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Her mission:

To ignite hope in tomorrow’s generation

When Madeleine Opira launched the think-and-do tank “A Million Minds” in 2012, she aimed to level the inequalities that interfere with young people's dreams. A decade later, she has successfully launched a motivation program for high school students and a digital space where people meet on equal terms – a necessity for any "real" change to happen.

She sits at her vibrant office in Kista NOD. Turquoise walls, pink chairs. An acoustics-dampening red "umbrella" of tufted wool is hanging from the ceiling.

Madeleine Opira is deeply focused in front of her computer, where a photo book is being created. The book is a goodbye gift for the two interns she has mentored for an entire semester.

We sit down across from her and ask her to share her story; how a girl with Ugandan roots, raised in Husby during the 80s and 90s, found the strength to pursue a law degree and then start a think-and-do tank.

- I've had the privilege of both studying and working as a volunteer abroad, which gave me an understanding of how good we could actually have it here in Sweden if we just worked more proactively. During a trip to New York, I saw how a group of people in Harlem managed to create change "out of nothing". That further inspired me to start writing what would become the book "Generation Integration".

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From the left: Sara Ali, Madeleine Opira and the urban studies students/interns Jakob Bergentoft and Filippa Grainger Staflin.

Järva, a place full of assets

The book discusses the downside of integration, about how the challenges in Swedish politics when it comes to integration, should be solved. Madeleine takes the reader on a journey through her upbringing in Husby, which she perceives as a place full of wealth and assets that no one seems to care about. Insights that a year later would lead to the creation of A Million Minds.

- I started a think-and-do tank to showcase the potential and capacity within the million program. Inclusion is necessary from the earliest stages of life, which is why we focus on the rights of children and young people.

The goals, Madeleine explains, are to both create an opportunity for young people to be heard, and to develop a more nuanced and realistic image of the suburbs. On the newly launched site www.förorten.nu, the public conversation about the suburbs will be brought to a new level.

- We wanted to create a space for a completely different dialogue about the suburbs than what is currently seen in traditional media. We highlight important perspectives from experts and researchers, but also local voices and residents from the society. We truly believe this forum is the key to creating change in our time, as it allows people to meet on equal terms - a necessity for any "real" change to happen.

The well-attended launch party was held at NOD - one of Madeleine's favorite places in Kista.

- I am so grateful that we can have our office at NOD - right in the heart of the Kista ICT cluster. This is where everything happens: thoughts and ideas are flowing, become reality, and turn into ventures.

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Making a Tangible Difference

Branching out from A Million Minds is also the initiative Dream Challenge, which grew as a response to the significant differences in college eligibility among ninth graders across the country.

- It was obvious that inequalities were in the way of dreams and hope for the future. Therefore, we put together a competitive motivation program for high school students in the suburbs of the million program, in which the Kista-based school Järvaskolan, among others, is participating. The goal is to boost college eligibility among the participants and create hope for the future. Research shows that a good start in high school provides a bigger chance to break out of exclusion.

Madeleine collaborates with companies and organizations that have the opportunity to make a tangible difference. She encourages more companies in Kista to participate in the project.

- The program lasts four weeks and one or more employees commit up to ten hours. There is also an opportunity to be a part of the jury, which means the program also promotes leadership development.

"I participated in Dream Challenge 2015. When I realized that the jury believed in me, I realized that I am good. And now I believe in myself. After the program, I fought harder and got into a better school than I had initially planned. I want to become a lawyer. I am now doing natural science in college because it is a good foundation to stand on..."

Kimia, 17 years old about Dream Challenge.

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A narrow slice of the talent pool

When asked about her thoughts about the future, and the prospects for more equal conditions, she replies "we have a lot of work ahead of us."

- The regulatory framework says that everyone should be able to enter the job market, when in reality, old patterns dictate. Inclusive companies have a lot to gain. Those who overlook the diversity questions are recruiting from a very narrow slice of the talent pool and are thereby risking being overtaken by competitors. We all need to start realizing that current and future global business opportunities require broad internal expertise.

Read more about A Million Minds

This is Madeleine Opira

Age:

42.

Occupation:

Author, lawyer, and entrepreneur. Founder of the think-tank A Million Minds.

Publications:

The book "Generation Integration" and co-author in the anthologies "Bildningsresan" and "Inte en främling".

Education:

Master of Science in Social Business & Entrepreneurship from the London School of Economics and a law degree from Leicester University.

Awards:

Named by TCO as one of Sweden's future most powerful people, in the category of alternative opinion leaders. On several occasions, named one of the year's newcomers by ShortCut.

Dreams of:

A society where all young people have equal opportunities.

Motto:

"Maximum impact, minimal effort". (We are so few, everything we do must have a big effect).

Idol:

Mom, she is my guiding star. I am particularly impressed by her way of handling adversity.

Hobby:

Music! Sings about happiness, love, civil courage - stories from her own life story - in "The Awesome Band".

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