The Elements of Trust, Gert Tinggaard Svendsen — Denmark

Gabriela Corbera
6 min readNov 21, 2020


With the elections in the United States now over, the real work towards a democracy begins. While the U.S. and the world has had a few weeks to let the transition unfold, as President Elect Joe Biden and Vice President Elect, Kamala Harris continue to build their cabinet, there is one concept that I believe will really bring together the nation of the United States.


Trust is a concept that matures in definition over time. It is the social glue of communities, and what brings people together.

The field of sociology and now political science and management, study different types of trust overtime. There are very sophisticated studies on institutional trust, public trust, and organizational trust.

Coming from Latin America, the levels of public trust have always been very low. Gathering the insights, experiences of others from the Global South, the experience seems to be collective.

I first learned trust was an area of practice from the great work at the Relational Coordination Research Collaborative (RCRC) at Brandeis University. Across healthcare, education, public sector and management, there are dedicated professionals transforming organizations in the significance of organizational relationships in the workplace. Making bridges that dimensions like trust foster collaboration and innovation.

A few months ago continuously engaged in these themes, I came across the book, Trust by Gert Tinggaard Svendsen. A Danish political scientist who has been exploring attitudes of trust at Aarhus University for over a decade. With a major influence from the Nordic Region, I was excited to read this book, as I really wanted to learn what trust meant from the Danish perspective in Denmark.

With such sophisticated studies in well being, happiness, and trust, I have been finding in the international development field, the start up world, and in systems change work, that trust is the backbone and foundation in a functioning society. As a former political science and sociology major, ten years ago trust was also one of the concepts I felt most connected to when studying different societies. With the work of Alexis DeTocqueville and Robert Putnam bringing these studies forward in U.S. society, it was exciting to see similar studies across the Nordic Region.

Trust to me is the social glue of a healthy society. And it’s also the bridge between people. Between relationships.

Over the years living in the U.S., since 1999, I have always been keen on trust in respect to public institutions. I found moving from Caracas to the U.S., one of the biggest differences was institutional trust.

From these two decades, being in the U.S., I’ve noticed low levels of trust from citizens to public institutions. Some of these I’ve seen in studies, but as trust is an experiential thing, these inferences are from living in the U.S. — simply feeling, hearing the sentiments towards government. The Trump Administration has certainly not helped these inferences. It’s simply elevated the lack of trust to new levels.

Given the turnout of the elections, and the numbers below

[Joe Biden]


[Donald Trump]



showing the Republican vote for Trump, it is clear the studies of trust are ever more important in bringing together the U.S. in what will be a new Administration with the Biden-Harris win. The election results will not mean anything if Republicans and Democrats cannot be in the same room. I believe we need to strive towards multi stakeholder teams and equity through a will to foster collaboration, unlearnings, and re-learnings on diverse teams.

The lack of trust I refer to I’ve heard particularly from those who work outside public service and outside non profit entities. It is my belief that humanitarians are a bit more optimistic on how a society can unfold with a burgeoning civil society and good governance. I would put my colleagues and I in this bundle. Learning about a society that has trust as one of their core pillars of nationhood, I find remarkable and truly inspiring. Denmark —

It’s moving in Denmark, there are such high levels of trust. It seems to be one of the things that separates Denmark the most from nations around the globe. Trust seems to be the foundation that builds among other sentiments for the Danes, such as, care, empathy and protection. Given the Danish Welfare State, it is very clear the collective sentiments around trust yield towards a government aimed at benefiting all and improving the lives of all. This in part can also explain their numerous political parties including the Social Demokrats, advancing social welfare public policy.

In Tinggaard Svendsen’s book, Trust — -there are three different types of trust that are described.

Gert Tinggaard Svendsen, Danish Political Scientist in Public Policy; Welfare Economy; Social Capital at Aarhus University

Individual Trust
Social Trust
Institutional Trust

In Trust, Tinggaard Svendsen describes from World Value Surveys that there are high trust countries and low trust countries.

Not surprisingly, the Nordic region scored at the top, with Denmark scoring the highest with 78% of Danes being able to trust “most others.” Some of the other European countries were New Zealand, Canada, and Australia. The low trust countries were Turkey, Malaysia, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda, the Philippines, Brazil, Rwanda, and Trinidad and Tobago. All scoring below 10%.

Some of the most interesting things I learned from the book were on how trust in the Nordic Welfare States is most interesting not in individual relations but in its “collective insurance system.”

According to Gert Tinggaard Svendsen, “social trust is the most interesting element when studying the Nordic welfare model, which hinges on redistributing tax revenues among strangers, not among people with mutual individual-trust relations. This redistribution from ‘the fortunate’ to ‘the less fortunate’ can be seen as a collective insurance system. Money is transferred, say, from healthy citizens to unwell citizens, making social trust a vital part of people’s every day lives in the welfare state.”

In this book, we also learn about social trust.

“Social trust reflects a positive perception of the generalised other, and confidence that others will interact and behave decently. One’s degree of social trust therefore reflects one’s standard estimate of the trustworthiness of ‘an unknown other’.”

Being in international development, having the privilege of “living” and working in different societies and nations, this quote really hit home for me, as I started to distinguish in which cities I felt trust towards the average person. How about for you? Ever think about communities you’ve lived in, and the levels of trust? Did you feel safe? Did you feel trust?

A Trusting Society

A community and society that trusts I think is what every nation aspires to. There’s a term in political science that we do not hear too often because it’s nearly impossible which is utopia. A perfect, ideal society I do believe would have this quality. Believe managers, and people running organizations aspire to this as well. When there’s trust, great things can unfold, organizations can collaborate, there can be purpose. There can be innovation. I do think trust is not easy to build. As this book suggested, societies are not forced to trust each other. It’s something each individual cultivates. And by being around each other, it’s something you give to each other.

So why should we care about trust?

We should care about trust because it shapes how we act towards each other. It can enable us to feel a sentiment of care, to be empathetic. And from an institutional perspective, it can allow us to choose elected officials that can lead strong institutions. Let’s learn from each other, and shape connectedness for the social good, advancement to society.

Deepest regards to my colleagues, friends in DK that inspired this article. You make this world purposeful. Thank you for your great spirits, and all you have taught over the years.

To purchase Gert Svendsen’s Book, Trust — see here.



Gabriela Corbera

Innovation strategist with a heart for cities, sociology, culture, policy, environment, and systems change.