Danes Taking Matters Into Their Own Hands: Helping Refugees

Article co-written with Kajsa Li Paludan for The Huffington Post 


Whilst men, women and children continue to drown in our seas as they leave behind their families and possessions in a desperate attempt to reach Europe, the Danish government, with support from the social democrats, has caused quite some stir, as they voted to make it legal to seize valuables from refugees once they arrive on Danish soil.

Compassion has been set aside for click-bait politics and hardcore budgeting. Danish politicians, on both sides, have leveled many of their disputes down to a mud-throwing competition on social media. The refugee narrative that the media and politicians are building, wearily lacks concepts of wisdom, strength, and empathy needed to bring the world and its citizens through the toils of war and conflict.

Unfortunately, what many seem to forget, is that the harsh critique of the Danish and other European governments’ politics is not about how much money they spend on refugees, not how many resources they need to provide for them. No, the critique is hinged on the blunt withdrawal of humanitarian values on which Denmark and Europe laid its modern foundation.

Thousands of Danes are helping refugees
In a quest for humanitarian values that have traditionally been at the core of the Danish welfare state model, thousands of Danish civilians and a plentitude of companies like Danfoss are going against the political tide and are setting up programs to help, educate and hire the new arrivals, many of whom lack a professional network, speak poor English, and only a mere 13% have an education above 9th grade.

Without concrete solutions, we will see ten thousands of people on welfare with few, if any chances of being integrated into the European societies. This presents a real challenge to the Danish labor market and economy. Though the toughest of all challenges in a statistic minded Europe, will be to bring our compassion into the core of decision-making for the millions of people who are fighting a battle to bring their loved ones to safety behind European borders.

Already in 2013, my organisation Cultura21 Nordic (now Growing Pathways) together with the Association for Social Innovation (FFSI), designed our first sustainable business course in partnership with Danish Red Cross to strengthen refugees’ possibilities of becoming integrated into the Danish workforce. We called it “Take Control of Your Life”, with emphasis on ‘Your’.

Asylum seekers attending the sustainable entrepreneurship course ‘Take Control Of Your Life’. Photo: Rafael Rybczynski

When considering that factors such as climate change have the potential to send refugee numbers to over 100 million by 2050, the need for concrete solutions regarding resettlement and redistribution of the world’s people and wealth is rather blatant. In this regard, it became vital to provide asylum seekers at the Red Cross centres in Denmark with the entrepreneurial skills for them to become self-sufficient.

It was indeed meaningful for all attendees to take small steps together towards mitigating the planetary and humanitarian costs brought about by irresponsible practices.

Every human being possesses their own strength
Rather than countering the populist political rhetoric that focuses on the seemingly irreconcilable differences between representatives of different cultures, we focused on the power that every human being possesses. The strength to go beyond our limits and create new initiatives that help us regain control of our lives.

“Instead of focusing on minimizing the economic and social costs of asylum seekers, we thought of them as potential innovators with purpose and imagination,” marks our Educational Director, Oleg Koefoed.

As such, the asylum seekers in our sustainable entrepreneurship program visited local companies, and public institutions. They explored the opportunity of collaboration with locals possessing place-specific insights and contributed with their own experience.

After all, the latest IMF findings, as of January 2016, point out that “the (expected) impact of the refugees on medium and long-term growth depends on how they will be integrated into the labor market”.

Skilled across borders
Fred, a young man of Kenyan origin, came with the dream of carrying out urban reforestation projects. Two days before the end of the course, Fred was sent to back to Italy, his first country of entry into the EU. The team had not heard from him in weeks when we received an email saying that his newly achieved ability to tap into the local community had been such an empowering experience. In fact, the first thing he did when arriving in Italy was to walk into the office of the Italian National Research Council, offering them to start research on the refugee communities in Rome.

Assuming that he was allowed to stay in Denmark, what follows is a “fend for yourselves” attitude that creates a rift between the needs, talents and aspirations of refugees and the Danish labour market. With little knowledge about Danish laws, the entrepreneurial scene, and possibilities, integration can seem an impossible task.

There can be little doubt that the current refugee crisis, the biggest humanitarian crisis since WWII, causes its fair share of problems for many the world over. Facing this condition, we invited the asylum seekers into a world of change-making, as we all share the responsibility of shaping future sustainable societies with minimal risk of war and natural disaster.

