PORTRAITS AND STORIES FROM WOMEN SHAPING THE WORLD
Mona Mohammed Ali fled the war in Somalia and ended up in Norrköping. However being black, Muslim and woman resulted in an exclusion, but also a huge desire to change. Mona’s mission is to create diversity for real.
"Fiiri means see me in Somali. Everyone is worthy of being seen"
Life I trust you - has become my mantra, but the road to get there has not always been straight. As a four-year-old, I was forced to leave my parents and flee to Sweden with my aunt. I lived with her together with my siblings and cousins in Norrköping and it took ten years before I was reunited with my parents and moved with them to Norway.
Growing up, I was constantly reminded of the color of my skin. I had a hard time finding my identity trying to balance between two different cultures. My inherent curiosity and a certain amount of anger became the driving force to not let my origins limit me.
Although I have been through big changes in my life and lived in a lot of different places, I didn’t hesitate to move to London when I was 19 years old to study design and marketing. I alternated between different jobs and was met by a diversity that in many ways shaped me into who I am today. But after 11 years in London, the longing for my family got to strong and I moved back to Stockholm.
The contrast between Stockholm and the multicultural London was huge and I was struck that it was still very standardised with the same kind of models in advertising campaigns. I saw a great need to get more people to discover the fantastic diversity that actually exists in Sweden.
This became the start of the modelling agency FIIRI Agency. Fiiri means look, see me in Somali and is one of the first words children learn. Everyone is worthy of being seen and my mission with FIIRI is to represent the underrepresented both in front of and behind the camera. Everyone, regardless of ethnicity, appearance, skin color, gender or body size, should feel included. That’s diversity for real.
We must stop coming up with excuses and realize that we all have a responsibility to change the norm. I want to send a clear signal to all major brands that they must work with inclusion at all levels. It is not enough to have a black or Asian model in a campaign. Diversity also needs to be seen among the employees in a company and in the products they sell. The more we can accept each other’s differences, the better society will become.
I try to tackle most things that come in my life in a positive way and I constantly remind myself of how important it is that we help each other. My message to young people who feel lost is that there is hope. Life has a plan for you, trust in it and keep working hard. It’s never too late to change your life.
In the middle of the pandemic, Ida Thern gets the idea that changed the way we look at nail polish. Meet the entrepreneur with an obvious talent of building customer relations and who sees opportunities even in tough times.
"I choose to see failure as a lesson in creating success"
Until I turned 19, my life revolved around one thing - handball. I competed at an elite level with the aim of becoming a professional player. But with time my body didn’t cooperate as it used to and the joy of playing disappeared as the injuries appeared. My sports career ended, but I still had the competitive instinct that shaped me into who I am today.
I have never been afraid to take on new challenges or change branch even though I may not always had experience in the area. The worst thing that can happen is that you fail and I rather see failures as a lesson in creating success. What drives me in my entrepreneurship is to develop concepts with focus on the customer experience. Being able to relate and to get to know your customer means that you can package your product or service in the right way and really reach out to your customer.
When the pandemic struck with full force, I was pregnant with my second child and avoided leaving home. The regular visits to the nail salon were canceled but my longing for beautiful nails remained. Ordinary varnishes with a long drying time and quickly abraded edges made me see the possibility of creating a product that was missing on the market.
I used my network to see if anyone in my immediate circle could help me with contacts or recommend someone with the knowledge I needed. Social media like LinkedIn is great when you want to test your idea, both in times of doubt or when you encounter obstacles. Do not hesitate to contact people you don’t know, most people will be happy to share their advice and one thing that life has taught me is to dare to ask for help.
Together with my sister Lina, we developed what became Love’n Layer, a self-adhesive gel nail polish in solid form. Super easy to use, zero drying time and with a long-lasting result. We did not only solve my problem but also a lot of others. Love’n Layer quickly became the talk of the town and we were nominated for Innovation of the Year 2021 by the Stockholm beauty week award.
In tough times, I think it’s extra important to be nice, kind and remember to help each other, that goes a long way. Love’n Layer is more than just our products, it is a digital community where our customers get involved and communicate with us. We see it as a long-term love affair with an open and honest dialogue where our customers gives us incredible much in return and they are all a big part of our success.
Having the courage to think outside the box and to highlight women of all ages has made Amelia Adamo Sweden’s newspaper queen. She touches, is straightforward and very accurate in her way of reaching women in their everyday lives. Read her story about the woman who has had the greatest significance in her own life.
”I am not what happened to me, I am what I have chosen to be.”
We inherit much more from our mothers than we think and for me it became very clear when I started writing ”Kvinnoarvet”. I did not expect that my mother Elda would take such a big part in the book, and I discovered how very much she has influenced me. Through life I have carried her words closely, speaking about everything from money to love, disappointments and the importance to keep fighting.
