NFGL Global Swede Profile: Soukaina Lamrani

Soukaina Lamrani, one of the few winners of the Global Swede award last year, came to Sweden to learn entrepreneurship. But she also learned to listen. Soukaina tells SI News about her experiences and her advice for other NFGL students.

NFGL Global Swede Profile: Soukaina Lamrani

Soukaina studied business in Morocco, her home country, and graduated in 2009.

“For four years I worked as a strategy and management consultant in Morocco,” Soukaina explained. “So I had been travelling around to many different countries and working on different projects.”

But one project wasn’t quite like the others. Soukaina received an assignment to work with the Moroccan Ministry of Youth, assessing the situation of young people and recommending strategies for 2020.

“During that project I discovered how young Moroccans were in a very vulnerable situation, and needed help,” Soukaina said. “The job market isn’t big enough to handle all of the young people.”

Read also: Interview with Galyna Kaplan, former NFGL student

One of the solutions which Soukaina’s company suggested be implemented was for more people to start their own companies. But entrepreneurship isn’t particularly popular in Morocco yet – a mindset which Soukaina is determined to change.

“At that point I thought, ‘I need to do something’. But my training wasn’t enough, I didn’t have the right tools.”

Soukaina decided to further her education, and when she started looking for programmes, one truly stood out:  the Master's programme in Strategic Entrepreneurship at Jönköping International Business School.

“It was natural for me to apply,” Soukaina said. “Sweden is one of the best places to be for innovation, development, and entrepreneurship.”

So Soukaina applied for the programme and the SI Scholarship – which changed her life.

“My first impression of Sweden was that everything was very relaxed,” she said. “In Morocco I lived in a big cosmopolitan city. Here everyone takes their time, and even Stockholm, which the Swedes think is a big city, is so much more relaxed.”

Of course, going from Morocco to Sweden had its challenges as well.

“The month of November was the hardest part,” Soukaina recalled. “It was very dark so early, and we had so much work in school too. The darkness was terrible. But in December, with the Santa Lucia holiday, everything gets better.”

At first it was also a challenge to make friends, Soukaina said.

“Swedes are very friendly and helpful, and yet it’s hard to really make friends with them,” she said. “I think that Swedish people are introverted. Or maybe I am too extroverted,” Soukaina laughed.

But eventually Soukaina adjusted to Swedish culture, and learned to take part of it with her.

“The most important thing I learned is just to listen,” she said. “In Moroccan culture people are quiete talkative, and if you don’t get interrupted then it means people don’t understand what you’re talking about – so you repeat it.”

The culture clash created a few awkward scenarios, of course.

“When I first I arrived I just kept talking and talking, and no one would ever interrupt me, even if I said the same thing ten times. They’re just so respectful. And then I reflected on this and I realized, ‘I’m wrong. I am missing so much.’ Other people also have interesting things to say, and I can learn so much just by listening.”

After completing her programme in Sweden, Soukaina went on to additional studies in Berkley, California – but she said she still misses Sweden.

“Oh, I do miss it,” she remarked. “I want to reconnect with Sweden. It was so wonderful. It was so easy to go everywhere. The public transportation was great. And it’s so much easier to be active. If you want to do sports you can just walk outside. Here, you need to take your car ten miles to a gym.”

Read also: "Sweden is a wide-open door"

Soukaina said it was difficult to choose the best part of her experience in Sweden, but that the day she received the Global Swede award was definitely a highlight.

“I had no idea! At my school you don’t apply for the award and nobody talks about it beforehand. It was a very rewarding day.”

As for current SI students studying in Sweden, Soukaina said it’s important to learn Swedish.

“I was so busy with school that I didn’t try to learn Swedish for a long time,” she said. “But it is important. Try to learn Swedish and try to get closer to the Swedish people. Just get closer to Sweden in general – there are only benefits to it.”

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INTERVIEW: ‘The Sweden Democrats are needed in government’

For Jimmie Åkesson, there are no red or blue blocs, only seven "old parties" who have driven Sweden to ruin, and his own Sweden Democrats, the only party voters can trust to put things right. In The Local's fifth party leader interview, he tells us what this means for post-election talks.

INTERVIEW: 'The Sweden Democrats are needed in government'

On the grassy peninsular behind the old castle in the town of Sölvesborg, the Sweden Democrats’ leader Jimmie Åkesson is quite literally on home turf. Behind the stage, his son and a friend take turns at climbing the birches in the grove by the Sölvesborgsviken inlet, while in front of him, the party faithful are gathered on benches and sitting on the grass, clad in Sweden Democrat T-shirts and caps to ward off the searing summer sun. 