Our Choice
We, you and me, choose whether to look at a condition as a crisis or as an opportunity. Refugees also bring survival skills, creativity, hope, and a strong will to learn from hardship.

Alternatively, we, as a society can end up creating welfare clients that face an adaptation struggle. We can easily cultivate the conditions for parallel societies, reduced life expectancy, conflict and ultimately, radicalisation by marginalizing and isolating the newcomers.

Let us be prudent and choose the first option. Integration, in the end, is about welcoming those who wants to make a positive difference for themselves and their new communities and giving them the opportunities to do so. There are mutual gains to be made by all parties in the refugee debate, and it is this that the dominant discourses should focus on

Papaya Magazine Promo Videos

The Papaya Magazine was Roskilde University’s first magazine dedicated exclusively to the needs of international students at the university, in the English language.

I started the magazine along with a team of students via The International Club, through which it was run, funded and co-ordinated. The videos below were promotional material made just before its official launch in 2011.


Denmark’s ten must-see concerts in December

Original article written for The Local Denmark, available here

Christmas dominates the proceedings in December, but the month still features several promising shows, particularly within the drum ‘n’ bass and heavy metal genres

If stadium-sized gigs are your thing, December is definitely not the month for you. More intimate, less commercial gigs are a bit of a given in a month in which shopping and julefrokoster eat up our time,  and amongst these, several hold great potential as events to be remembered.

The Local has gone digging amongst the scraps and found the best of the lot.

Children of Bodom
Amager Bio, December 1st at 8pm
What was originally supposed to be a double bill with Lamb of God at Vega has been downsized after the American band cancelled its tour in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. Finland’s Children of Bodom are soldiering on and will bring their seemingly gruesome and even barbaric thunderous approach to metal to rip whatever rafters bind Amager Bio’s roof to its hinges. ‘I Worship Chaos’ is the title of their ninth studio album, which was released earlier this year, adding to a catalogue of chaos-causing music over the years.


Doe Parro
Ideal Bar, December 2nd at 8pm
If you hear Doe Parro’s name mentioned in the same breath as Bon Iver or The Tallest Man on Earth, you may quite rightly wonder why. LA-based Parro is not a rock musician by any stretch of the imagination but her producers have had great success with the previously mentioned artists – a testament to her eclecticism, which spans the genres of R&B, soul and even the odd touch of dubstep.


Rust, December 2nd at 8pm
Kadavar are a watered-down take on Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, featuring similar trippy, heavily laden rock influences. Armed with a new album,  ‘Berlin’, expect burly, broad-shouldered show from these German heavyweights.


Store Vega, December 4th at 7pm
Clutch epitomise all that is good and great about the American hard-rock tradition. Touring in support of their 2015 album ‘Psychic Warfare’, the Maryland-based band has been a mainstay for well over 20 years. With the band seasoned veterans in what Consequence of Sound dubbed “belligerent boogie rock”, Clutch will be the soundtrack for a Friday night party not to be missed.


Flavour, Dj Graded & Luc Rocc
Rust, December 5th at 11pm
Rust’s new nightclub fixture ‘Flavour’ kicks off its December programme with a visit from two of hip-hop’s veritable local representatives. Dj Grdaded, a four-time Danish DMC champion and two-time Nordic champ, is a permanent establishment within Copenhagen’s hip-hop scene. Luc Rocc is slightly less well-known but holds an impressive portfolio as one of the city’s foremost disc jockeys.


Area 55
Store Vega, December 5th at 11:30 pm
Area 55 is a trance collective that has hosted some of the city’s most renowned underground trance events, many of which have taken place in venues such as KPH Volume and Halvandet. The setting this time round is a well-known music venue, cementing the rise of electronic music into the commercial narrative locally.


Store Vega, December 7th at 8pm
Although the name sounds like it belongs to a heavy metal band, Thundercat is one of the standouts in the R&B world. Los-Angeles based Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner has worked with the likes of Erykah Badu, Kendrick Lamar, Suicidal Tendencies and his co-producer and partner in crime, Flying Lotus. This is a man whose rhythmic qualities are peerless, so prepare for some great entertainment.

