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Sofia Appelgren


About Mitt Liv: Mitt Liv (My Life ) is a social enterprise that works for an inclusive society and a value-added labor market. Being a social company for us means that we address social challenges with innovative solutions based on profitable business practices. My Life is an AB (svb) which is a limited liability company with a special profit distribution limitation. My Life, in other words, does not matter to the owners. Our owners have instead come in with interest and commitment to the issues and activities of My Life.


Nomination in Brief

Amidst debates over immigration from the Middle East, Sofia Appelgren, Founder of Mitt Liv, gives immigrants to Sweden cultural training and pairs them with a mentor or business with similar interests. These immigrants speak 40 languages, come from 28 countries, and are treated as people with valuable skills and ideas rather than victims needing charity.

Read Sofia Appelgren 2018 Nomination form (Word Doc)


Bio

A serial entrepreneur, Sofia founded two companies before she was 20-years-old. Sofia had to, in early age, earn her own money and be self independent. Sofia began when she was 16, a party and event planning business, organizing schools and local businesses (i.e. restaurants, bars, and nightclubs) around themed events at affordable rates. She made enough money from this teenage business to buy a car, help support herself during college, and seed a second business designing clothes for a local boutique.While at university studying communications, Sofia became a young parent. She points to the experience as a turning point, and one which opened her to “profound empathy” and taught her resilience through adversity. Her husband, a Turkish Swedish born immigrant, second generation and he put immigration and integration issues into stark focus: “When I go to Turkey, people are curious. When my husband comes to Sweden, he meet whole other challenges.”Unable to support herself both as a college student and young mother, Sofia opened a small salad bar, Wild n’ Fresh, at 23. She employed one part-time staff member. Approached by the powerful local union in Goteborg to sign a collective agreement, Sofia asked her employee to look over the terms. Her worker found that Sofia provided better pay and benefits than the union contract, and asked to remain external. Through a series of increasingly aggressive letters and visits, the union demanded she join. Sofia refused. Eventually, the union set up a 20 person blockade outside her business, passing out flyers and shouting into bullhorns outside her store for four months. Sofia received numerous death threats and had to have a police escort. Refusing the union, which had made a habit of using tactics of intimidation, placed Sofia in the national spotlight. Sofia’s story became the most widely read news piece in Sweden 2006. Rather than acquiesce, she sold her business and wrote a book about the experience.Offered lucrative fees to speak about the issue, Sofia had no interest in the ideological debates that ensued, and decided to focus on breaking down the walls of discrimination that keep immigrants out of the labor market. Armed with ample contacts from the union experience, she applied them to bring the idea of Mitt Liv to life.Sofia was awarded 2011, by The Swedish Chamber of Commerce, as this years west Swedish and was picked as one of ten from one of the biggest morning papers in Sweden, to be the one in the future to put Gothenburg on the Swedish map for her work with immigrants.


More Detail

Sofia’s approach allows the immigrant community to see – and the greater community to believe – that persons with an immigrant background can follow their dreams. The program focuses on sourcing the most driven persons with an immigrant and equipping them with the tools to function in Swedish society. The work is currently operating in Goteborg, in the western region of Sweden, with imminent plans for expansion. Sofia searches for persons with an immigrant background who have “true will” in her selection process. Each participant is matched with a mentor with similar interests and career path. Drawn from local schools (i.e. to acquire the legitimacy of the educational system, which is highly valued among immigrant communities), the participants move through individual courses that cover topics from work environment, social norms in Swedish working life. These courses are designed to ease the transition into the labor market and provide the skills to be competitive, while raising participant self-esteem. The courses, which are spaced over the course of a year, award diplomas and can also enhance a participant’s CV. Sofia has built an agreement with local school principals to recruit participants, and requires that participants be fluent in Swedish and demonstrate strong will and interest in their applications. Their goal is to support the women to “see their own dreams as an option,” offer them the tools to be competitive, and build a culture of entrepreneurship in a demographic inclined toward it.Sofia’s Mitt Liv is structured as a mutually beneficial mentorship model where the participants in the program are not “victims” to be helped, but rather contributing partners on an equal footing, providing insight and education to company employees as experts. Sofia feels that “a relationship well-built has profound impact.” They provide their services in return as guest lecturers, participants in discussion groups, members of focus groups, and testers for products such as veils. They have helped critique and craft ad campaigns for their demographic and regional areas.Companies pay for the privilege of working with the MittLive participants and employing their services—the joint partnership is celebrated and its high visibility attracts new people to the idea. Sofia has created a for-profit, self-sustaining model for Mitt Liv by partnering with companies who purchase the service and participate in the program. Mitt Liv generates income by selling the partner package deal to a broad range of companies—from cosmetics to finance—containing access to guest lectures, discussion groups, mentoring, a forum to exchange experiences between partners within both internal and external diversity efforts. Mentors, drawn from partner companies, work with the girls to craft life-plans and establish incremental goals for the future. Currently, Mitt Liv works with 21 partner companies—many international—in a broad range of fields from cosmetics to insurance, each paying 150,000 Swedish Kroner for the package. Partners include Mary Kay, JKL Group, Volvo and Vinge, one of the largest law firms in Sweden, whose broad reach and many locations will be a boon to Mitt Liv’s expansion efforts. The work, while still in the early stages, is poised to expand quickly. The program currently (year 2011) has 60 participants paired with 60 mentors, with participants from 28 countries who speak 40 languages. The program is now in Stockholm and Gothenburg and during next year, the program is about to expand to Malmö. They are now looking at how to scale their impact wider. Mitt Liv’s mentorship approach is in a state of continuous evolution and growth. In a approved agreement (2010), Sofia has begun working with the Swedish state to receive government funding for women’s place in the program.


Nominated by:

  • Kim Issa
  • External Relations Manager
  • Arcenciel