‘When people are left behind in social development and when they see those already ahead getting even more benefits while they aren’t, it divides people and society.’
Making a difference is a common thread in all of Nisha Besara’s endeavors. We got the chance to talk to her about the hard parts of working with social change and the importance of listening to others.
Can you tell us a little bit about your story?
When I grew up, I wanted to be a journalist because I loved writing. At university I ended up studying political science, and my last semester I started working for Prime Minister Göran Persson. When they offered me a full-time job there, I took it even if it meant I never wrote my master’s thesis in political science. I was lucky and I happened to be in the right place at the right time, where people saw me, and I got the chance to show my ambition and ability.
After that I got into shaping public opinion, which was closer to my journalist aspirations. I was an expert commentator on TV and radio before I got headhunted to be in charge of the Swedish Postcode Lottery Culture Foundation. I helped start it up and create routines and policies on whom to support. This became an entry into the culture sector and later on I became CEO of the youth theater organization Unga Klara.
Today I’m working as a political advisor at a public affairs bureau called Rud Pedersen. We help clients navigate in the political world and give them guidance on how to influence processes that work in their favour.
Writing columns for the newspaper Expressen, starting the magazine Dagens Arena, serving on various boards of directors, including the social equality non-profit Rättviseförmedlingen, you have accomplished a lot of different things. Where does your confidence come from?
I think it’s more about self-esteem. Ever since I can remember I have always had an underlying sense of security. I know who I am and what I can do and that my self-worth is not dependent on my achievements. It comes from home, growing up in a nice and safe environment.
The common theme in your work is social change. When have you felt that you made a difference?
It was very hands on when I was working for the Culture Foundation. Providing financial resources to smart and ambitious people who then could actualize their ideas was fulfilling. Earlier I had never done anything that tangible, where I could see the results of my work so directly.
What is an important thing you have learned in your career?
To listen to others and not have preconceptions about things. And to always work on having an open mind and the courage to change when needed.
What is the hardest part when it comes to working with social change?
That it takes time. You have to enjoy the small victories and see the bigger picture. It’s not always easy. There are depressing times when everything seems to be going the wrong way. But those times will pass and things will get better.
Of all your achievements which are you most proud of?
Starting Dagens Arena, my work with the Culture Foundation and securing the future of Unga Klara. Unga Klara is now a national scene which means they have their own line in the national budget. It especially makes me proud because it’s a totally unique theater that gives so much to kids and young people.
In general, what would you say has been the biggest challenge in your career?
To find inner peace and to fight my restlessness. I never stay in one place for very long. Every workplace I come to I think “this is where I’m staying”. But I never do. I always find something else that is fun and move on.
It did feel a little bit like coming home when I started working at Rud Pedersen though. I haven’t missed being in politics myself, but I have missed being in political environments.
What is missing from the public debate in Sweden today?
It is important that we know what kind of country we want to be and what kind of country we will become if we don’t learn from what we see in the rest of the world. We don’t want the higher crime rates or increased violence that comes from poverty. When people are left behind in social development and when they see those already ahead getting even more benefits while they aren’t, it divides people and society.
Something I miss in the political debate is the fact that everyone can and wants to make a contribution according to their own abilities. To me the most important issue in Swedish politics today is inequality, that we stop the differences from growing.
Here at Residus we try to be as kind to the planet as possible. What does sustainability mean to you?
To me, there are different aspects of sustainability. One is equality, in Sweden but also globally. We have to change our behavior because how we act here is affecting people in other parts of the world. Another important thing is that it’s not up to the individual. Sure, I can change my consumption habits and how I travel, but a wider approach is necessary. To tell someone they have to change isn’t enough. There has to be political involvement.
What are your goals for the future?
To live long and see my children grow up and maybe have their own families. They’re not more ambitious than that.
If you could give advice to your twenty-year-old self, what would it be?