When my mother was 24 years old she left Rome for Sweden, with me as a nine-month-old baby, in her arms. She came to work as a maid and the two of us lived in a small maid’s room. My mother was strong, quite angry and never saw herself as if she was at the bottom of the professional scale. She was by all means just as good as anyone else and I inherited a great deal of this determination, but even more I inherited love.
Despite her Catholic upbringing, my mother was convinced that help was not to find with God. She always said that no one will help you Amelia, you have to believe in your own strength. Her unsentimental way of accepting disappointments, not complaining and just keep going, rubbed off on me. My eternal belief that everything can get better is rooted in my DNA and has made me into a positive problem solver. With me I carry a capable female heritage, and it’s my mother’s and my aunt lives that runs in my veins. They have been there like a small army of women that has shaped me into the person I am today.
The desire to always know more has been crucial in my professional life. Why do people do what they do? That question has encouraged me on and still does. The answer comes by seeing, reading and learning. And to draw conclusions. I have been curious, collected advice and I have had the opportunity to take part of other people’s knowledge. Alone is not strong at all. The decisions I have made are mine, but I am grateful for those who have paved the way before me.
My goal has never been to change the world, but to reach women in their daily lives. Somewhere between fashion, life stories and relationship tips, I want to give women self-confidence but above all, make them more financially aware.
In the space between everyday life and what women longed for, I found a tone of voice that captured them. It started at Aftonbladet and continued in my own magazines Amelia, Tara and M-magazine. I have enjoyed high editions, been innovative and received awards, but I would never have gotten there if I hadn’t spent so many hours learning. All the newspapers, books and research that I ploughed made me really good at monitoring what was going on in the world.
Most of all I am proud that I took Rosa Bandet and the campaign against breast cancer to Sweden. The magazine Amelia was the first to publish a special issue about breast cancer and it led us to dedicate the October issue to the subject each year. In the beginning, everyone said that no you can’t talk about cancer in a lifestyle magazine. But I stood my ground and even today women on the street reaches out to thank me.
Sometimes I get asked what my favourite word is. It is reconciliation. Reconciliation is something more than forgiveness. Who is right or wrong is uninteresting. Reconciliation contains more joy and there is a greatness in being able to back off and accept that opinions diverge. For me, reconciliation is a way to move forward both in private and in my profession. It’s not just a beautiful word, it’s a beautiful act.
Joceline Akgun grew up among hairdressers but for her, working as a hairdresser was not a part of the plan. She loved the business but wanted to work behind the scenes. Today, she is the CEO of the hairdressing chain Creative Headz and has used her knowledge in psychology to create a successful business with her family. Here is her story.
"I love working with my sister, it feels safe to know that she’s always by my side."
I had always dreamed of having some kind of role in leadership. I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do, I only knew I wanted it to be something creative. I come from a family full of hairdressers and every summer I worked in my relative's salon, but to really work as a hairdresser never compelled me. I wanted something else.
My sister Nathalie started her first Creative Headz salon at the same time that I moved to USA to study psychology and business. Two years after I moved back to Sweden, it was time for Nathalie to go on parental leave. She asked me to step in and manage the salon for the period of time she would be gone. This was ten years ago and my role has evolved through the years, from what people thought was the receptionist, to the acting CEO.
Pretty quick I found my place and I realized that my interest in psychology was an asset to develop the company. It's all about understanding the customers’ needs and behavior. I developed a couple of different strategies that would result in more bookings and purchases. Within a year, we could see results.
We have expanded our business at a breathtaking pace and today we have 12 salons and around 50 employees. The toughest period was when went from five to ten salons in seven months. It was a job around the clock and not everything according to plan, but it was all about adjusting and learning from experience.
I really love working with my sister, you know you always have a backup and we complement each other in a very good way. The collaboration between me and my sister is that I develop the business ideas and Nathalie is the creator who takes it from there and implements the concept at all hairdresser shops.
The only negative consequence of us working together is that we often continue to talk about work in our spare time, but we are getting better at setting boundaries. However, we are still sisters and we have our disputes like everyone else, but they pass quickly.
Our salons are a reflection of our personalities and music is an important part our lives. It creates a relaxed, happy and familiar feeling for both customers and hairdressers. Music makes everyone happy and we love to have fun together!
As the business have grown, I have also grown as a person and a leader. I have learned so much. One of the biggest traits I have developed is patience. No matter what obstacle I meet along the way, I’ve learned that within time, everything will sort out.
Female restaurateurs are among the rarities in central Stockholm’s restaurant scene. It’s a tough and still very much male dominated business in the city. However Erika Goytizolo didn’t hesitate to go against the flow and opened her unique Canta Lola, Restaurante y Bar Social.
"Crazy lady with big cojones and a vision, but the real motivation was the underlying belief in what builds our human core"
I never doubted the success and acceptance of my restaurant because it was conceived with the best life experiences, love and even weirdly timing. I relied on the emotional and perceptual intelligence of my guests and proved right. There is still a market for what is genuine and real. Our ambience is joyful with delightful flavours, music, cocktail, wines and true warmth in the service.
