People at a conference in Stavanger

Springboard Roadshow Reflection: Stavanger

For those who may not be aware, Diversify’s first ever project was a “Springboard”. In 2018, we came up with the idea to provide skilled immigrant women with the resources they needed to start their own companies. The project, called Springboard: Job Creation for and by Women, launched with a panel discussion and thereafter, it was followed by workshops that took place over the course of two weeks.

The turn-out for that event and feedback received was encouraging, but also disheartening on the basis that many more people, more than we initially anticipated, were facing the same challenges. For this reason, we kept designing projects and partnering with likeminded organizations and individuals who worked in some way to address the challenges internationals and immigrants in Norway face. 

We have since had the Springboard project in mind, and dreamt that the next phase had to be more – more targeted, more impactful, more data driven, more hands-on deck, more… 

This year, that dream has come to pass. Along with a brilliant team, the Springboard Roadshow project was designed and launched (over many late nights, missed grant deadlines, and project revamp).

Our first stop on the Springboard Roadshow was Stavanger (June 22 – 25). And quite frankly, we can’t imagine having launched this project anywhere else! Nonetheless, successfully executing a project in a city where none of the team members had a network (not a single one!) was a challenge. We also had to navigate hosting a physical (yes, in-person :=) ) event in a new era – that of COVID-19 and social distancing! So, we figured we would start with contacting the Kommune. And such a stroke of luck that was! Stavanger Kommune was nothing short of welcoming and accommodating. Specifically, Atle Melangen and Linda Ekholm were wonderful contacts for us and they provided us with resources and connections which contributed to launching Springboard project in Stavanger successfully.

With Springboard, we have committed to using the local stakeholders in our events – so we aim to highlight stakeholders, mentors and relevant networks from each city through the panelists, workshop facilitators, and project participants. Our next challenge was finding panelists and facilitators from the community (and our target groups) who had the skills, knowledge and/or experience that was relevant to the program participants. As luck would have it, due to the COVID-19 lockdown, and our inability to host physical events, we started hosting digital sessions – one of which is our Brewtiful Mornings (BM). The idea behind BM is that anyone, anywhere could jump on a Zoom call we organize at 11am on Tuesdays (with their beverage of choice) and have a chat with people from all over the country. This was how we came to meet Miriam Shbatu, an incredible woman, full of life and joy, who was instrumental for our success. 

Miriam also introduced us to Julija Gavrilova and together, they put us in touch with people in their network in Stavanger. We chatted with most of the people they connected us to and everyone on the panel was introduced to us by either Miriam or Julija. Our panelists were: Guillem Cheung, Rozalin Aliramaei, Olga Patricia Mendez Garcia and Ons Zelfani Priotti. The panel was moderated by Diversify’s founder, Chisom Udeze. The entire project took place at the Folkets Hus. The panel session had 69 people in attendance at full capacity (social distancing considered). Consequently, we had limited ability to fit all those who were interested in attending the panel. Places were reserved on a first come first serve basis. The panel session was inspiring and panelists shared their experiences and advice with attendees. We discussed challenges and solutions. Some attendees also shared their experiences and tips. A very lovely Norwegian lady in attendance, who is a part-time Norwegian teacher shared a tip that we’d like to pass along…

For those taking Norwegian classes, who needs a reference to secure work, but have not yet built up a network, you can use your teachers as reference. Specifically, she said…

“I understand several people struggle with lack of (relevant) Norwegian contacts and references when applying for jobs. If you’ve attended Norwegian classes, ask your teacher to be your reference. I work part time as a Norwegian teacher and I always offer to be a reference for my students. Your teacher can attest to your language skills, but also to your willingness to learn, determination and character. We see you. Use us!”

The panel discussion took place on Monday (June 22) and was followed by a 3-day workshop.  Each day, we started the sessions at 9am and ended at about 4pm or 5pm at latest. Yes, it was three full days (with lunch catered each day, we also made sure to have a short break during each hour) and time flew by fast! The workshop participants were remarkable. We had highly-skilled people from different fields and professional backgrounds (i.e. Engineers, Geologists, Entrepreneurs, Masseuse, Innovators) join the 3-day workshops. 

The workshops were facilitated by Chisom Udeze, Carl-Johan Sylvan, Kay Kgaogelo Olorunju, Guillem Cheung, Rozalin Aliramaei, Olga Patricia Mendez Garcia, Ons Zelfani Priotti and Kim-Andre Nikolaisen.

And our work and project with the workshop participants in Stavanger is far from over. In September, we will onboard them to a digital platform where they will continue to access resources and tools to thrive professionally in Norway. And for now, we have created a private Facebook group through which we stay in touch with them.

We weren’t sure how people would take to an early session, but we can say with confidence that the people we met, internationals and immigrants alike, are committed and hardworking. They show up and they do the work. We had about two people panting upon their arrival because they wanted to ensure they were there at 9am. We had a lady show up early, leave to attend her Norwegian classes and thereafter, come back to continue the workshop. They came to the first day of workshops, mostly strangers, but left as friends, with a broader network of people. 

The fact remains that Norway still misses out on a significant amount of skills, readily available in immigrants and internationals who are able and ready to work. All they need is an opportunity and those are seemingly hard to come by. But many of them are resilient, so they continue to apply for work and hold on to hope. And this is where we come in. Whilst they wait to secure a job, we encourage them to leverage their passions and skillsets (garnered over years of study and professional experience in Norway and abroad), to start their own businesses. In so doing, they will increase their networks, which might someday lead to employment if they so choose, or a paid consulting project. At the same time, running their own company might also provide them with an opportunity to offer employment to others, so they not only create employment for themselves, they become a part of the solution for others. This is the basis for Springboard and our advocacy for people within our target groups to create for themselvescreate together, and create for others

Because we aim to return to Stavanger next year, we also had a meeting with other stakeholders! We met the inspiring Alexander Kittilsen who runs a mentor and introduction program for newly arrived immigrants in Stavanger. Two of our team members, Iva Ogrizovic and Jelena Boljevic presented the Springboard program to the group and thereafter, Alexander asked us to make a short video, talking specifically about the mentor section of our digital platform (currently under construction). This was the first and only take of an impromptu, unrehearsed and semi-awkward video ;), but we are happy we did it. And we are taking Alexander’s advice on making short videos to provide additional information about our projects (as they are ‘more’ easily digestible). So, expect to see more of us! 

We are also thankful for our meeting with Jamal Mohamud at the Sølvberget! We look forward to future collaborations! Special thanks for the folks at Folkets Hus (especially Arild)! And also to the incredible chef, Miroslav Dimitrov, who catered our yummy food for 4 days in a row, and on a short notice!

To say we are inspired and energized by the group we met in Stavanger would be an understatement. We are very grateful for their time and energies. They validate the reason why we do this work. We have also learned a lot and are confident that upcoming programs across Norway’s cities will benefit from our experiences and lessons from Stavanger! Next cities on our Roadshow, is our home turf: Oslo and thereafter, Bergen!

Three of the Diversify Team in Stavanger. L – R: Jelena Boljevic, Chisom Udeze, Iva Ogrizovic.

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