Joshua Ng, 22, and Julieta Talavera, 26, have lived in places as diverse as Malaysia, Bahrain, Buenos Aires, England and New York. But for these two cosmopolitans, Malmö in southern Sweden ticks all the boxes.
“It's one of the most exciting places I've ever lived,” says Julieta.
The two international relations students got the idea of creating a pop-up space for social entrepreneurs and grassroot movements when they met in class at Malmö University and discovered they had both faced similar problems when they first moved to Sweden to study in 2012.
“My first impression was that Malmö seemed like a cool city, but it was a bit difficult to connect with what was going on. The university was very much a closed bubble and it felt like we weren't connected to the city. So we decided to start up a meeting place for people like us,” said Joshua.
Together they created 'Connectors Malmö'. They registered as a study circle with Folksuniversitetet (a Swedish organization for adult education) where they would meet to talk about personal projects, share ideas, give feedback and organize inspirational talks. But through word of mouth, it grew.
“There was clearly a need for this in Malmö. We were soon joined by students from Lund, Malmö and Copenhagen in that little Folkuniversitetet room,” says Joshua.
“It developed into a networking event. People came and they all got to know each other. During this time we were able to build a network of people,” says Julieta.
But there were obstacles along the way, including overcoming language and cultural barriers to get Swedes involved.
“Eventually we discovered that if we gave the event a structure we attracted more people, instead of just inviting them to walk in and do whatever they wanted. Swedes like to know what’s going on, that ‘okay, in 20 minutes there’s going to be a break for fika’,” says Julieta.
“Swedes have a different kind of creativity, a calm creativity,” says Joshua and laughs.
The Pop Up Space in Malmö's Persborg area. Photo: Joanna Zhang
Now, the pair behind Connectors Malmö has created the world's first crowd sourced living room. The idea is called The Pop Up Space, developed with the aid of the city of Malmö, housing association MKB and local neighbourhood Persborg, to find solutions to integration challenges and promote urban projects.
“We're trying to see if we can include the neighbourhood into the process of changing that neighbourhood. We act like a bridge between the neighbourhood and the creative and international community,” says Julieta.
“It is a very bottom-up approach, part of a bigger project which is designing a system for grassroot movements, entrepreneurs, artists and industries to work together to solve problems,” adds Joshua.
In practical terms, their aim is to create a place where social entrepreneurs and local residents can come together and work to improve the neighbourhood, and ambitiously, the world. But it is completely participant-driven – every week users can vote on how they want to use the space.
Essentially, it is a place for sharing ideas to help local residents have a direct impact on their neighbourhood, and the two students cannot imagine a better place for making this venture happen than Malmö, Sweden.
“The whole start-up community is incredibly unique to Malmö. It’s all about sharing and a lot is offered for free. When I came to Sweden I had no money at all; if it hadn’t been for all free events being offered by the city I would never have reached the place where I am now and none of this would have been possible,” says Julieta.
“I can’t think of a city anywhere in the world that provides so many opportunities to different actors,” Joshua agrees.
The Pop Up Space pilot project is set to run until April. But Joshua and Julieta hope to be able to extend the concept after the summer, and neither has any plans to leave any time soon.
“I could do with a few more years in Sweden,” says Joshua and is immediately backed up by Julieta.
“I don’t want to leave now, this is home for me.”
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