My love for food and the process was born since an early age and the greatest inspiration and hero was my grandmother. She always had her magical endless pots of food and a generosity to feed not just her family but anyone that needed a meal. The memories of her hacking of the machete in the patio doing her mise en place while teaching me all the lessons on how to value food and labor to produce it. Above all to be thankful and caring to our Pachamama for providing cure and nutrition.
Many other sisters also inspired me throughout my life. They are not known, they are often the ones you pass by and ignore in the process but to me they are my justification to do better and more, for sisterhood, for the respect they deserve, for the chances they didn’t get and that I won’t ever take for granted.
I have no regard for being underestimated or fitting into anyone’s prejudice. I am extremely proud of taking my space and realizing my personal dream. In my little humble way, I am taking one for the team.
These sisters are in their market stalls selling their produce or hot soups, on the street corners selling their fresh made tamales or fruit juices, on the buses and by the traffic lights carrying an infant on their back and offering their candy to make a living. They are everywhere, in every county or city you ever visited, in your own town. They are the ones that overcome everyday adversity, discrimination, challenges and still stand strong, they are my silent heroes and forever motivation.
I am reminded of them and grow stronger in my role as a restaurant owner. Every time I have to work my kitchen or washing the dishes, cleaning fridges, caring for my wines, repairing machinery, schedules, bookings I feel like I can do anything and everything.
My meaning was to take on a fine scene in Stockholm and display my cultural gastronomical heritage. It is needed not only for diversity purposes but to also inspire other sisters that regardless of nationality, age, or background we also must be seen, heard and given the opportunity to showcase their trade in good locations and even encourage investment and support.
Canta Lola means Sing Lola in Spanish...she is my alter ego and a force of nature, joy, laughter, limitless, unbreakable, relentless. She is the personification of being your own 100%.
Nikki Amini challenged both norms and prejudices when she as a young woman was established in the Swedish music industry. We know Nikki primarily as a straightforward jury member in Idol. Her imprint led to an international career working with some of the biggest name in the music industry. Now she wants to inspire more people to stand up for what they believe in.
"I have refused to diminish myself"
I love my Persian roots and I have many strong women running through my genes, but my background also meant that I didn’t fit into the model of society. My appearance and my character were often seen as different but instead of living up to the expectations of others, I made a choice at an early age - to stand up for myself. Both in the circle of friends and later on in my profession and this gave me a head start to really get to know myself.
My personality has played a crucial role in my career and in my opinion, it all starts with who you are as a person. Your personality is unique and can not be copied or ignored. Today, being under constant influence of musts and demands, I really want to encourage others to think about their strengths but also weaknesses and turn them both into their advantage. No matter what you decide to do in life, you must first and foremost believe in yourself.
Music has always been a great passion, my dad was a music teacher and we played a lot of music at home. He also arranged concerts with artists from Iran and already at the age of ten I got to help sell CDs and hand over flowers to the artists.
Throughout my profession I have challenged, been curious, questioned and dared to take place. Of course, I have met both resistance and people who wanted to diminish me, but the adversity has strengthened me knowing that it pays out to stand up for what you believe in. I have always chosen not to get caught up in negative comments and to put my focus and energy on those who have paid attention to me and wanted to help me move forward.
Let no one else limit you. Go ahead and apply for that job or education you dream of and remember that every time you dare to stand up for yourself, big or small, your self-esteem will grow along with you.
Dona Hariri is the daughter of parents who fled the Iran-Iraq war over mountains and through water. With discrimination, socio-economic exclusion, Dona decided to become a lawyer and to take power and give it to those who needed it most. As a 12-year-old Dona bought her first law book and, against all odds and without the trust of adults, she became a lawyer on her own initiative and power. The lawyer who stepped up her own path in law and did it her way.
"The women around me are my strength and sisterhood is my compass"
Every day, women’s fundamental rights are violated. The right to education, health and personal security. The right to equal pay, to own one’s body and not to be exposed to threats and hatred online. Women in the world are struggling to live up to their full potential. More than 100 years ago, women in Sweden fought for their own right to vote.
Women’s rights are not accepted as human rights. Instead, women are a weapon used in war, hardest hit by the lack of access to clean water and sanitation, and subjected to domestic violence. Discriminated in decision-making rooms, questioned when challenging and limited when taking place.
But struggle is also power.
My power comes from women’s struggle. It comes from my mother who persistently tried to give me a childhood in the middle of a burning war. My aunt who is battling cancer which was reduced by healthcare to women-related stress. My aunts who always stand their ground despite a corrupt patriarchy that surrounds them.
It comes from the knowledge that the female body is exposed and women’s health is ignored. The threat online. Racism on the street. The ruling techniques in the boardrooms. My power comes from all women who with great and strong determination have changed their society, their country and the world. Which changes Sweden.
The women around me are my strength and sisterhood is my compass. When it shakes, they are there and remind me to stand up and move forward. Always forward.
The issues women raise throughout history are part of the established society today.