OHOI! Presents Christmas Bass
Stengade, December 12th at 10pm
Bass legends, The OHOI! drum ‘n’ bass collective are back with a mammoth lineup for their annual Christmas ball. Particularly impressive on a list of names that showcases some of the best underground talent in the city is Rasmus Kjærbo, an experienced producer who lives and breathes music. Prepare for a bass invasion.


Dubioza Kolektiv
Loppen, December 18th at 9pm
What better way to prepare for the festive season than with a dose of Bosnian Balkan Beat? High-octane, adrenaline-pumping action is on the menu for the evening, held at Christiania’s Loppen, a befitting location for the occasion.


Ulige Numre, Extra Concert
Store Vega, December 28th at 8pm
The voice of the new generation of Danish rock, Ulige Numre (Odd Numbers) will be performing at a sold-out show at Vega at the start of December. For those unable to catch a piece of the action, the band will be back at Vega on the cusp on the new year to perform a show that should be rich in memories and merry-making.

Six of the best. This year’s CPH DOX top films

As the third largest documentary film festival in the world, the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival (better known as CPH:DOX) had a jam-packed programme that spanned ten days.
The Local’s Charles Ferro and Allan Mutuku-Kortbæk took in a wide range of films in different cinemas across the city and we asked them both to select their three favourites films. Here are their picks, in no particular order.
Director: Yann Arthus-Bertrand
Filmed over three years across 60 countries, the mammoth three-hour chef-d’œuvre features close-up interviews with over 2,000 men and women of all walks of life and ethnicities. Running parallel to these compelling interviews, ‘Human’ is also a study of the earth from above, shot with impeccable aerial photography that turns landscapes into dreamy, fantasy-like universes and leaves viewers in a state of awe.
Echoing films such as ‘Baraka’ and ‘Samsara’, this is a film of peerless cinematic quality. The colour grading, sound and technical structure are inch-perfect and Armand Amar’s music score adds a surreal dimension to an already brilliant film. Poverty, war, homophobia, war and immigration are at the core of a film that leaves you with the epic feeling of belonging to something that is bigger, brighter and bolder than oneself: our beautiful planet.
Directors: Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands
The town of Uncertain, Texas – population 94 – is where people go when they want to disappear.  Located in once idyllic bayou country just across the Louisiana border, the town’s financial base is a lake rapidly losing a battle to an invasive plant dumped into it from a home aquarium.
The directors examine the lives of three men with checkered pasts and uncertain futures. We get a look into the lives of Zach, 21 and a diabetic alcoholic whose life will likely become a write off; Henry, a 74-year-old fishing guide who served a term for killing a man and who is in love with a much younger woman who exploits him; and Wayne, a reformed drug abuser-ex-convict obsessed with hunting down a huge wild boar he has named Mr. Ed.
Along with the beauty of the bayous, despite almost hopeless pollution, the beauty of the film lies in the poignant look at what keeps the trio on the tracks: booze, love and the hunt (which drew some dubious snickers from a few viewers who failed to see the point).
‘Uncertain’ relates the human comedy/tragedy without a trace of pathos, and despite a grim outlook for the town, you walk away with the glimmer of hope in your eye.
The Dream of Europe
Directors: Liv Berit Helland Gilberg, Bodil Voldmo Sachse and Jens Blom

Not one for the faint of heart, ‘The Dream of Europe’ is an accurate a depiction as any of what is going on in our world right now. The film follows the work of Frontex, the EU organisation that co-ordinates European border management which, needless to say, has its hands full at the moment.

Shot in locations at the heart of the immigration debate, this film contains disturbing, real-life imagery of the sorts of conflicts that result from border policies on the one hand and the rights of desolate, desperate asylum seekers on the other. All of the above is made all the more relevant given that the quality of the footage is sometimes not the best as some of it is shot by amateurs who’ve gone to areas where few others dare to venture. ‘The Dream Of Europe’ is a well-researched, well-documented work that digs beneath the surface and presents its findings in an uncanny, stripped-bare fashion.

