Seeing how challenging it can be for immigrants to find a job in Sweden, Sofia Appelgren founded Mitt Liv to help them integrate into the labour market.
by Aisiri Amin
For an immigrant who leaves behind his/her life, home and every tiny bit of familiarity to move to a new country, building a new life from scratch can be exhausting. Swedish entrepreneur Sofia Appelgren is making this chaotic process smoother with Mitt Liv.
She launched Mitt Liv (My Life) in 2008 to guide migrants in Sweden through the overwhelming phase of finding a job. Dedicated towards increasing diversity and integration, Mitt Liv helps immigrants in Sweden find a job that matches their profile.
Sofia Appelgren talks to INKLINE about the challenges immigrants face in Sweden, the empowering work of Mitt Liv and the motivation behind founding the platform.
INKLINE: What sparked the idea behind Mitt Liv?
Sofia Appelgren: Mitt Liv is a social enterprise that addresses social challenges with innovative solutions based on profitable business practices. It was founded on the belief that everyone has equal value and the inner power to grow and develop.
We see that the people who come to Sweden from other countries and cultures also bring something valuable with them; their motivation, skills and experience. We want to seize these strong points and at the same time create hope for their future in Sweden.
I: Tell us more about the kind of work you do at Mitt Liv. How do you help the foreigners with finding a job?
S: Our work is primarily focused on two audiences; people of foreign background who are struggling to find work equivalent to their competence, and companies or organisations who value a diverse workforce.
Our core business is ‘Mitt Livs Chans’ (or the chance of my life in English) mentoring program. We match highly educated people with foreign background with mentors that can guide them on how to establish themselves in the Swedish job market.
Along with the mentoring program, we also work with diversity and inclusion consulting, and partnership as well as recruitment.
I: What is your opinion about the labour market integration in Sweden? How difficult is it for an immigrant to find a job there?
S: Unfortunately, it’s quite difficult for a person with foreign background to get a job. The reality is that it takes seven to nine years in average for an immigrant to establish his or herself in the job market. The key to finding a job in Sweden is through contacts and network. We strive to shorten the period and equip immigrants with the knowledge and network they need to get a job.
I: You started the organisation almost a decade ago. What were some of the milestones that you came across in this incredible journey?
S: Some of the important milestones we came across were when we got the chance to expand the business in four regions in Sweden, when we grew from a few colleagues to 20 and when we realised that so far we have helped 1500 people to see the benefit of diversity and inclusion.
I: What were some of the factors that have contributed to the success of the Mitt Liv?
S: Our model, which is comparable to the heart of a charity paired with the drive of a commercial business, allows us to maintain a sustainable business without the need to rely on government/council/EU funding. This way we can create the durability, strength and sustainability necessary to achieve greater impact in the Swedish labour market and the Swedish society in general.
Aside from our sustainable business model, our strength is the people who work at Mitt Liv. We truly walk the talk, we practice what we preach. Our colleagues have lived in countries and speak 23 different languages in total. Can you imagine the diversity of thoughts, ideas and experience that enrich our company!
I: What has been the most uplifting part of the journey?
S: The highlights of our journey have been the sunshine stories we received from participants of our mentoring program. Many of them have come to us and shared that they have just got a job or an internship at the company of their dreams.
Some of the mentees have told us how wonderful it is to have support from their mentors and how the mentoring program have given them the tools and the confidence they need to succeed. This gives us the satisfaction that what we do actually make a difference and it also serves as a reminder for us when the going gets tough.
I: What has been the most challenging part?
S: The most challenging part was the starting period of Mitt Liv. When you present a brand and a business idea that is not well-known yet, you are often met with strong scepticism. Our way to tackle this is not to let the scepticism get in the way. Focus on the goal and take advantage of the professional network we already have to move forward.
I: What would your advice be to the people who hope to start an organisation/platform from scratch like you did?
S: First of all, you need to really believe in the cause you’re going to work on. If you don’t believe it yourself then no one will. Have a clear vision because for the business to take off you need it as a solid foundation. Last but not least, find yourself a mentor who can share his or her experience with you and give advice when needed.
Aisiri Amin is a journalist specialising in social justice, gender issues and culture. She has written for The Hindu and works as a freelance writer. Social wallflower and an idealist at the core, she lives on books, tea and hope (in that particular order).