More Knowledge Means Bigger Dreams

Swedish Entrepreneurship Forum’s yearly philanthropic seminar in connection to the Swedish celebration of Saint Lucia took place on Tuesday December 13. This year’s subject was the role of civil society in integration of immigrants; for example by providing help to quickly learn the language or help to enter the labor market and getting a mortgage.

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Johanna Palmberg, Associate Professor and Research Director at Swedish Entrepreneurship Forum, welcomed the audience and introduced the speakers. She presented the network Philanthropy Forum which was hosting the seminar.

una-osiliUna Osili

Are Immigrants Free Riding?

Professor Una Osili, Research Director at Indiana University, presented her latest research on how immigrants contribute to common goods. The provision of public goods in the U.S. depends heavily on private contributions, perhaps more than in any other industrialized nation, Una Osili said. Free riding versus contributions to public goods often reflects underlying norms of trust, connectedness, and the willingness of individuals and communities to enhance well-being through cooperative behavior, she said.

Una Osili presented her dataset of 40+ years of data on philanthropy and family dynamics and her two central research questions: Do immigrants and their children contribute towards the private provision of public goods?And, do they receive benefits from non-government sources?una-osili-2Una Osili

In her research she found that immigrant households are not significantly different in their monetary contributions but are less likely to contribute time. Their lower rates of volunteering also tend to be relatively persistent over time.

-So, do immigrants free ride? The answer is no, my results show that immigrants are just as likely to contribute. In fact, they are more likely to give through private transfer networks, Una Osili said.

In the long-term, children of immigrants are just as likely to give and volunteer. Also, immigrants are less likely to access benefits from government and nongovernment sources.

-Immigrants tend to contribute money and time toward the private provision of public goods, particularly as their duration of stay in the U.S. increases, Una Osili concluded.

Social Entrepreneurs as Enablers

Camilla Backström, Senior Adviser Ashoka Scandinavia, framed the discussion in a Swedish context where she highlighted the system challenges Sweden faces to succeed in integrating immigrants into the labor market and society.

She introduced Ashoka, the world’s largest non-profit organization for social entrepreneurs and showed examples of how social entrepreneurs can address societal challenges.

camilla-backstromCamilla Backström

-With 17 percent of the Swedish population born abroad we receive an inflow of ideas and new ways of looking at things. We need to welcome immigrants to participate in the society, unfortunately so far we have not done a good job.

In a recent interview study Camilla Backström found that the most important conditions that need to be in place for establishing yourself are housing, language, school and work/adult education.

-There are obstacles, for example we need to examine 98 000 teachers by 2020, housing is a huge challenge and it takes seven long years for an immigrant to get employed. Therefore we need new solutions and social entrepreneurs can be useful enablers.

Fun Learning a Language

Next commentator was Yashar Moradbakhti , CEO Lingio, who gave a practical example of integration of refugee migrants. He started his presentation by giving some background about himself, he comes from a family of entrepreneurs who immigrated to Sweden from Iran. He himself had become an entrepreneur by co-founding a company based on an app for learning languages, Lingio.

– We aim to make the learning process more fun and feel less educational.

yashar-moradbakhtiYashar Moradbakhti

The app also aims to solve the real problems that people face and Lingio are working closely with users to enhance development of the app in that direction. Moradbakhti highlighted that in many cases there is little need for immigrants to learn more than 100-200 phrases initially to do a job. In conclusion he said that the app can serve as an important tool for learning Swedish given the shortage of Swedish teachers at the moment.

Knowledge is Key to Successful Integration

Bledar Zuta, development coordinator Aktivitetshuset Hermodsdal, also gave practical examples of ways of improving integration.  Hermodsdal is an activity house for all ages, open every day with 67 activities a week and it operates in an area where 95 percent of the people have a foreign background. They have a wide spectra of activities, including the native languages of many of their clients.

bledar-zutaBledar Zuta

– Science has showed that if you are better at your own language it is easier to learn other languages.

Therefore one of the activities to take part in is for example Arabic lessons, taught by people who were teachers in their home countries. The activity house uses a chart with stepping stones where the end goal is to be part of society. Zuta explained that one important part is to teach the participants trust in society, in their home countries the trust is not always there.

– The key is to give knowledge – more knowledge means bigger dreams. The more you know the more you can influence others, Zuta concluded.


In the following panel discussion integration and gender where the main subjects discussed. It became clear that both research and individual experience showed that women were more likely to volunteer as well as donate money. Furthermore, the panel pointed to the fact that foreign women are falling behind in integration and that a more concentrated effort is needed for this group.  To conclude, Palmberg asked the panel about policy recommendations, and the panelist brought forward improved tax laws and to make it more favorable to invest in social entrepreneurs among other things.


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