Salam Neighbor
Directors: Zach Ingrasci and Chris Temple
‘Salam Neighbor’ was filmed at a refugee camp in Jordan, just a few kilometres from the border to Syria, well over a year before tens of thousands of Syrian refugees began their migration toward Europe. The documentary’s 2015 release date makes it all the more relevant.
The directors gave themselves a fairly simple task: move into a camp with 80,000 people and depict what has now become something of a conceptual term, refugees, as real people. This they achieved, capturing the smiles and the heartaches, and hearts left in ruins like many of the people’s homes.
For this viewer, the genius of the film lies in the editing. The film crew was the first to receive United Nations permission to live in a refugee camp and the start of the narrative seems to dwell on their getting ready for a big adventure. It might be unfair to say they were like a bunch of eager young people preparing for a camping trip, but …  the early prep scenes set the stage for things take a gut-wrenching 180-degree turn. Kudos to the editor for leaving them in.
Lost and Beautiful (Bella e Perduta)
Director: Pietro Marcello
Pietro Marcello merges the storytelling cinematic genre with documentary style to create a compelling fable about the existence of a man, a castle and a buffalo. The three stories intertwine in what might be called – as the film festival takes place in Denmark – a merging of Kierkegaard with Hans Christian Andersen.
The film’s narrator is a male buffalo named Sarchiapone. Doomed to a short life, Sarchiapone gets adopted by the volunteer caretaker of the castle equally doomed due to public neglect. Upon the caretaker’s death, a Tomasso, a masked character of Italian legend, appears to lead the buffalo on a trip across southern Italy to salvation.
The journey takes the viewer across southern Italy while delving into regional myth. The rural setting and peasants who live there play roles in a blend of contemporary life and older legend. Marcello’s imaginative tale treats this rustic environment with all the respect it deserves.
Lost and Beautiful demands the viewer let go of reality to enter a world that mixes fact and fable. As with any true fable, the film has something of a moral to its story and this is the mystery that has been puzzling man since the day he crawled out of the primordial slime: The meaning of life.
The Wolfpack
Director: Crystal Moselle
A story unlike any other you will ever come across, ‘Wolfpack’ is a tale of seven siblings who lived a sheltered existence in the confines of their Lower East Side apartment in New York City.
Prohibited from exiting their flat by their father, who had its only key, the siblings developed a love of cinema that helped them live through their extraordinary ordeal of confinement. Years later, in 2010, sporting waist-long hair and dressed in sunglasses reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Reservoir Dogs,’ some of the siblings run into film director Crystal Moselle, who befriended the peculiar-looking boys and eventually cinematized their story. Their forays into the outside world had begun earlier in the same year when one of the family brothers, Mukunda, disobeyed his father’s instructions and wandered off into the real world.

TEDxKEA Brings TED talks back to Copenhagen

Last year’s TEDxKEA event was the first university TEDx to ever be held in Denmark. This year, the student organizers are back for their second go-around with an event they have labelled ‘Evolve’.

The day of talks will feature a wide range of topics and speakers, from the man behind the world’s longest pedestrian street Strøget, Jan Gehl, to women’s rights activist Khatera Parwani.

Other prominent speakers on the day include Hummel owner, Christian Stadil, ‘Dane of the Year’ and anti-food waste advocate, Selina Juul, and celebrated scientists such as astrophysicist Anja Cetti Andersen and evolutionary biologist Eske Willerslev.

Danish astronomer and astrophysicist Anja Cetti Andersen, one of 12 speakers at this years TEDxKEA event

Organizers say that this year’s event will explore topics such as big data, the circular economy, human evolution and the origins of stars and planets.

The event will be put on by a multinational team of over 30 volunteers.

“We have set out to prove what young people can accomplish and celebrate what the city of Copenhagen can offer our generation. So it was only natural to place our flag in one of Copenhagen’s landmarks, which is a hub for the students of this city,” lead TEDxKEA organiser Doug Costello said of this year’s ambitions.

“It is our aim to ignite imaginations and help our generation evolve to reach its incredible potential,” he added.

Operating under the motto “ideas worth spreading”, TEDx talks are local and self-organized events.

TEDxKEA Evolve will be held on November 21st at Copenhagen’s Black Diamond. More information can be found here.

