In August, the United Nations Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurs Council visited Sweden and Jordan to learn more about how those countries are handling the refugee crisis and how entrepreneurs and private sector leaders can help support refugees.
A major challenge for many refugees in Sweden is the absence of a social network – the friends, mentors, and acquaintances who can help them find jobs, provide support, and navigate life in a new country. This is an area where the innovation of the private sector can make a difference.
Enter the Axfoundation: During the visit to Sweden, we met with Amelie Silfverstolpe, a Program Director at the Axfoundation, a nonprofit business working to address sustainable development issues. As part of its work, the Axfoundation has launched ÖppnaDörren, an initiative to connect refugees in Sweden to social and professional networks.
We had a chance to ask Maureen Hoppers of the Axfoundation more about its program.
Can you tell us about ÖppnaDörren’s mission and how the initiative works?
ÖppnaDörren is an initiative from the Axfoundation, and ÖppnaDörren is roughly translated to “Open doors.” ÖppnaDörrens main objective is to help and encourage new Swedes and established Swedes to connect, build networks, and friendship.
Launched in November 2015, ÖppnaDörren includes four initiatives that target individuals and encourage meetings on a personal basis. ÖppnaDörren is that sense alibi for interaction, since as we all know, Swedes can be shy and hard to get to know.
ÖppnaDörren currently consists of four initiatives, all of which individuals can join and enroll in free of charge.
- Yrkesdörren, (Career door) matches new Swedes and established Swedes who want to broaden professional networks.
- Invitationsdepartementet, (Dinner) enables new Swedes to practice Swedish over a dinner with a Swedish family.
- Kompis Sverige (Friends in Sweden), newcomers and established Swedes meet a few times over a few months.
- Svenska med baby, (Swedish with babies) meet up when on parental leave. Swedish parental leave is almost 18 months. During that time new Swedes can meet up with established Swedes to practice Swedish.
What results are you seeing? Is there a person you’ve helped that stays in your memory?
The long-term ambition of ÖppnaDörren is to help increase diversity in the workplace as well as in society in general. Our goal is to help 10,000 people in Sweden meet each year, and we have many wonderful meetings and stories. One meeting stuck with me:
Saaid, from Syria, had been in Sweden for a couple of years, re-educated himself, but was unable to acquire a job that was equivalent to his level of education. After a meeting with Göran, whom we matched with Saaid through Yrkesdörren (the professional networks for newcomers), Göran posted a shout out in social media and within two weeks Saaid had a job. This was truly amazing and the full power and opportunities of the digital society we live in today.
Why did the Axfoundation start ÖppnaDörren? What is the role of the private sector in helping support refugees?
Axfoundation is a nonprofit business founded by Antonia Ax:son Johnson. Axfoundation’s purpose is to create conditions for change toward a more sustainable society. The goal is to be a catalyst that challenges, arouses debate, inspires, spreads knowledge, and runs processes in social and environmental issues. We believe that the initiatives currently within ÖppnaDörren can encourage the private sector to join in and work for a more inclusive Sweden.
What is the most interesting lesson you have learned so far through ÖppnaDörren?
The power of the everyday person must be the most interesting lesson learned; how the everyday person makes time to help those who are new to Sweden, shares their time, volunteers, and encourages others to join in – most of which is done digitally at first. For shy Swedes this is ground breaking.
What is the value refugees bring to communities?
Refugees, or new Swedes as we refer to refugees, bring the world to Sweden and their new local communities. Sweden being a country with many international ties, we do value the knowledge and experience of those new in Sweden. At the same time, we don’t have the best track record when it comes to facilitating and introducing the professional experiences of those new in Sweden into the Swedish labor market. Moreover Sweden has an aging population and need to increase the labor force to accommodate this.
What gives you hope that we can achieve sustainable development and make the world a better place?
That’s an easy one; the amount of engagement of the civil society that’s inspiring the private sector. ÖppnaDörren is all about the people who connect and meet and see each other. We are seeing so much of that in Sweden in general. And it’s wonderful seeing Swedes opening doors for others.
To learn more, visit www.oppnadorren.se/about/, and follow on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter as ÖppnaDörren (OppnaDorren).