Hello Nordics: Major push for inclusion in the Nordics

Hello Nordics collage
Source: Hello Nordics collage

Major push for inclusion in the Nordics – ten social entrepreneurs to scale proven solutions across borders with support from a network of partners

Ashoka, the world leading organisation for social entrepreneurship and changemaking, has chosen ten social entrepreneurs to establish a big inclusion effort across the Nordic region –called “Hello Nordics”. Each entrepreneur brings their own unique approach to fostering integration and inclusion, and their common goal is to scale their solutions to improve both social and financial inclusion of marginalized people in the Nordic region. Hello Nordics is a four month accelerator program offering support from a network of private companies to facilitate the acceleration of their efforts.

The ten entrepreneurs - two each from Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden and two international -have all been carefully selected because of their ability to address root causes in a systemic way, by involving policy makers, lawmakers, communities and target groups. The participants are Catalysts (NO), Sisters in Business (NO), Foreningen Nydansker (DK), GAME (DK), Startup Refugees (FI), Icehearts (FI), Mitt Liv (SE), Idrott Utan Gränser (SE), Welcoming International (USA/Germany) and ACAF/Winkomun (Spain). (Learn more about each company below)

Ashoka’s ambition is to create positive systemic change in society. We know that these ten entrepreneurs can create a more inclusive Nordic region by bringing their concrete and proven solutions to scale. - Maja Frankel, Head of Ashoka in the Nordics.

Hello Nordics is part of larger European integration effort and offers the entrepreneurs a four month accelerator program with the aim to significantly scale up their activities, primarily by entering one or several new Nordic countries. The initiative has been taken to the Nordic region in partnership with Nordea, and with the support of Acando, Oliver Wyman and Vinge that as part of the program will support the entrepreneurs when it comes to challenges relating to e.g. funding, strategy, operations and legal questions. The entrepreneurs will also gain access to these company’s network of clients, partners etc.

Our customers, employees and communities are urgently calling for Nordic corporations to take the lead in modelling behaviours that contribute to society and leverage their scale for a greater good. Being the biggest bank in the region we want to actively contribute towards the wellbeing of society at large. - Nordea Group CEO Casper von Koskull.


About Hello Nordics

Hello Nordics is an accelerator program focused on scaling proven solutions around social and financial inclusion and integration across the Nordic region. Hello Nordics seek to identify leading social entrepreneurs, provide support to scale their impact and broaden their reach.

Between October 2018 and February 2019, Hello Nordics will support 10 leading social entrepreneurs focusing on inclusion/integration – eight initiatives from across the Nordic countries and two global initiatives – with plans to spread to the region.

The Hello Nordics Accelerator will support the participants in identifying what system change they want to achieve, set their impact goals and explore the right scaling strategy for the Nordic region. Two main accelerator modules will include training, mentoring and workshops led by topical experts.  A final event will connect the participants with key scaling enablers in the region.

In sum, the Hello Nordics accelerator will support the participating social entrepreneurs with:

  • Creating a viable strategy for scaling ready to be implemented after accelerator
  • Connect with key actors for collaboration within relevant fields and markets 
  • Bring input from experts in e.g. digital solutions, financial models and legal forms related to scaling  
  • Possible access to funding for implementing their scaling plan after the accelerator


Meet the Entrepreneurs


Association of Self-Funded Communities (ACAF) was founded in 2004 and their simple methodology has shown that communities of low-income people can fund themselves and have access to credit, without any external help. In 2013, ACAF launched Winkomun, a free online platform which gives access to ACAF methodology to anyone all over the world. Winkomun’s main purpose is to create a worldwide network of self-funded communities and give them all the necessary help, including tools such as online tutorials, downloadable contents and tools to manage the groups’ meetings.

ACAF’s model truly empowers the target group and puts them in charge of their economic decisions. Their main priority is to expand their proven and efficient methodology throughout Spain and to other European countries.

Meet Abdoulaye Fall who works for ACAF/Winkomun 

Abdoulaye Fall.png

Abdoulaye Fall first came across the organization when he himself migrated from Senegal to Spain.

- As a migrant, my process of integration would not have been that successful without the support of the Self-Funded Community I founded with Senegalese friends. It provided with the social network I so needed during my early years in Barcelona and made my dream to continue my University studies come true. It simply dignified and empowered me for a better life, says Abdoulaye.

It’s his curiosity for new realities and different cultures that has been his main driving passion in live.