Christian Stadil, TEDxKEA

Original article written for TEDxKEA, available here

Closed door equals open door

We live in a world that is increasingly interconnected. The manner in which we, as individuals and corporations interact with one another and ultimately with the world around us is such that we are, on the whole, closer and more transparent. Whilst this does increase the volume of information being processed and debated, creating more pressure, friction and ultimately, clashes of interest, there are also numerous positives to behold.


Meet Christian Stadil – one of Denmark’s foremost entrepreneurs that many will recognise from his ownership of sports brand hummel or his appearances on the jury in DR’s “Løvernes Hule” (The Danish version of Dragons’ Den and Shark Tank) – a show that features up and coming entrepreneurs pitching new business ideas, in the hope of captivating the jury and gaining that all important starting capital.

Christian Stadil is the owner and CEO of the Thornico conglomerate, consisting of around 120 operational companies within food, technology, real estate, packaging, financing, sport and fashion, the latter being in the form of hummel. Christian Stadil took over the hummel brand in 1999, which back then was in a poor condition, transforming it into one of the world’s leading fashion and sports brands, finding a unique position in a very competitive market up against giants.

Besides being a business owner, founder and investor (most recently in numerous tech-based upstart companies), he is an author, active lecturer and adjunct professor in creative leadership at the Centre for Business Development and Management at Copenhagen Business School.

Christian’s corporate success is underpinned by a devotion to company karma – “A kind of CSR version 3.0 where we try to, where possible, think more holistically, in a “4x win” where our companies, customers, partners and a cause (in which we believe and find important), all benefit – especially in terms of the climate and the local environment,” he remarks.

And whilst he is not afraid to admit that combining the varied interests of stakeholders is by no means easy, Christian is adamant that one can indeed capitalise on synergies and create win-win situations to everyone’s mutual benefit. Known for doing things differently, Christian Stadil is an impassioned entrepreneur with a particular way of doing things that we all could learn a thing or two from.

Copenhagen Dox 2015-Ten must-see films at Cph Dox 2015

Original article written for The Local Denmark, available here.

Film fans and budding cinema enthusiasts are in for their annual autumn treat as the world’s third largest documentary film festival opens its doors this week.

Running from November 5th to 15th, the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival (CPH:DOX) was founded in 2003 and has now grown into a mammoth event that encompasses concerts, art exhibitions, professional seminars, exclusive screenings and many other activities under the guise of celebrating the world of documentary filmmaking.

CPH:DOX is devoted to the support of independent and innovative filmmaking in its attempt to build bridges between curious audiences and a diverse palette of art forms within the frames of music and visuals. This year’s festival will be as experimental and as innovative as ever, featuring curation by Olafur Eliasson (you may remember him from his newly-opened Circle Bridge or his global warming ‘wake-up call’) and hand-selected film recommendations from the likes of astrophysicist Anja Cetti Andersen, DR2 Deadline host Martin Krasnik and the former climate minister, Connie Hedegaard.

Ahead of the twelfth edition of CPH Dox, The Local has compiled a list of 10 must-see documentaries that we feel are worth watching.

1. Muhammad: The Messenger of God

Perhaps the most controversial of this year’s batch of films is Iranian director Majid Majidi’s ‘Muhammad: Messenger of God’, one of only two films ever created about the prophet of Islam. With Islam’s strict ban on imagery depicting the prophet, this film has courted controversy and has even resulted in a fatwa against its creators. The first screening of the film will be held at the newly-opened Imam Ali Mosque in Copenhagen and will feature a Q&A session with director Majidi. (Screening times)

2. A Syrian Love Story

Putting a human face on the hordes of refugees that are knocking on Europe’s borders, A Syrian Love Story is the tale of a couple who met in prison many years ago, both doing time for their protests against an oppressive regime. Filmed over five years, the film drifts through the horrors of war and the challenges that they pose to two people who love each other – and their country – more than anything in the world. (Screening times)

3. Above and Below

Whilst science is looking at how to establish the first colony on Mars, there are others, closer to home who have already prepared themselves for what life on the Red Planet is like. The sands of Nevada are home to a parallel society, who, in preparation for apocalyptic scenarios on our earth, have forged a bare and survivalist existence in isolation from the rest of the world. (Screening times)

