Swedish with your baby – an interview with Karin Bruce

November 27th, 2014

Karin-Bruce_TFCities of Migration spoke to Karin Bruce, Project Leader, LärOlika, at the Tallberg Foundation, and co-founder, Swedish with Your Baby [Svenska med baby], about why this Good Idea is important for Sweden:

What sparked your desire to create a project that connects parents and children from different neighbourhoods and diverse cultures?

KB: In my job before going on parental leave, I worked with leaders/decision-makers from all over the world, bringing them together for meetings and conversations about global issues, future scenarios and complex challenges (www.tallbergfoundation.org). While on parental leave I really wanted to continue to have those interesting, rewarding conversations that I had so much enjoyed – but now in a new context, with a baby. However, the many activities that target parents and babies in my neighbourhood, were not really about meeting new people, but about exchanging concerns and thoughts about your baby – parent groups for parents in the same neighbourhoods. Then, when I searched for activities that bring together Swedish people and immigrants, I found there were no activities suitable for parents with babies.

I felt this was really a very good idea – but no one was working on it. So I thought here was something I should really do.

Early on I met another new mother with similar interests. Ylva Strander who is co-founder of this initiative. Ylva helped me get the energy to drive this further than if I had been alone.

Together we started developing the idea in September 2012, and the first “Swedish with your baby” meetings started in November of the same year. [As a volunteer] I worked intensely on its development during that first year. Since fall 2013, the initiative has been further developed further by the current manager, Anna Libietis Jacobson.

How did you reach out to newcomer parents?

KB: The first step was to find organisations with venues where meetings could take place. I spent weeks calling and mailing various actors based in parts of the city where many newly immigrated live. This in itself was a very interesting process. The responses varied from “are you from a religious sect?” to “we have not seen any interest for this kind of activity, will let you know if such interest is voiced.” It was a problem: I had an unfamiliar idea and did not represent a well-known organisation –it felt like asking if there was a demand for iPhones before they were launched!

The turning point was finding individuals who thought that this idea was interesting and were willing to test it. These individuals were all librarians, in three different public libraries across the city [of Stockholm].

Attracting Swedish people from the inner city has never been a problem. Reaching out to newcomer parents, or more generally to families living in the target neighbourhoods, was the biggest challenge. Initially, posters were put up, and many contacts were made with women’s centres, health centres, ”open pre-schools” (for babies with their parents), and libraries. However, getting information that targets new parents to staff in those organizations did not result in many new visitors. What worked was getting information directly to new parents. Going to shopping centers and public areas near the venues, or to the pre-schools was a better alternative. An important recruitment strategy was to simply stand in shopping centers (with our babies) and approach other parents with babies with a flyer and invitation to join.

Facebook has also been an important tool, and has grown in importance with every new person that likes the Facebook page.

What did you learn from this outreach process? What worked, what didn’t work?

KB: Lessons learned from the initial outreach and recruitment? It is important to target the people you want to reach directly. Going through intermediaries may seem simpler or more effective (and should not be abolished), but to really reach out? Direct meetings need to be prioritized.

You are expanding across Stockholm and to other cities. How do you create truly inclusive gathering and learning space for both newcomers and Swedes?

KB: I see three important keys that make these meeting inclusive:

1. We invite all participants to join the meetings in the same way – no difference whether one is Swedish or newly immigrated.

2. All information about the meetings highlight that the purpose of the meetings is to talk to new people and be curious about each other – whatever your language level.

3. All meetings start with a round of presentations, so that everyone is included in the conversation from the start, and an invitation to all participants to find a new person to talk to.

Why does it attract Swedes, born and bred in Sweden, to participate? What do they get out of it?

KB: Many Swedes are interested in widening their networks, but there are very few arenas to do so. A few quotes from participants illustrate this (in Swedish on the website):

“In the first meeting, we were 14 persons from nine different countries, that was really cool and rewarding, and we had not met if it weren’t for this initiative. For me, the mix of people that show up on ‘Swedish with your baby’ is the most enriching. ”

“Interfaces between people living in different parts of town are necessary and ‘Swedish with your baby’ is a great way to get to know people that you would not otherwise meet!”

“If it were not for ‘Swedish with your baby’, I would hardly get on the subway to go to parts of town that I do not visit otherwise. One discovers that the distances between people are not that great and the town is not so big. ”

Before long, participants start to meet outside the meetings and meeting places. I personally got to know three other mothers (and their families) who are now my friends – people I would never have met if it weren’t for these meetings. Other participants have similar experiences.

You recently won the 2014 Aftonbladets Wendela prize and the Stockholm County Council’s prize for fighting xenophobia and racism. Congratulations!

KB: The awards have been a great acknowledgement of the strength and importance of the idea, and the hard work to develop and grow the initiative. Also, these awards have helped spread the word about the initiative. Of course, the money is also important. It supports the work, attracts more funding and has made it possible for the current manager Anna Libietis to work full time since the summer 2014.

What does it mean to you personally that your idea has blossomed and had such an impact on so many people in your community?

KB: I understood early on that this idea really provided something new – and needed – in Swedish society. This gave the initiative energy in the early days, when some meetings only attracted one participant, or when I ran into bureaucratic obstacles along the way. The growth of the project – much thanks to the current manager of the initiative – is confirming the strength of the idea. I am very glad that so many meetings that have taken place, and real impact has been achieved – interaction between many people that in the long run lead to integration in society.”

The Aftonbladets Wendela prize is awarded annually to a hero in women’s or gender issues in honour of Wendela Hebbe, Sweden’s first female journalist.

Read more about Swedish With Your Baby, a Cities of Migration Good Idea.

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