- I am convinced that travelling, reading and an open-minded attitude make us good citizens and better people. The compromise of the daily "good action" I inherited from the Boys and Girls Scouts movement still drives me for altruism and social justice.

When working for ACAF his biggest challenge is changing the paradigm and vision that entail migrants’ integration programs.

- Migrants and refugees should be more sensibilized about their capacities and, consequently, be given the tools in a perspective of empowerment. Assistencialism creates dependence and continuous dependence entails a mental state of incapacity and permanent exclusion, says Abdoulaye.

Abdoulaye thinks that entering the Hello Nordics accelerator will strengthen the organization’s work in promoting the financial inclusion of migrants and ethnic minorities through asset-building, mutual help and empowerment.

- Through partnership with local like-minded organizations we’ll hopefully bring about a new approach in facing these challenges.

Sisters in Business

Sisters in Business was founded in 2012 and works towards creating jobs for immigrant women who are skilled in sewing and could not come into labor market for various reasons (lack of education, language, family situation etc.).

Sisters in Business’s model connects multiple sectors from private to public, including Ikea, municipalities, universities, volunteers and businesses. Through Ikea, they have established international ties for expansion and the model can be replicated easily for a larger social impact. Their model empowers immigrant women, helps them to find employment, expands their networks and most importantly strengthens their position in their local communities.

Meet Sandra Celine Tollefsen who founded Sisters in Business

Sandra Tollefsen

Sandra Celine Tollefsen started the organization because she saw that immigrant women in Norway are underrepresented in the labor market and in society in general.

- Stricter job requirements close doors that used to be open for unskilled workers. The women become an invisible group without a voice. This is a loss, not least for the women, but also for me, the labor market and for society. We lose important resources and we get a poorer society in relative to cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue, says Sandra.

A moment that she especially remembers from working for the organization is when she spent a Saturday with some of the ladies at an Ikea family arrangement.

- This was a day where I realized what a huge difference my work as a social entrepreneur makes. The immigrant women, all in our training program, all with many children and huge family responsibilities, spent the whole day and afternoon with me in the textile department, helping Ikea customers to sew their unique shopping net. They, frontstage, totally in charge of our event, did a fantastic job.

It’s that belief in people succeeding and doing something for themselves when they get the possibility to do so, that drives her to continue her work.

- I believe that everyone can succeed if they are given the possibility and the right circumstances. That is why I am dedicated to social entrepreneurship. I believe that we can do much better with integration, especially for immigrant women who face big challenges in entering the labor market. It is all about creating possibilities and creative solutions for the individual, says Sandra.

Sandra sees the participation in the Hello Nordics accelerator as a recognition of Sisters in Business’s effort so far.

- This recognition can strengthen our brand and our market possibilities. It also increases the opportunity of scaling our project. This will enable us to achieve our goal – creating jobs for immigrant women so that they are included in society and that their children have equal opportunities for a good future. My expectations as I enter the Hello Nordic program is that I will meet co-creators that are interested in assisting me in building the first sustainable factory in Norway, a new model for a new fashion way of thinking.

Startup Refugees

Startup Refugees was founded in 2015 and works with finding out the professional skills and experience of the refugees, matching it with relevant local network members to create jobs and new business. Startup Refugees in Finland consists of 500 parties, including companies, government officials, NGOs, universities, congregations, research institutes, communities and individuals who support newcomers with starting businesses and entering the Finnish labor market.

Startup Refugees mapped out over 2 300 asylum seekers’ skillsets and professional goals in 11 Finnish cities. The results enabled them to provide the needed employment and entrepreneurship support without causing any hassle for the staff in the reception centers of the Finnish Employment Acency.

Meet Elisa Vepsäläinen who is the Executive Director of Startup Refugees


When no one else was addressing the problem with refugees and asylum seekers not entering the Finnish labor market, Elisa Vepsäläinen knew something had to be done.

- Many asylum seekers wait up to 3-6 year for the first change for work. We have founded a network working towards a common goal: The fast integration of asylum seekers trough work and entrepreneurship, says Elisa.

She finds that getting the refugees work doesn’t only provide a salary, but also boosts their confidence and self-assessment.

- It is not only a question of making a living, even though that’s important too. The job is a way for finding a place in a society, but also a big driver for self-respect.

Elisa is part of a team of 13 people, working passionately towards making a better start for asylum seekers in Finland.