4. Time / Out of Joint

Einstein would have loved this one, a film set as a sturdy essay that immerses itself to the point of drowning in the concept of time and its potential reversibility and relativity. If it sounds complex, that’s because it is – prepare for a wave of intellectual jargon that will make you question the way things work in our universe. (Screening times)

5. Banksy Does New York

Like him or not, Banksy has become a fundamental player in redefining the way we look at and interact with art. Yes, this fad has been capitalized on by everyone who wants to be hip, but Banksy’s art is still at intriguing as his identity (or lack thereof). Chris Mourkabel’s documentary explores some of the mayhem that Banksy has created in New York, a city at the centre of the street art debate. (Screening times)

6. Behemoth

Part of the ‘Curated By Olafur Eliasson’ series, Behemoth explores one of those problems that we all know exists and want to do something about but in the end wind up contributing to through our purchasing habits. Filmed in the dire, apocalyptically sordid confines of a mine in China, Behemoth Is a tale of struggle and of the underside of a cash-driven economy that has little remorse for those born to toil for it.  (Screening times)

7. Bike Vs Cars 

We love our bikes here in Denmark. We also love the many kilometres of paths that allow us to cruise from A to B with relative ease, but that is certainly not the case in most of the world’s other cities. The bike vs car debate may not be as intense here as it is elsewhere, but this documentary sheds varied perspectives on some of the clashing forces in the argument between two wheels and four. (Screening times)

8. Arabian Nights Vol 1 – The Restless One

Part of a compelling trilogy set in an economically-ravaged but ultimately positive Portugal, this is the first in a long line of poetic anecdotes that delve into the far reaches of one of the most beautiful countries in Europe. Inspired by the classic Arab text ‘Thousand and One Nights,’ this film is both witty, morose and slightly overwhelming. (Screening times)

9. Of The North

An anthropological foray into what life is like at the northernmost place on earth, featuring footage taken by people who actually live in a hostile and unforgiving wilderness of sub-zero conditions. If you thought that Denmark is cold, this may make you think twice through its unfiltered look at life in the Arctic. (Screening times)

10. The Pearl Button

Soft, poetic genius from Chile, the serene country that gave us the likes of poet-diplomat Pablo Neruda. This is a study of the beauty of nature and the harshness of man, and of indigenous folk and their calm, collected ways. Water is a central element here, set against a backdrop of tense recollection and reflection. (Screening times)

Eske Willerslev, TEDxKEA

Original article co-written with Anton Tarabykin for TEDxKEA, available here

Forming the future by studying the past

Constant discoveries that prompt revisions of what we previously knew to be true are at the very core of our evolution. The merits of science in forming the present and ultimately the future cannot be overstated. Just as important, however, is understanding our past. Studying how problems developed, how our ancestors approached them, and ultimately where they have failed or succeeded, is crucial to understanding who we are today, and what we will be in the future. Lessons harnessed from the past can and should influence social, political and environmental decisions that we make today, and help us build a better future.


Eske Willerslev is an evolutionary biologist known worldwide for his pioneering work with ancient DNA. He is renowned for several groundbreaking expeditions in Siberia along with his twin brother, anthropologist Rane, during which they gathered ethnographic material and Megafauna remains (Megafauna is a zoological term for large animals).

Eske’s discoveries have in fact re-interpreted much of mankind’s history. His studies on Aboriginal migration patterns proved that the indigenous people of Australia migrated to the continent at least 24,000 years earlier than it had previously been argued. Similarly, Eske’s studies have shown human presence in North America more than 14,000 years ago, which is a thousand years earlier than previous assumptions. Based on samples from the arm bone of a 24,000-year-old Siberian boy, Eske’s team discovered a genetic link between Eurasians and Native Americans, which at the time was a major surprise.

Among other Indiana Jones-esque feats, Eske has become an adopted member of the Crow Tribe of Indians in Montana, United States. Of all the lessons learned from such epic voyages, Eske believes that his research on ancient human migration patterns ultimately shows how the spread of people advances innovation and, ultimately, our evolution: “If you look at the past, you will see that the societies that survived were the ones that changed, not the ones that remained conservative and closed in around themselves. The ones that do well are those that constantly learn from others and take in new impressions, while the ones that stay in isolation, like the Paleo-Eskimos, die out in the end”, he points out.