For many years I was so keen on integrating in Norway, in blending in, in searching for this “normal” feeling. I became so good at it, that at some point I realized that I went too far and forgot myself a bit. I thought that my diverse background was a burden, not an asset. Because everything you hear from politicians in Norway is that you are exactly that – a burden.
I was happy to share my story as a refugee through my books and talks, and it did feel authentic. However, I never worked with this. I grew up in family of entrepreneurs, I studied innovation and technology implementation, disrupting stuff is my passion. I often said to myself that those two worlds “refugee” and “startups” don´t collide. That my refugee story did not belong at the corporate conferences. I thought that I had to change something, to suit up in the consultant armor to be able to contribute in these arena.
It was only when I started talking to founders, learned about their struggles, mistakes and their mindset, I discovered that we thought in a similiar way. We make mistakes, we get up and try again. We fight. We survive. We live. We love. Purpose is our drive. I realized that the skills and values I learned as a refugee, were some of the same qualities needed to succeed as an entrepreneur (More on this soon:-). And that if I only dared to just be myself, not only I could be happier, but also more useful to my society. It also made me to think more on this topic of belonging. I realized that you can be free from this idea of belonging to only one place, one tribe or one culture only when you accept that you belong everywhere and your diversity and authenticity is always an asset, never a burden. Or to quote Maya Angelou “you are only free, when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all”.
The woman on this picture is Julie Hanna. She was also a refugee, but to US, Obama`s ambassador on entrepreneurship and a chairwoman of KIVA. Two years ago I heard her thoughts on the magic in the crossing point between entrepreneurship and refugee. It felt like home. This week I finally got to meet her and learn more on this. She was an important contributor to the Xynteo Exchange, where she shared her thoughts on exactly this, diversity, access to opportunities and what Silicon Valley can learn from the Norwegian way of doing business. I got an opportunity to tell her about my next project on migrant founders that are shaping Europe. It is going to be together with Frekk Forlag and a great co-author Nicolai Strøm-Olsen. We have been talking for several years on doing something on this topic, and one day the stars were aligned.
I 2015 Europe has experienced the biggest refugee crisis since the WW2. It has contributed to a shift in Europe. There have never been so many programs, networks and discussions on refugees and entrepreneurship. Although it is sometimes painful to look back at ones life as a refugee, through this new project we hope to inspire more people do that, to find that midst of all tragedy, there is also gold, skills and qualities, they acquired that make them innovative, resilient and so much needed in today’s world. And not last but not least, to make people in leading positions to become more aware of the strengths of diversity.
Thank you to Xynteo Exchange for inviting me to this wonderful conference, and to Anita Krohn Traaseth for the introduction to Julie Hanna. #payitforwardrocks