- Many of our team members have come here as asylum seekers or refugees and I want to see everyone succeeding in what they are doing. We are working as a startup – constantly testing what is working and what is not. And scaling the things that work, says Elisa.

The greatest challenge that the team has come across so far, is getting funding for the employment program.

- This is challenging because official system and traditional funding channels are not supporting those people in finding job who are still waiting for the residence permit. From our point of view this is wasting of time and support for employment should start immediately after the person enters the country.


Icehearts was founded in 1996 and uses team sports as a tool for engaging children with social work. The model provides consistent long-term support for vulnerable children at a time where children and their families are often met by numerous professionals. Each team is led by a mentor who supports the selected children at school, after school and at home for 12 years. Icehearts prevents social exclusion, enhances social skills and promotes the well-being of vulnerable children. The mentor introduces older players of the team to various educational paths and career opportunities.

Over 600 children or young people are involved in the activities of Icehearts, forming 37 teams and saving 9 million euro from public institutions.

Meet Ville Turkka who founded the Icehearts model

Ville Turkka

Ville Turkka was working at a foster home were young kids were taken into custody. Many of the youngsters had mental health problems, problems at school and problems with criminal activity, drugs and violence. Many of the problems the social workers knew about years ago and Ville started wondering why they didn’t get the support earlier.

- I had an idea, that if local social workers know the problems quite early but don’t know a way to help these kids, I can put up a team and support the kids from the age of 6 until 18. We have sport in there, but these children also need normal, good relationship with adults. Nowadays our educators go to school to help the kids. Sports are there as a tool, says Ville.

In 1996 Ville and his team started working with a group of boys and the team immediately saw how much the boys needed normal interaction with normal adults.

- When the boys were 8 years old we had a summer camp. We went swimming, skating and had a good time together. It was quite rough for me as an educator. Many of the boys had behavior problems and quite often they solved these problems by fighting. On the last day I gave them shirts as presents. Tears were running down my cheeks and one of the newest boys asked why I was crying. Another boy answered him: He is crying because he likes us so much.

With entering the Hello Nordics accelerator Ville hopes to spread his idea and develop the organization.

- I want all our work with the kids being done wholeheartedly. We need to make a change, says Ville.


Catalysts was founded in 2015 and has a goal of building relationships, increase the contact between cultural groups and break down the barriers that exist for young professionals and youth with a minority background, who are experiencing challenges when attempting to enter the labor market. They also work to reduce school dropouts in this group. Catalysts ensure that they include a wide range of youth who are at a risk of dropping-out and facing unemployment. Their mentoring and coaching programs are based on concepts like diversity management and appreciative inquiry.

Catalysts focus on increasing the youth’s knowledge and awareness of own strengths, abilities and interests. The youth are paired with mentors, where they have one-on-one sessions during a 12-month period. The mentors express that they experience a mindset change related to their view on youth with minority backgrounds.

Meet Lisa Cooper who works for Catalysts


When Lisa Cooper started working for Catalysts they saw a high dropout rates for immigrant youth. Only 45% of all youth completed high school and only 65% of youth with minority backgrounds where in education or employment, compared to 87,8% of "Norwegian" youth. That’s when the organizations work started.

- Our mission is to help all youth, regardless of background and nationality, to feel a sense of belonging, to finish their studies and build a solid path to employment through our mentoring program, which provides a caring adult contact, and an anchor to their local community, says Lisa.

In 2014 Catalysts had a pilot of their program and already in the pilot, the impact that mentoring has, became clear.

- We had four youth with Somali background and four business leaders. The youth stated they had never had a conversation with a Norwegian male. They never had received such relevant advice on educational choices or been invited inside a workplace. The mentors stated they gained great understanding of diversity and inclusion and for all of them, this was the first time they spoke to a Somali youth! One mentor stated, "I see now the difference in judging a group and a person". Today, 50% of the mentors and youth are still in contact, all have finished high school and three are employed.

And it’s building down the walls of prejudice and stereotyping, that Lisa thinks will make a real difference for not just people with a minority background, but for all of us.

- We can build a more inclusive society by focusing on one relationship at a time, says Lisa.

Mitt Liv

Mitt liv was founded in 2008/2009 and works towards an inclusive society and a labor market that values diversity. They do this by acting as a bridge between the Swedish businesses and competent work force with a foreign background. Through mentorship programs, Mitt Liv, enables newcomers to improve their language skills, increase their knowledge about the labor market and expand their professional networks in Sweden, while companies gain a greater understanding of how to strategically work with questions around diversity within the organization.

