Tell us about yourself and the experiences that have shaped who you are today?
I grew up in a small community outside Skövde, in southern Sweden, where almost everyone was born in Sweden, and at school, there were extremely few people with a foreign background. At the other end of town, in Södra Ryd, there was an area where ”the Immigrants” lived. My friends and I had a strong tendency to categorize and group together the people in Södra Ryd, and we had a lot of prejudices against them.
Later in life, luckily, I had the privilege of staying and living in significantly more diverse environments, traveling the world, living abroad in Latin America and Africa, and working in programs like “Swedish for Immigrants” - incredibly rewarding environments to be in.
But I always carry that early childhood experience with me - how easily you can group others together, and what unfounded notions one may have.
How did you decide to dedicate yourself to fighting segregation?
I have a background as a journalist, meeting many interesting people and realizing that each and every person has a story to tell. Coming back to Sweden I reflected on how fascinating it is that people from the whole world are right here, and they have so much to tell about themselves, their culture and society. But in the Swedish context, they are often grouped together as “immigrants”, and looked upon as a group that lacks resources.
Segregation creates a vicious circle. On an individual level, it leads to fewer opportunities in life for many people. On a societal level, this division means we mostly meet people like ourselves. As a result, we can get stuck in ideas about “others”, we trust them less and this causes polarization in society.
The solution is actually quite simple. If you get to participate in a personal conversation with a couple of individuals with another background from yours and hear their history, thoughts and perspectives, then you gain a greater understanding of who we are as individuals.
Such an experience lets you zoom in and see beyond the group (maybe there is no group!). A stranger is only a stranger until you get to know him or her.
So, in my organization “Världen finns här, which means “The world exists here”, we’ve developed a method for meetings that make mutual learning happen. We coordinate exchanges where a group studying Swedish and a primary school or high school class are matched together. Through personal meetings with conversations in small groups on themes linked to the curriculum, they become resources for each other. In this way, the participants can exchange knowledge and perspectives and practice communication and tools that are needed to live in a democratic society.
The process is simple: Teachers fill out a form where they list what they want to do and their availability. Then we match their classes together. They plan together with support of our material and checklists. Then their classes meet, preferably twice to get to know each other. Then the teacher often asks them to reflect on what they have learned. We are proud to see that in the last 3.5 years, 3,300 individuals have met to share experiences and stories - kids, youth and grown-ups!
How would you describe to a 5-year-old child what you do in Världen finns här?
I make people meet and talk to each other! Then they usually think it is interesting. I make school more interesting in the way that students can learn through meeting real people, not just through reading books. It gives life to what they are learning and connects it to reality.
Can you share the story of a child or a young person that your organization has impacted?
I can share two testimonials to show how the meetings we’re organizing are making a difference for both the students, studying Swedish and the local Swedish students.
Here’s what high-school student Sandra Engström shared about how it felt participating in our exchanges: “I've never really had a real conversation with a person who has fled their home country, so I didn't really see it as a reality. When I talked to these people, I got a clear insight into what life can look like outside of Sweden and I was awakened. I learned that Sweden is a small part of the world and everyone's life looks different."
Swedish language student Ziad Bouzan participated in two meetings with primary school students. He shared with us: "Before I went to the school, I felt a lot of fear, that the children wouldn't understand me and that I wouldn't understand them. … I thought they might be afraid of me.
Many of my neighbours have a lot of children, but they just look at me and maybe switch sides on the road. The children were very social and kind. Meeting older people is not the same as meeting with children, or with a teacher who speaks slowly. Others out there talk too fast. With the children it was fantastic.”
What advice would you give to someone starting their entrepreneurial journey now?
Talk to a lot of people! Show your passion for what you believe in. It is contagious. Be prepared to make changes to your initial concept along the way, it is a learning journey and there are often needs for adjustments.