If Åkesson has mellowed, as several commentators have written over the last few months, it’s not on display in the speech he makes today: 

“It simply won’t work to let the seven parties which have destroyed our country for decades, botched it up for Sweden, smashed our little, shared place in the world into pieces,” he declares, calling Sweden “our beloved, safe home on earth”. 

“It won’t work to allow these same parties to try and clear up the absolute tragedy which they, themselves, have created. Because they will never manage.” 

The Moderates’ leader Ulf Kristersson has in recent speeches alarmed more liberal members of his party by time and again crediting the Sweden Democrats for putting Sweden’s immigration problems on the agenda at a time when talking about them was almost taboo. 

But Åkesson is not willing to return the credit. 

“We are the only party which has no responsibility at all for how Sweden looks today, it’s all the old parties’ fault,” he said. “We don’t only love Sweden once a year, not just when it’s cool or in vogue, we love our country from deep down inside, all the time, every day.”
When The Local asks him after the speech how he can say this about the Moderate Party when, if the election goes according to plan, he is likely to support Kristersson in becoming prime minister, he seems to say Kristersson is mainly preferable because the Social Democrats have already been in power too long, but also because the Moderates have changed, a little. 
“I think that they can’t be alone in government,” he says of the conservative party, in adequate but far from flawless English . “I think we are needed to make it as good as it can be.” 
The last time the Moderates were in power, leading the Alliance government, was, he claims “a disaster”. 
“They took a lot of wrong decisions, especially regarding immigration, how to push back crime, and such things. But I think the Moderates are nowadays another kind of party. They have a new leadership, and I think they are more and more coming close to our positions. So I think we can have a cooperation that will be okay, even though they made a lot of mistakes ten years ago.” 

Before the interview, we asked readers on The Local’s Living in Sweden Facebook page if they had any questions, and several people asked if his party was hostile to those who, like many readers of The Local, have come to Sweden to work. 
He stressed that his party welcomed highly skilled labour migrants. 

“We have a lot of migrants that contribute to Swedish society and the Swedish economy. They work and they pay taxes, and that’s fine,” he said.

“They are not the problem. The problem is more those 700,000 immigrants that cannot support themselves and that are in need of social benefits and that kind of support. That costs a lot of money,” he said. “That is the problem, not the good immigrants that are working and contribute to society.” 

He reversed his party’s past position, and told The Local that he did not think that Sweden should return to the old system whereby unions got to work together with government and employers to determine which skills faced sufficient shortages to justify importing workers. 

“We don’t want the unions to have the power to decide who gets permits to come to Sweden,” Åkesson said. “But we want society, in some way, [to] have to see if it’s needed or not, and exactly how we’re going to do that I cannot say at this time.”  

He said he believed “a better solution” than a return of union involvement would be something similar to proposals made by the Christian Democrat and Moderate parties, who want to increase the minimum salary that those seeking work permits are being offered. 

When it came to the formation of the next government, he said that the low level of trust he has for his potential partners in the Moderate, Christian Democrat and particularly in the Liberal Party, means that he would rather that the Sweden Democrats join the ruling coalition, but he said his priority is getting policies enacted. 

“If I could decide on my own, of course, we would want to be in government, but the thing you should always put at the centre is what policies will they make and what decisions they will take,” he said.

“We have a lot of proposals that we think are important, and we expect that if we support the government, they will make us happy and use our proposals to a degree that we can accept. I think that’s that’s the most important thing, not how the government looks, and what parties are in it.” 

Parties on both sides of the political divide are now competing hard to seem tough on immigration and crime, moving squarely onto the Sweden Democrats’ old territory. When the Social Democrats in Denmark took a critical, populist approach to immigration a few years ago, the shift was followed by a dramatic fall in support for the country’s equivalent of the Sweden Democrats, the Danish People’s Party, which is now on just two percent of the vote, down from over 20 percent. 

But Åkesson said that although he had initially been worried that other parties would win back some of their voters, so far his party did not seem to be facing the same sort of trajectory. 

“I had this feeling, especially when the Moderates came closer to us on immigration, that they would take more of our voters. But we haven’t seen that. We’re quite stable in the polls, and it looks like we will stay quite stable, so I’m not that worried.

“And I think if we now get the chance to be part of the government or support the government, that will also show voters that they need us for things to happen. We are needed. So I think that’s that’s positive.” 

Asked whether he would be upset if the party went backwards in its share of the vote on September 11th, winning less than the 17.5 percent it won in 2018, Åkesson was sanguine. 

“If we get a new government, that’s not that important. Our own numbers are not that important in the team. But of course, it would be a different situation, because we’ve never, ever lost an election in that way. But the most important thing is that we get a new government, and that’s our focus.”