Mitt liv tackles the issue of higher unemployment rates among the foreign-born communities by engaging Swedish companies. Targeting both sides of the labor market while addressing the key problem of underutilization of competences brings along significant social impact potential.

Meet Jimmy Antonsson who works for Mitt liv

Jimmy Antonsson

When starting his engagement in Mitt liv, Jimmy Antonsson was passionate about making a difference, having a concrete impact and contributing to a system change when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

- I want to see companies and candidates meet in constructive way, recognizing and mitigating our prejudices and biases, and overcoming the differences in order to maximize the human potential as well as the company performance. Consequently, we can say “bye bye” to any type of discrimination, racist actions and bullying based on differences in color, culture and so on, says Jimmy.

Though it’s a big challenge making people overcome their differences, maximizing human potential is quite straight forward.

- Most people have good values, and want to do the right thing, so my mission is foremost to nudge in the direction of accomplishing that.

A moment when Jimmy felt that he had nudged a person in the right direction was when a candidate called him back after being on a real interview with a company.

- She thanked me for preparing her and taking the time to go over her way of presenting herself. She was particularly thankful for having improved how she dealt with “hard” questions often asked in Sweden – and said: “I am happy people like you exists”.


Game was founded in 2002 with a mission to create lasting social change through youth-led street sports and culture. The program is a fusion of different urban sports, dance, urban culture and an effort to bridge between differences. An important part of GAME’s activities is to offer an education to young people in order to empower them to take a role as peer educators.

To prevent conflicts in fragile neighborhoods and to build a more stable and better future for young people from these areas, GAME uses street sports as a vehicle for social change. GAME has been ranked 195 on the list of the world’s best NGO’s by NGO Advisor.

Meet Morten Bo Andersen who works for GAME

Morten Bo Andersen

When GAME was founded they wanted to create a role model program, recruiting volunteers in underserved neighborhoods and empowering them to make a difference. Morten Bo Andersen points out that just seeing these people, can start a change.

- For a lot of these kids, volunteers and participants alike, it is their first meeting with adults taking an interest in their situation. The continuous effort changes kids and volunteers before your very eyes, says Morten Bo.

Even though he sees change in people every day, a challenge he has come upon working for GAME is making a structural change.

- A great challenge for me as an entrepreneur is gaining the political power to change structures in society.

And it’s that obstacle that he hopes to overcome with the help of the Hello Nordics accelerator.

- I hope to get access to decision makers in the Norwegian and Swedish society – both the governmental, municipality and civil society, says Morten Bo.

Welcoming International

Welcoming International was founded in 2009 and works to make it possible for newcomers of all backgrounds to feel valued and to fully participate alongside their neighbors in the social, civic and economic fabric of their adopted hometowns. To achieve this, they go beyond a single program and work with institutions across the community to reduce the barriers that immigrants face and build bridges between newcomers and established residents.

Welcoming International’s work has centered on supporting and connecting country-specific welcoming efforts and their key leaders. Along with USA, they currently provide the highest degree of support to partners in Australia, Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, in addition to exploring initial engagement in other countries.

Meet Vanja Pantic and David Lubell who work for Welcoming International

Vanja Pantic

Her personal experience as a former refugee sparked Vanja Pantic’s desire to create an inclusive society, that gives every resident room to thrive and contribute.

- The current moment is one of unprecedented challenges – but also a unique window to build a unifying, global vision for our world that protects the rights of migrants while building stronger and more inclusive communities that work better for everyone, says Vanja.

David Lubell started Welcoming International and shares Vanjas desire to make society more all-encompassing. 

- I have devoted my life to building a world where everyone feels like they can belong, says David.


Though many challenges, Vanja and David point out that The Welcoming Communities movement, which consists of those individuals and institutions working worldwide to make their local communities more welcoming to immigrants and refugees, is stronger than it has ever been.

- Communities across the globe are stepping up and taking brave stances in the support of migrants, often in direct contrast to their national governments. We launched our Welcoming International program in order to help this movement reach its full potential with proper coordination, support, and strategic vision.

Since launching the Welcoming International program in February 2018 the team working with the program have heard multiple stories of renewed excitement for integration work from their partners worldwide.

- In Australia, our partners were able to recruit their first capital city after sharing that they were part of an international network of communities undertaking welcoming work; elsewhere, we were humbled to learn that the city of Bologna, Italy, undertook the creation of a Welcoming Bologna initiative after being inspired by our model, says David.

