just like UArctic has grown from a handful of founding institutions to nearly 200 members and tremendous interest from all over the world.”

To be fully future-oriented, the Heal Fund will focus on youth and the transmission of values across generations. “In a way, I am a bridge between the past and the future, being the son of a UArctic Founder, trying to set up things for the next generations of people in the North.” UArctic has always emphasized the inclusion of Indigenous peoples in decision-making, in capacity-building, and in finding solutions to the challenges that are now all the more in the focus compared to twenty years ago. “I think it's really important to continue that. Supporting sustainable development of northern economies cannot be done without involving the local people in decision-making processes so that we get to better solutions and outcomes for all. That's why we will also strive to enhance Indigenous engagement through the Heal Fund.”

Together with you, UArctic has been reconnecting with its Founders and getting them re-engaged. Why is the Founders’ involvement important now, twenty years later?

“Many of the Founders are still actively involved in UArctic today,” Stephen clarifies. He thinks this is a great asset. “We are fortunate that we can access the knowledge, perspectives and networks of the Founders today. We invited them for a roundtable discussion in Reykjavík in October 2022, to reconnect and discuss the future of UArctic and the Founders Fund. We will arrange more opportunities like this to ensure the Founders’ insights are not forgotten. Many of the challenges that existed twenty years ago are still very much challenges today - in fact even more pressing. The fact that UArctic now exists as a vibrant, active and connected network means that we are in a better position to help address these challenges.”

“My father used to say that the Antarctic gets all of the attention, and funding. It was hard to get noticed in the Arctic.” Today, climate change has changed that, and made the Arctic much more the centre of attention. “The Arctic is warming and changing faster than much of the rest of the world. The opening up of trading routes and opportunities in the Arctic Ocean and the geopolitics of that interest is much more active than it was twenty years ago.”

One of the big debates in the economics of climate change is how to take into account the interests of future generations. In the context of UArctic, and the North more generally, it makes sense now to look to the generation of the Founders and ask how to transfer their ideas and principles to help us make the right decisions today for future generations of students, scientists and citizens. “I feel very comfortable working for UArctic as an intergenerational link in that chain. With the Heal Fund I hope we can pass on some sense of the history of UArctic and its values.”

What are your visions and hopes for UArctic in the next twenty years?

“Universities have a habit of sticking around for hundreds of years. I believe this will be the case for UArctic as well. If networks are valuable, they will grow and strengthen further. If we look twenty years in the past, then twenty years into the future, we can perhaps see just a few of the generations involved in this process.”

Ideally, Stephen would like to see UArctic playing a very active role in tackling the challenges faced by the environment, people, infrastructure, businesses, and economies of the North. “But it is for the participants of the UArctic network to decide how they best use its resources. I would love to see that the people who have received support from UArctic and the Founders’ Fund have gone on to do things for the North in the North.”

Finally, you mentioned that 2021 was the first time you visited the Arctic. What was your first impression?

“The first impression was one of warmth. When you think of the Arctic, from the southern perspective you think of the cold, you think of ice and beauty, in a simplistic view. But when you actually arrive, it's a place where the warmth of the reception and of the people stands out. That was the reception I found from the people of UArctic community when we first met in Rovaniemi. That warmth has held every time I've met them since. It gives me even more hope that UArctic and its principles are in a good place, in the hands of good people.”

If you would like to contribute to building an endowment for UArctic, or you simply want to know more, please contact UArctic's fundraising staff at

List of UArctic Founders:

By Francesca Stoppani, Freelance Writer, Former UArctic Intern

[Originally published in the UArctic Shared Voices Magazine 2023. Read all articles here]