Foreningen Nydansker

Foreningen Nydansker was founded in 1998 with a belief of diversity as a resource and paves the way for newcomer Danes in the labor market. They do this by offering courses and counselling, providing services for companies and municipalities who wish to employ newcomers as well as creating a network of mentors/professionals which is available for newcomers, immigrants and young people.

Foreningen Nydansker is actively working through out Denmark in 52 municipalities. Over 100 private companies and public institutions are a part of the network they created to promote diversity at workplaces.

Meet Susie Skov Nørregård and Torben Møller-Hansen who work for Foreningen Nydansker

Susie Skov nørregård

Foreningen Nydansker offer a voluntary mentor program, where the young woman meets with a stable and appreciative adult 2 to 4 times a month during a year. Susie Skov Nørregård and Torben Møller often encounter situations where they see that this kind of program really can change people’s life.

- A young woman half way through the mentor program recently told us: "I have come so much further than I expected. Before I was suicidal and miserable every day. Now I can manage things like education and everyday life. I know that my mentor is there for me, she listens, and she is being supportive – and she does it without getting payed. Our relation seems more genuine because of that”.


Making a difference and helping build a better society is a common driver for Susie and Torben.

- I want all people to be given the opportunity to thrive, not despite, but because of different backgrounds, preferences and skills. A society where diversity of all kinds is seen as an advantage or as a potential to be unfolded, says Susie.

Through the Hello Nordics accelerator Torben and Susie hopes to find tools that will enable the organization to reach out to more people in need. 

- We want to find inspiration and ideas to break new ground and being able to re-vitalize our work in the coming years, instead of declining, says Torben.

Idrott Utan Gränser

Idrott Utan Gränser was founded in 2007 and enables children and youth to see opportunities and shape a future beyond their social affiliation. The aim is to strengthen the children’s confidence and self-esteem to make them see future possibilities and thereby avoid marginalization by using sports.

Idrott Utan Gränser introduces meaningful recreational activities in school gym classes so that all children are given the opportunity to try out new things that are not the most obvious. The organization also arranges activities in the evenings, weekends and holidays in residential areas and malls so that the children have the opportunity to do something meaningful instead of sitting at home. The concept is based on seeing, praising and confirming each child so that they dare to participate actively, dare to fail, dare to create social relationships and dare to say no.

Meet Admir Lukacevic who founded Idrott Utan Gränser

Admir Lukacevic founded Idrott Utan Gränser because he wanted to counteract exclusion and segregation of children and adolescents.


- In every school class there are kids who are not seen and by catching kids at an early age by introducing activities during school and after school programs, then we have the opportunity to shape their future in the best possible way, says Admir.

Idrott Utan Gränser has grown since the start and Admir has now started to see that the organization is making a difference.

- Hundreds of young kids are getting involved in our organization and many of them are starting to take a role where they inspire other kids.

Admir hopes that the Hello Nordics accelerator can scale IUG’s activities so that they have a chance of helping more people.

- My driving passion in life is to make the impossible possible. Hopefully we can create conditions that allows us to do that, says Admir.

Meet the partners

Ashoka is the world’s first and largest organization for social entrepreneurship and changemaking. Since 1980 Ashoka has supported more than 3800 social entrepreneurs and over 50 000 young changemakers in 90 countries with the vision “Everyone a changemaker”.

Nordea is the largest financial services group in the Nordic region and one of the biggest banks in Europe. Nordea want to make a real difference - for their customers and for the communities in which they operate - by sharing their broad expertise based on 200 years in the banking business.

Acando consists of 2000 consultants in 5 countries combining deep technical knowledge with the understanding of human behaviour needed to realize the value of new innovations. With a broad range of services, they innovate, streamline and mobilize organizations to achieve sustainable change.

Oliver Wyman is a global leader in management consulting. With offices in 50+ cities across nearly 30 countries, Oliver Wyman combines deep industry knowledge with specialized expertise in strategy, operations, risk management, and organization transformation. Oliver Wyman is a wholly owned subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Companies [NYSE: MMC].

Vinge has many of the most prominent business lawyers in Sweden. Together they number 450 co-workers in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö, Helsingborg and Brussels.


Want to support this or future efforts in the Nordic region? Please contact Emma Lindgren, Director of Ashoka in Sweden & Co-Director in Scandinavia +46 760 45 44 25, [email protected]